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WELL, Let's Talk About Certification

Posted on Jul 26, 2018, by Olivia Trimble

Not long ago, this blog discussed the WELL Building Standard® — why it’s right on the leading edge of current thought involving sustainability and the workplace. We’d like to continue the conversation, and get into something more specific.

Recently Milliken’s Chicago showroom (located in theMART) was awarded WELL CertifiedTM Platinum status. The process is an interesting one — a nice illustration of how the WELL Standard works, and what makes it different from other building standards you might be familiar with.

THE BUILDING IS ONLY PART OF THE STORY

To paraphrase what we’ve said before — standards like LEED are directed mostly at the building. WELL moves the emphasis away from physical structures and directs it toward the people inside. Let’s look at some of the language used in the document prepared for the Milliken Chicago showroom project by the International WELL Building InstituteTM (IWBITM):

WELL is an investment in people. One of the primary drivers of green/healthy interior design is the opportunity to directly impact the productivity of occupants. While operational savings, such as reduced energy and water bills are substantial achievements . . . few investments generate greater returns than those designed to boost employee productivity.

The bottom line (and we’re literally talking here about the bottom line) is that when employers and building owners make spaces better for the people who use them, they’ll often find themselves generating very significant returns on investment. 

SO, WHAT’S THE PROCESS LIKE?

An emphasis on sustainability and the environment has always played an important role in Milliken’s overall approach. The Chicago showroom was already LEED® CertifiedTM Gold for Existing Building Operations and Maintenance, for example. Given Milliken’s interest in the WELL Building Standard, a decision was made to try to gain WELL Certified Platinum status.

Working with the IWBI, the WELL Building Standard’s seven Concepts (Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind) were combed through to determine the appropriate selection of Features best suited to allow the showroom to achieve Platinum status. The project team, in collaboration with multiple resources, created a WELL Building Standard Guide — which served as Milliken’s road map for achieving certification. “I kept a running list of elements in the showroom I had to be sure were getting done,” said Monica Kopacz, Milliken’s showroom manager in Chicago.

“We worked with theMART’s management to check on things like the HVAC systems. We had to be sure they were clean and mold-free. There were some modifications — for example, we added charcoal filters in addition to what they were already using.” Monica noted that theMART was very supportive of what Milliken was up to. Plus, there were some unintended (but favorable) side effects. Such as, the HVAC system we’re talking about serves a number of different spaces in addition to the Milliken showroom — so other people in the building also benefit from the improved indoor air quality. By embracing the WELL Standard, its positive effects might just radiate beyond a company’s own walls.

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I’M A WATER SNOB

One of the fundamental aspects for certification was to be sure the showroom had clean, healthy drinking water. “We tested the water and of course it was fine,“ Monica pointed out. But she confessed: “I’m a water snob. I know I am.” That’s why she was especially happy that one of the WELL optimizations chosen to achieve platinum status was the addition of a water-treatment system in the showroom’s kitchen.

Drinking water has been upgraded from just fine. It’s filtered to remove organic compounds, microbial cysts, and any excessive suspended solids. This is another area where the positive effects radiate outward: excellent tap water also means that bottled water no longer has to be kept in the showroom, and neither do a pile of empty plastic bottles that always quickly filled up the recycling bin.

ALL ABOUT PEOPLE

As we’ve noted, the WELL Building Standard uses a people-centric approach. So, while of course part of the process involves building systems you’d expect (like HVAC, or lighting), there are other areas that are a bit less conventional. Like what’s in the fridge. WELL stipulates that the showroom should always have fresh fruits and vegetables available, and that drinks on hand have to contain less than 30 grams of sugar per serving.

Monica was also pleased that part of the plan included the purchase of a pedal stepper to put under her desk — exercise is an important part of the WELL Building Standard. “You sit for eight hours a day, and that’s not really all that good for you. If you’re confined to a desk it’s nice that you can move a little bit — you can get your circulation going. I appreciate the way WELL is really more about the work environment.”

FOLLOW UP

One last element noted by Monica: LEED relies on the submission of paperwork to verify that its criteria have been met. In contrast, to achieve WELL Certification — which does also require the submission of paperwork — the IWBI sends people out to do a hands-on inspection, technically referred to as a Performance Verification. “They’re in the mechanical room checking for mold, looking at the filters, checking replacement schedules,“ Monica said. “And then you have to renew your certification again in three years, to be sure you’re still compliant.“

The WELL Building Standard is a sophisticated, nuanced approach that looks at a wide array of factors, all of them operating in parallel. In this case the focus being on sustainability, along with health and wellness. It’s emblematic of a rise in holistic, integrated thinking — something we’re seeing more and more as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.

Topics: Health & Wellness

Olivia Trimble

Written by Olivia Trimble

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