Healthy is the new green — in the building industry, at least.
In a move that aims to make it easier for green building projects to achieve both the WELL Building Standard and BREEAM, the International WELL Building Institute and BRE have teamed up to identify alignments between the two standards and streamline the process for achieving both.
BREEAM, the leading UK green-building rating system, arrived in the US in June. The acronym stands for the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology and London-based Building Research Establishment, or BRE, manages the program.
The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, sets performance requirements in seven categories relevant to occupant health and wellbeing: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
“BREEAM assesses scientifically based criteria covering a range of issues in categories that evaluate energy and water use, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes,” Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute, told Environmental Leader. “While BREEAM sets out a baseline for how green building practices can improve the health and well-being of a building’s occupants, WELL takes a deeper dive into human health impacts. Pursuing both standards allows projects to address the health and wellness of people in buildings alongside environmental impact.”
To earn both WELL and BREEAM building certifications, developers or building owners are required to submit project documentation — showing energy efficiency or air quality features, for example — as well as undergo on-site, post-occupancy performance testing.
Per the agreement, the organizations will identify specific credits needed for both certifications and project teams to submit documentation only once. This will save time and money associated with submitting documentation twice to achieve both standards.
“WELL overlaps with both BREEAM New Construction and BREEAM In-Use programs,” Scialla said. “The majority of the overlap with WELL occurs in the air concept. For example, WELL’s requirements for pesticide management are aligned with BREEM In-Use requirements, and some of WELL’s air quality standards are aligned with both BREEAM New Construction and BREEAM In-Use.”
WELL’s certifying body, Green Business Certification Inc., and BRE expect the crosswalk identifying the applicable credits between the two standards to be completed in January 2017.
Green building is outpacing overall construction growth in the US. Building owners report seeing a median increase of 7 percent in the value of their green buildings compared to traditional buildings.
The WELL-BREEAM partnership comes at a time when corporations and the real estate industry are increasingly looking at how the built environment impacts human health as well as sustainability.
A recent report by the US Green Building Council and Dodge Data & Analytics looked at this trend towards buildings that improve employee wellness. It found healthier buildings drive business benefits for building owners, developers, managers and investors such as improved employee satisfaction, increased leasing rates and higher asset values.
The Bloc development in downtown Los Angeles, for example, has already achieved LEED Silver green building certification and it’s working on WELL and BREEAM In-Use certification — making it the first development in the US to participate in all three programs.
In an earlier interview, Clare De Briere, COO and executive VP at The Ratkovich Company, the Bloc’s owner and developer, said earning these building certifications provide an immediate competitive advantage.
“The cost to do what we’re doing is not more than the savings we’re achieving by doing it,” De Briere said. “It’s also offset by the leasing of the space and the premium in rent we get. Even if it’s only a few extra cents per foot per month, we wouldn’t be getting it if we didn’t have these certifications.”
Plus, she said, institutional investors like Prudential and Invesco are increasingly buying green and healthy buildings. “Every year, more institutional equity investors will only buy properties with these certifications. You’re taking a certain chunk of your future potential value by not doing it.”
Another recent report — this one by the World Green Building Council — also suggests that it pays to invest in greener offices that keep workers healthy and happy. Things like improving air quality and increasing natural lighting not only provide environmental benefits, such as reduced emissions and energy use, but they can also benefit the bottom line by improving employee productivity and reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and medical costs, the report found.
It cited Saint-Gobain’s new North American headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, as an example. The campus, which earned LEED Platinum certification, has a fitness center, 1.3 miles of walking trails for its 800 employees, more than 100 collaborative workspaces (some of these are outdoors) and 92 percent of offices have outdoor views. Since moving in to the new headquarters, call center staff have doubled their productivity, with a 97 percent increase in sales-generated leads and 101 percent increase in leads per call.
Scialla said he expects this trend toward buildings with smaller environmental footprints that also are healthier for their human inhabitants to grow.
“A healthier, more productive work force is the holy grail for business, and healthy buildings are a way to achieve that,” he said. “They can provide invaluable return on investment by helping companies retain top talent, increasing employee productivity and satisfaction, strengthening corporate responsibility efforts and reducing absenteeism, in addition to offering the potential to curb rising healthcare costs. Because healthy buildings make good business sense, whether for a building owner looking to differentiate their space so they can lease out tenants, or a company looking to retain and attract top employees and enhance productivity, we expect to continue to see this trend grow throughout 2017 and beyond. We hope that within a decade, WELL buildings will become the new normal.”