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How does the Well Building Standard align with other sustainability assessment systems?

Well Building Standard assessment system

“Our clients are interested in the cost implications and return on investment for implementation of different assessment systems; the good news is there are synergies that make health and wellbeing inseparable to sustainability in assessment of the quality of a building” says Joanna Peacock, Eight Associate’s Lead Sustainability Consultant. 


We spend over 90% of our lives in and around buildings; clearly the quality of these buildings has a critical social and environmental impact on our lives. However, the concept of quality itself is subjective – hence the need for transparent, objective measurement and assessment systems. Quality is also an encompassing concept which is not just about energy efficiency, environmental impact or sustainability, but also about the occupants’ wellbeing within and around the building.

Assessing buildings against measurable criteria allows evidence-based benchmarks and targets to be set, regulatory requirements to be met or exceeded, comparisons made across metrics, sites and countries, sustainability visions to be shared and innovations to be replicated. There are several assessment systems used in the UK – most recognisably the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and most recently, the Well Building Standard (WELL). These sustainability assessment systems have increased the understanding by design and construction stakeholders of sustainability issues by setting out a measureable sustainable development framework and requirements. But how complementary are these three standards? Our clients are interested in the cost implications and return on investment for implementation of different systems; the good news is there are synergies that make health and wellbeing inseparable to sustainability in assessment of the quality of a building. We are seeing more clients request a holistic consideration of the factors that optimise the building’s performance and its internal and external environment, to optimise productivity and well-being.  In this way, we are seeing a demand for more than one of these assessments and also customised solutions that straddle – and optimise – elements of all three.

The Well Building Standard (WELL) “puts health and wellness at the centre of design decisions, in an effort to create more productive offices for staff.” Launched in 2014, WELL leverages an increased focus on the post-occupancy evaluation and ‘softer’ issues beyond typical performance goals when the building is in-use, which has led this move towards a more comprehensive assessment approach.

WELL has a different focus to BREEAM and LEED, inasmuch as it is granted to a building after it has been assessed in use, and certification depends on the building meeting all the performance metrics in use. WELL measures the attributes of buildings that impact on occupant health by looking at seven concepts. These are:

– air (promoting clean air and reducing or minimising sources of indoor air pollution)

– water (in recognition of how quickly even low levels of dehydration are detrimental to human performance, WELL promotes safe and clean water through the implementation of proper filtration)

– nourishment (and the availability of fresh, nutritious foods and encouraging healthy eating habits)

– light (WELL provides illumination guidelines that minimize disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms and hence sleep patterns)

– fitness (the integration of physical activity into everyday life by providing opportunities for physical activity and exertion, such as moving away from prolonged periods of sitting at desks and taking the stairs rather than the lift)

– comfort (a large field that includes thermal, acoustic, ergonomic, and olfactory comfort to optimize indoor environment, and hence wellbeing and productivity)

– and mind (optimising  design, technology, and housing, crowding, noise, indoor air quality and light for the best emotional health).

There has been some scepticism around how productivity and wellbeing are measured and the correlation between the two, with some advocating a lighter touch to engaging with occupants. Yet it is now widely recognised that lighting, air quality and filtration have a huge impact on how people feel. Advocates say that the benefits of WELL are highlighted by improved absenteeism figures, and higher productivity when present. Post-occupancy surveys provide subjective measurements by asking how people feel, while technology, such as on a smartphone or inexpensive IEQ monitor, is readily available that delivers objective measurements (such as daylight, noise levels and air quality).

BRE and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) announced in November 2016 the aim to make it more efficient for clients and project teams to pursue both of their respective standards. They have published guidance on the areas where the same evidence can be used for both schemes and also where assessment under one method can result in efficiencies in assessment under the other.  In the words of BRE and IWBI, “BREEAM and WELL are both evidence-based systems that have best practice, continual improvement and the interest of both the environment and people at their heart. Certification in both systems is achieved through the submission of project documentation and on-site post-occupancy performance testing.”

These efficiencies have been categorised as ‘equivalent’ (where formal certification under one scheme can be used as evidence of full compliance with the other), ‘aligned’ (the outcomes and methodologies are aligned but differences between the requirements of the schemes, such as required performance levels, meaning a single analysis can be completed and used in both schemes), ‘partially equivalent’ (formal certification under one scheme can be used as evidence of partial compliance with the other, but that further requirements will need to be met) and ‘not addressed’ (where the schemes diverge).

Where a project has achieved, or is pursuing a BREEAM certification and is also seeking to achieve a WELL feature, documentation needs to be submitted that identifies which BREEAM credits are being used to claim WELL features, supporting evidence for each WELL feature or part, and if already awarded, proof of BREEAM certification and awarded credits (which is most likely to be the case, as the WELL Certification occurs when the building has been occupied for a period of time and post occupancy testing has been carried out).

There is a defined WELL documentation review process at the design stage, but this does not result in a formal certification output. It is not possible to use the WELL Certification as a means of demonstrating compliance at the Design or Post Construction certification stages for BREEAM assessments. BREEAM In-Use certification occurs during occupation and as such it is possible to use formal WELL Certification against specific WELL features to demonstrate compliance with BREEAM In-Use requirements.

A similar announcement about the alignments between WELL and LEED was made in April 2017 by the IWBI and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to make it easier for projects targeting dual certification. Again, specific credits have been identified so that submitted documentation is recognised by the certifying body (GBCI) for both LEED and WELL, with the aim of saving project teams the time and costs, reducing documentation, and minimising the cost of pursuing dual certification.

Are these standards worth the investment? WELL is still relatively new – but initial objective measures suggest ‘yes’ – and measuring, monitoring are the first steps to managing wellbeing and productivity. No matter how well a sustainability assessment tool has been designed, the performance very much depends on how people, be it the design team, Facilities Managers, or occupants, behave and apply the provisions. Improved sustainability assessment systems can therefore help to reframe the expectations and the strategies of stakeholders in pursuing the goals of sustainable development – high quality buildings. It is in the detail however, that the interdependent, complex set of factors are optimised:  To use thermal comfort as an example of a factor that bridges all three assessment systems; achieving thermal comfort involves the careful balancing of interdependent ‘building physics’ factors, including orientation, thermal mass, glazing, shading, ventilation, zoning, and building user control. The benefits of getting it right are worth it, not just in terms of carbon reduction or energy efficiency, but also productivity and wellbeing – which are increasingly becoming the criteria against which to judge a building’s quality.

Eight Associates has expertise in the Well Building Standard, BREEAM and LEED assessment. Please get in touch on 020 7043 0418 if you’d like an informal discussion of your project requirements.

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