Building Codes, Sustainability & WELLness Certifications

Whereas LEED measures how healthy the project is for the planet, the nascent program of WELL measures how healthy the project is for the people

By Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic

It can be tough being a residential builder in this day and age. As if all of the building codes, green building codes, and energy codes weren’t enough, the certification list is even more extensive than the codes! If you are a national builder, you are required to know all of the codes for all of the states and cities you are licensed in. People are in “code overload!”

Then we throw in the certifications for a little added fun! If we have all of these codes, why do we even need certifications? This is a common question in the market. The reality is that certifications are typically implemented by a small fraction of the innovators in the beginning; people who are willing to take a leap of faith as to what the next demand is going to be in the market. Codes help bring everyone else along kicking, and let’s be real, sometimes screaming. While some people might not like what they may see as onerous codes for sustainability and wellness, these codes have been saving lives for decades. Asbestos, lead, formaldehyde—these toxins have been removed from our projects due to codes. Without codes, we would never meet the local, national, and global requirements needed to keep water from becoming a security issue due to quantity and quality. Codes keep us safe.

On the other hand, certifications go above and beyond code for those projects that want to do a little more, or even a lot more, than what code requires. They set the bar for where the code will eventually go. We see people do certifications for various reasons from attraction, to retention, to doing more good, or doing less bad. With this “certification fatigue,” people are left trying to swim in unending opportunities to showcase how sustainable and healthy their project is. So how do you choose the right certification for you? Some people avoid certification altogether because they are overwhelmed by the choices. The best way to determine the right rating system or standard for you is to reach out to a Sustainability & WELLness Consultant. They can help you to understand the various certifications in the market and which one might best fit your specific project.

Nationally, the LEED rating system and the WELL Building Standard trend as consistently used certifications. Whereas LEED has been around for 20 years and measures how healthy the project is for the planet, WELL is relatively new to the market and measures how healthy the project is for the people. This is a perfect example of certifications that compliments one another and work together seamlessly. Projects can obtain only LEED certification that highlights their project’s sustainability commitment, or they can obtain only WELL certification that highlights their project’s health and wellness commitment. Alternatively, projects can obtain both LEED and WELL certification to highlight their holistic approach. To streamline the certification process, both of these certifications are third party verified through the same organization, Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI), though the rating systems have different founders.

In the multifamily market, we see people doing LEED for Homes, Multifamily Midrise, and the WELL Building Standard Multifamily Residential Pilot certification for various reasons. Some are interested in the return on investment. Some are driven by the ability to show they are doing the right thing and providing a specific culture. Some are building in an area that was previously contaminated or has bad air quality, and they see WELL certification as a way to let occupants know that the building has been third party tested for air quality, water quality, noise, daylight, and more. Certifications reward design and build teams for their commitment to doing more.

Despite code overload and certification fatigue, both codes and certifications are here to stay. They are what keep us safe and drive the innovators. As builders in the residential market, you have the unique opportunity to make a huge impact on both the environment and the people living in the environments you create. Be familiar with the codes and how they are evolving and changing with new editions and addenda. Be up to date with the various certification options for your clients and make sure to understand cost implications, return on investment, benefits, and what motivates your client. Last, but most important, reach out to the experts! Keep your sustainability and wellness consultants close by your side. They can be your greatest ally and might just help you pick up some extra work and win some awards!

Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic 
is the President and CEO of A SustainAble Production (ASAP), LLC, a woman-owned, full-service, sustainability and wellness-consulting firm. For more information visit