Between time spent in the home, at the office, in school, or other building environments, many of us tend to spend the bulk of our days indoors. The quality of the air we breathe within these enclosed spaces can have a significant impact on both our short- and long-term health – but how do we know if the air quality is of a sufficiently high standard? How can we compare buildings across territories? How can green-minded developers and building owners be sure their properties are prioritizing health and safety?
International green building organizations have since developed standards like WELL and LEED to help address these concerns. These standards provide a reliable measuring stick for how well a structure adheres to agreed-upon green building benchmarks. Here, we’ll take a look at what you need to know about each standard, how they can ease both the human and financial cost of sub-par indoor air quality and ways in which they can complement one another for maximum impact.
Taking the LEED on Sustainable Buildings
The LEED building standard (named for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’) was established by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) as a standardized way of evaluating the environmental impact of a building. With a core focus on the physical structure of the building, LEED-certified developments must reach certain levels of sustainability, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality (among other requirements). LEED certification is available for all building types and at all stages of the building process, including interior fit-outs, maintenance, and newly constructed developments. As the most widely used green building rating system in the world, the LEED stamp of approval signifies a commitment to sustainability and environmental health and wellness.
As it relates to indoor air quality, LEED-certified buildings typically showcase healthier spaces with more daylight and cleaner air, free from harmful pollutants and chemicals. Employers report higher retention, an increase in productivity, and a reduction in absenteeism. LEED-certified accommodations tend to average lower vacancy rates than other non-green properties. The USGBC has continued to refine the LEED standard since its inception in 1998, with regular updates released as our understanding of green buildings grows. With a three-way focus on people, planet, and profit, the LEED standard exists to benefit developers, occupants, and the world at large. So, why do we need another green building standard? And how can it build off the success of LEED without duplicating what’s already working?
Everyone Has the Right to Be WELL
Launched in 2013 by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Building Standard focuses on how “buildings, communities, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness.” Originated by many of the same people that helped establish the LEED standard on behalf of the USGBC, WELL takes the focus away from the buildings themselves and places it directly on people. Many of the same standards are applied (air and water quality, natural light, sound quality), but their interpretation differs markedly. WELL is less concerned with the sustainability or energy-efficiency of the individual structures and more preoccupied with the relationship between people and the building. Are there healthy spaces available for eating or rest? Does the building layout encourage exercise? Has the building been thoughtfully and intentionally designed in ways that enhance human health and well-being? Backed by a comprehensive framework spanning 108 features across ten criteria (or ‘concepts’), WELL is a roadmap for improving the quality of life of all occupants over a building’s lifecycle.
The WELL Air concept exists to promote high levels of indoor air quality through a diverse range of holistic design strategies aimed at reducing harmful exposure to contaminants. Features of a WELL-certified building may include operable windows, enhanced ventilation design, and a smoke-free environment. Inspectors carry out quality checks both pre-occupancy and again after several months, ensuring the continued maintenance of building standards once fully operational. In addition to promoting overall health and well-being, WELL is founded on the principles of being a global, evidence-based, customer-focused building standard that looks to continuously integrate new features in an equitable, technically robust manner.
With a shared philosophy of health and wellness, environmental sustainability, and performance; WELL and LEED work best when applied together. The IWBI and USGBC have collaborated extensively to ensure that one standard bolsters the other. Where LEED seeks to provide guidelines for creating sustainable, efficient buildings, WELL enhances the impact of these design choices by adding in the component of human sustainability. Developers looking to pursue dual certification will want to do their due diligence to avoid unnecessarily duplicating steps, but the potential benefits far outweigh any additional planning costs. Standards like WELL and LEED help to raise the bar for indoor air quality (among other environmental factors), leading to happier, healthier occupants and an improved bottom line.
St. John is responsible for supporting Aeroqual’s diverse international customers and representatives to provide each with tools to help them understand the air they breathe. With experience across a range of industries and an industrial design background, he regularly adds a bit of “colour” to the marketing and strategic direction for his range of products.