The GHB Interview: Nathan Stodola, Chief Engineer, IWBI

Stodola shares why homebuilders should strive for WELL Building Standard certification and what IWBI is planning for the future.

Green Home Builder: What is the International WELL Building Institute? What is its mission and what are its principles?

Nathan Stodola: The International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) is a public benefit corporation and the world’s leading organization focused on deploying people-first places to advance a global culture of health. IWBI mobilizes its community through the administration of the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) and the WELL Health-Safety Rating™, management of the WELL AP™ credential, the pursuit of applicable research, the development of educational resources, and advocacy for policies that promote health and well-being everywhere. As of the end of June, 2021, IWBI’s WELL programs are adopted in 97 countries through all space types, totalling more than 2.6 billion square feet of real estate.  

GHB: What is the WELL Building Standard? Can you give some details about the ten concepts within?

NS: The WELL Building Standard (WELL) is the premier building standard to focus on enhancing people’s health and well-being in the buildings where we live, work, learn and play. WELL provides a criteria and framework composed of concepts for companies, organizations and communities to adopt in creating people first places. The 10 concepts in WELL v2, the latest iteration of WELL, include strategies for improving health and well-being  in the topics of air, water, nourishment, light, movement, sound, thermal comfort, materials, mind and community. It’s a 360-approach to address how we experience buildings and places.

GHB: Why should multi-family residential developers strive to achieve WELL Building Standard?

NS: We spend most of our time at home, especially in the follow up from COVID-19. And our buildings should be responsive to our needs. Achieving WELL Certification for a residential building impacts a significant number of people. When developers think about WELL at the early stage, better performance strategies can be applied to create a place that is designed from the start for residents to feel healthier, happier and perform better.

GHB: What are the different levels of certification and how do they differ?

NS: There are four levels of certification in the WELL Building Standard: Bronze, Silver, Gold, & Platinum. For every level, projects must meet all preconditions — the mandatory foundation of certification, which includes features in every WELL concept. The levels of certification vary by the number of optimizations achieved, with Bronze requiring features achieved worth a minimum of 40 points, Silver needing 50, Gold 60 and Platinum 80.

GHB: Can you describe the process of obtaining WELL certification?

NS: The WELL Certification process begins at registration, when a project first engages with the WELL program. The project team will then set an achievement goal based on individualized health and well-being needs, adopt strategies from the WELL Building Standard features, achieving a threshold based on measures that are validated by a third party. There are two stages of third-party review: one to verify documentation requirements, followed by on-site performance verification to validate that the building is operating as intended. WELL certification is valid for 3 years, after which a project must undergo recertification to demonstrate that it is still meeting the feature requirements. 

GHB: How do you become a WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP)? What does it mean? 

NS: The WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) program is designed for individuals looking to gain skills to help inform WELL projects and help organizations to further advance human health and well-being in buildings and communities. It’s a great boots-on-the-ground approach for various places. Individuals can apply for the WELL AP credentials through exam registration and acquire the professional credential following exam passage. The WELL AP exams can be scheduled throughout the year and can be taken online or offline at the individuals’ convenience. IWBI currently offers exam discounts to encourage registration and help bolster post-pandemic recovery. As of late June, 2021, almost 17,000 people have achieved or registered for the WELL AP credentials and are helping projects around the world to respond to the rising demand for healthy buildings, many of whom are members of the AEDC (architect, engineer, design and construction) community.  

GHB: What are the International WELL Building Institute’s goals for the rest of the year?

NS: As we turn the page on the pandemic, we believe organizations around the world will be placing even greater attention on the ways we build and operate our places. WELL is an effective tool to facilitate such market transformation toward a people-first mindset. Through this paradigm shift in the marketplace, IWBI will rise to the need by programming WELL offerings to be more accessible and equitable for people everywhere. Our major efforts range from developing new pathways for single-family homes to be included in WELL programs to other initiatives that help organizations advance health and safety. We are also hard at work to promote investing for health, in order to advocate for the health element to gain its due recognition in the ESG framework. At the same time, we are deeply engaged with our global WELL community to support projects around the world by enabling our WELL APs, WELL Faculties, and the broad-range of WELL users. 

GHB: With the White House pursuing net-zero emissions by 2050 and advocating for energy-efficient, green homes, does that have an impact within the institute? If so, in what way?

NS: WELL supports projects that aim to improve planetary health by rewarding those certified by a green building rating system with five points in the innovation category, helping to achieve higher levels of WELL Certification. We are also developing a new beta feature to reward organizations that inventory their carbon emissions and make progress toward carbon neutrality. Finally, several features in WELL have positive climate impacts in addition to their benefits to the health of building occupants, including V05 – Site Planning and Selection; N14 – Red and Processed Meats; L05 – Daylight Design Strategies.

In addition, COVID-19 is still front and center for many national lawmakers. Globally, our awareness and understanding has increased across all the building interventions that are core to human health, including those immediate measures that help mitigate acute health risks, like COVID-19, as well as foundational strategies that will enhance and improve comfort, productivity and well-being. The good news is policymakers too–from the White House to representatives in Congress–see the strong synergy between our goals to decarbonize our buildings while seizing the opportunity to ensure the health and safety of those inside them. 

GHB: Does the Institute have any plans to expand to single-family residential homes? If so, when do you see that happening and is there any progress on that front?

NS: We do, and we have. In May 2021, IWBI launched the WELL Homes Advisory to guide us in expanding IWBI’s evidence-based, third-party verified WELL offerings to address the design and construction of single-family homes. The Advisory is composed of industry professionals and experts to help develop and scale equitable strategies that address health and safety in the home environment, the place where we spend most of our time, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. IWBI’s Standard Development team will work with the WELL Home Advisors as well as industry leaders to develop a much anticipated WELL program for single-family homes.

GHB: Anything you would like to mention that we didn’t go over?

NS: In the upcoming post-pandemic recovery, as we set out to reopen and rebuild, it’s critical that we build it right. Making our buildings and communities more resilient means, in a major way, focusing on strategies that advance people’s health and well-being so that our places serve as the first line of defense in disastrous times, such as the one we just went through. Be it the infrastructure development frenzy or the rush to rebuild schools in the U.S., or anything in between, this is the time to make the places we build or rebuild focused on people’s health and well-being. It’s an imperative.