WELL, Multi-Family and the Future of the Built Environment

Health and wellness are the new green and are set to dominate the sustainable building industry
By Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic

Health and Wellness is the next trillion-dollar industry. That’s no small number. People are becoming more aware of how the built environment affects their health and wellbeing, and they are addressing this in the places where they live, work, and play. Research shows many employers are already offering health and wellness programs or initiatives, but homes are the next frontier.

In a previous Green Home Builder article, “Building Codes, Sustainability & WELLness Certifications,” I discussed the various building codes and certifications for the residential market. One is the relatively new WELL Building Standard™ (aka WELL), administered by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI)—a Public For Benefit Corporation—whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. WELL is not about ‘Healthy just for the Wealthy.’ WELL is all about healthier, more productive places for people and is a confluence of Medical Science, Building Science, and Business Science.

WELL was released in 2014 as an evidence-based, peer-reviewed Standard for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being. The Standard focuses on seven concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. WELL holistically addresses behavior, operations, policies, procedures and design to drive the measurement and verification for these concepts.
Much like LEED was created to measure and verify how healthy a building or home is for the planet, WELL was created to measure and verify how healthy a building or home is for the people. It’s like a nutrition label for your building or home, providing transparency on the quality of our built environment.

“Design for Healthy Behaviors” is ranked number one as both the most transformative and fastest-moving sub-trend of the Health and Well-Being macro-trend,” reported ASID Industry Outlook, 2015. Though there is not currently a WELL certification for single-family homes, the WELL Building Standard Multifamily Residential Pilot is extremely popular around the world.
“…Health and wellness is very hip as a lifestyle, so to have one of the first WELL-certified projects….I think will attract people to live here…. This will knock people’s socks off, and I think it is the next big thing.” says Brian Levitt of NAVA Development, referring to their 226 unit Sloan’s Lake condo project in Colorado. McGraw Hill’s 2014 research also demonstrates consumer demand for health and wellness in homes, and consumer willingness to pay premiums for healthy homes. Forty to seventy per cent of all age groups surveyed were willing to pay a minimum of up to 3 percent, and as much as 10 percent or more, for a wellness premium in their homes.

WELL can be implemented alongside other rating systems such as LEED or Living Building Challenge; however, WELL also stands solidly on its own as a Standard. One of WELL’s highlights is that it is performance-based and focuses on meeting the intent, as opposed to being prescriptive and meeting a requirement. There is much less paper documentation required by WELL, versus other rating systems. WELL also uses performance verification audits to do on-site testing, visual inspections and spot checks, to ensure projects meet compliance.

People consider WELL certification for many different reasons. For the Multi-family market, some companies are looking to attract the right tenants, or to retain the tenants they currently have due to the high cost of turnover. Some companies are looking to do fewer negatives and help with entitlements. For instance, a multi-family project next to a highway may be healthier for tenants than a multi-family residence not located near a highway if it has received WELL certification and verified the air, water, lighting, acoustics, etc. through testing. Some companies are just looking to do a few more positives to show their tenants their commitment to people over profits. Others are looking for higher occupancy rates and increased rental rates. WELL provides a true benefits differentiator for those who achieve certification.

As people become more aware of the research that correlates our lifestyle to our life’s longevity and quality, they are realizing the benefits of living in homes that provide better health and well-being.
• We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and sitting is the new smoking.
• Physical inactivity is the Fourth leading risk factor for mortality.
• 35 percent of US drivers get less than the recommended 7 hours daily of sleep, which results in drowsy driving; causing one in five fatal crashes each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As people realize that where we live, work, and play matters, WELL is creating its position in the market to provide a lifestyle brand people can recognize and trust for decades to come.
Learn more about WELL at

Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic runs A Sustainable Production (ASAP), a sustainability and wellness consulting firm.

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