The Next Chapter in the Green Building Movement is WELLness Real Estate

By Charlie Cichetti
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

WELL AP logo - WELLness Real Estate credential logo

LEED has been around for over 17 years now (first LEED NC projects were certified in 2000) and the most popular green building rating system continues to grow globally. In fact, that is a key part of the new mission at the U.S. Green Building Council. The new CEO (Mahesh) has opened offices already to review projects and administer LEED exams in India and Germany through GBCI. Forty percent of projects pursuing LEED right now are outside the U.S. LEED continues to be successful in reducing impact on the environment as well as reducing the operating costs of buildings by saving energy and water.

LEED for Existing Buildings and the ENERGY STAR program have really grown as green building benchmarks across existing commercial real estate. While LEED does have an indoor environmental quality category and encourage a better selection of materials, there was a need in the marketplace to have healthier buildings and guidelines for best-in-class. The WELL Building Standard came on the scene after being developed by Delos and medical research from the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinics, and others. The program focuses on the occupants of buildings and their health and wellness. Some of the standard is focused on base building systems, but then the conversation shifts to the tenants/occupants and their policies. There have been early adopters but just over the last 18 months WELL has really gained massive attention. The USGBC (keeps LEED updated) and GBCI (certifies green buildings/businesses) have partnered with IWBI (the International WELL Building Institute). If you haven’t heard of WELL yet, be sure to catch up now because it’s coming fast.

The EPA studies show that Americans spend 90% of our lives indoors. We have to have healthier buildings. We have to focus on wellness too, as the current workforce is demanding it, and productivity can increase across the board. Wellness is already on pace to be a trillion dollar industry (think Fitbits, Apple Watches, sleep, anti-aging, nutrition programs, and more). And now it is going to affect our real estate.

The WELL Building Standard and “Wellness Real Estate” is gaining tremendous momentum, but it is still a little early. Yes, it can be costly for an entire building right now to go through the WELL Certification process but it does scale down nicely to tenant up-fits and to Core & Shell buildings. Early adopters right now include new construction projects that are going for both LEED Platinum and WELL Platinum on the next skyscrapers in the middle of Manhattan (Hines & SL Green on One Vanderbilt and L&L Holding on 425 Park Ave). Also, owner occupied buildings that really have wellness as part of their corporate sustainability plan. Even some financial companies across Canada, like T.D. Bank and Wells Fargo are piloting WELL for their new office build-outs. While this is a U.S. based program, WELL is already successful in places like Australia. For more case studies you can go to The two main reasons that WELL is more costly per square foot than compared to LEED right now is it’s early and early adopters are going to pay more in part because of the lack of education in the marketplace. When LEED was young, in the early 2000’s, certification cost a lot more with your consultants, engineers and architects because it was new and people had to figure it out. There is a new credential – the WELL AP, which is growing in popularity. Studying for that credential will get you up to speed on WELL and position you and your company for how to handle this new certification program. The next reason WELL certification fees are more than LEED fees is because someone will actually come to your project and do Performance Verification. WELL prides itself for its onsite testing that is required on all WELL projects. This is different than LEED where we have a back and forth documentation review and no one comes to our project on a commercial building. A WELL Assessor will be assigned to your WELL project and will be involved throughout the project and especially for the onsite performance verification testing required for your building or tenant build out to be certified.

Is WELLness Real Estate worth it? Yes, it is. But, the budgeting conversation now has to be more than that from a real estate budget only. Include HR, recruitment, marketing, and more and you’ll find the ROI you need to justify WELL Certification.

WELL Platinum 2017 logo - WELLness Real Estate's highest credential logo“Is your building ready to help people work, live, perform, and feel their best?” –

The WELL Building Standard has some items that you have to do and a lot of items that are optional, like LEED. But they have different names. Preconditions on a WELL project are like Prerequisites on a LEED project. Optimizations on a WELL project are like Credits on a LEED project and are the optional items. There are 100 points available on a WELL project and if you’re a New or Existing Building there are two innovation points available. In order to earn Silver, which is the base level, you have to meet all of the preconditions. All of the preconditions and optimizations, meaning each of the 100 points available, are called Features. Those features are sorted by Concepts which are like categories. The seven concepts within WELL are Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. Now, as a professional in commercial real estate, you may be thinking nourishment, fitness, what do I have to do with that in my building?

About half of the features in the WELL Building Standard are going to involve health and wellness policy and working with the occupants or the tenants. For example, there’s an optional point available if the company reimburses for Fitbits or Apple Watch (or equal) devices that the occupant, the employee, can monitor their health stats throughout the day. If a company were to reimburse 50% of that cost to encourage the employee to monitor their activity, the point is awarded. From a base building standpoint, yes, we still have to have the best air quality. But now it’s not just all about the amount of outside fresh air , but it is about the quality of air and field specific IAQ testing. Also, we’re going to be doing Green Pest Control. If you already have a LEED EB certification, yes, you have a head start with some of your green operations. It is important to save water (LEED), but on a WELL project, we have to test (drinking) water quality. And so much more.

  • Did you know that stand-up desks burn around 50 calories per hour?
  • Did you know that the WELL Building Standard requires MERV 13 Filters and then provides a pathway for more points if we use Carbon Filters?
  • Do you have. U.V. light on your coils in your AHU’s to prevent mold?

The WELL Building Standard is an exciting program that is already helping with the health and wellness of building occupants. It is early right now, but there are early adopters. Be sure to learn about WELL and know what it would take for your building or the next tenant build-out to go through this process so you can have the conversation.

For a FREE 1 Hour WELL Overview, use the GoToWebinar link below and think about pursuing your WELL AP Credential.

And for downloads of the WELL Building Standard and Checklist/Scorecard:

About Charlie Cichetti:
I’m proud to be one of the leaders in the green building industry and in WELLness Real Estate. I’ve built a career around green building services, and lead two companies that hold sustainability leadership as core values — Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) and Green Building Education Services (GBES). Both companies allow me the opportunity to put my high-level of LEED and WELL expertise and accreditation to work. I’ve led many projects (over 50 Million SF of LEED/ENERGY STAR/Cx-RCx) to high level certifications. I’ve facilitated online and in-person training sessions (like at BOMAs across the U.S.). that have helped tens of thousands of professionals obtain LEED (and now WELL) credentials and advance their careers.

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