With the average worker spending 90 percent of his or her time indoors—both in the office and at home—it’s not always easy to stay fit and healthy. But Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI) and Delos®, believes work and wellness should go hand in hand. Office space, Scialla says, has the potential to have a positive impact on the overall health of a workforce.
Scialla founded IWBI, which last year introduced version 1.0 of the WELL Building Standard® (WELL), the first building standard of its kind to focus exclusively on health and human wellness.
“This is a complement to any green building rating system,” says Scialla. “The WELL Building Standard looks to build upon the understanding of the occupant and the human condition.”
Scialla talked to Blueprint, presented by CBRE, about IWBI’s first foray into China’s real estate market, the importance of circadian lighting, and how a WELL Certified space can be a broker’s ace in the hole.
Blueprint, presented by CBRE: There was a recent report from Berkley Earth that found that over 80 percent of Chinese people are regularly exposed to high levels of air pollution, making China one of the most polluted countries on earth. Now that you are bringing the WELL Building Standard to China, would you say that this is the biggest challenge you have faced thus far?
Paul Scialla: I think you can look at it as a challenge or as an opportunity. What I have found so far is that they are very eager and excited to embrace the WELL Building Standard in China. This is an indication of China’s desire for international brand validation and guidelines on building practices. Obviously there are air quality and aging population issues in China. There is also an incredible amount of construction that’s going on there, given the vast migration from rural areas into cities. With the initial work we are doing there, we are seeing that it’s certainly achievable, and it’s something that can go a long way toward improving wellness.
Blueprint: There are areas in Beijing where inflatable domes are literally being placed around buildings and soccer fields. How can the WELL Building Standard keep people safe from air pollution?
PS: As we saw in the late 1970s and 80s, you have to be careful when creating bubbles to solve air quality. In sealed buildings, without the appropriate amounts of circulation and ventilation, you end up with very stagnant indoor air. The solution is to increase the filtration mechanisms to ensure that the preconditions set forth in the standard are met. In Shanghai, Haworth Inc.’s showroom is pursuing WELL Certification, ultimately aiming to become the first WELL Certified facility in China, which is very exciting. Overall in China, we have over 10 projects going through the process of registering to pursue WELL Certification. That’s both in the commercial office and the residential space.
Blueprint: What are the other pollutants and negative health consequences that you can counteract with the WELL Building Standard?
It’s not about water usage; it’s about water consumption, and the quality of water.
PS: When you look at the construct of the standard, the categories are the following: air, light, water, nourishment, fitness, comforts and mind. You can get to some very obvious and intuitive understanding of what WELL looks to address when it comes to air and water quality. It’s not about water usage; it’s about water consumption, and the quality of water.
One of the more fascinating qualities to me is lighting and how electric light can have a very meaningful impact on a person’s sleep-wake cycle and their natural circadian rhythm. The appropriate understanding of circadian science has shown that circadian-relevant lighting can boost energy and increase mental acuity and accuracy for a person during the day, while enhancing sleep patterns at night.
Blueprint: Do you encourage napping in the workplace?
PS: Napping is a temporary solution. Given that we are spending 90 percent of our time indoors, we’re basically not getting the right exposure to the natural sun patterns and particularly very high, bright skylight.
What that’s doing is disrupting our natural circadian rhythm. If you don’t have circadian-appropriate lighting inside that can help mimic the type of light you are supposed to get during the day, it’s kicking off various signals to your body that aren’t appropriate to work and productivity. You can try to combat that with napping, but I think a more productive solution is to look at the type of light that’s entering our circadian optic nerve and literally relegating hormone imbalances in our bodies to allow for levels of productivity, accuracy and mental acuity during the day (when we’re supposed be productive), and rest at night when it’s dark.
Blueprint: With the projects you have already launched, including CBRE’s global headquarters in Los Angeles, New York City’s 425 Park Avenue and the MGM Grand, how do you gauge the efficacy of the WELL Building Standard? Are there certain ways you evaluate it?
WELL is an output- and performance-based methodology. This is not about a checklist with regards to trying to achieve a prescribed set of inputs.
PS: It’s important to understand that WELL is an output- and performance-based standard. This is not about a checklist with regards to trying to achieve a prescribed set of inputs. This is about verifiable output. Before a space achieves its WELL Certification designation, it undergoes an independent third-party audit and assessment and verification via Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) that verifies qualitatively and quantitatively that the minimum preconditions set forth in the standard have been met. This includes air quality testing, water quality testing, looking at light and sound levels, and also verifying the operational components of the standard.
The fact that this is an output- and performance-based standard gets you a very long way in understanding what’s actually occurred with regards to enhancing any spatial components as they pertain to the human condition. If this were a mere checklist without any real validation of performance, it would be a different conversation.
Blueprint: How effective can the WELL Building Standard be as a marketing tool for real estate brokers and building owners?
PS: It’s a great differentiator. Practically speaking, in terms of attracting tenants into spaces, corporate tenants, or even attracting employees into a company, when you can really understand that the spatial components have the potential to add measurable value to the health, well-being and happiness of building occupants passively and constantly, that’s a huge leg up.
It has potential elements to address long-term healthcare costs. This is a win-win. What we’re seeing is that our developers and owners and occupiers continue to embrace WELL. We’re seeing this as a very large differentiator for space and something that is becoming almost obvious. Perhaps in a decade or two we may look back and say, “Remember when we didn’t consider the human condition when designing these spaces that we’re spending 90 percent of our time in?”
Blueprint: How many other projects do you have on the horizon?
PS: At this point we’re in 11 countries. We already have registered and certified projects approaching 20 million square feet across nearly 100 projects. But if you take into account the number of folks looking at this, I would say our pre-registered and registered pipeline is approaching 50 million square feet. We’re getting very excited about the initial early adoption of WELL and how corporations are embracing it, from facilities management, human resources, workplace strategy and even at the C-suite level.