More and more companies are looking to create healthy workspaces for sustainability, as well as recruiting and retaining employees. Huw Morris reports
When multidisciplinary consulting engineering consultancy Cundall planned to refurbish its London office, its prime motivation was attracting and retaining quality staff. Then, however, the company saw an opportunity for an exemplar project focusing on sustainability and wellbeing.
When fitting out its 14,300m2 office at One Carter Lane, Cundall used the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based certification system that marries best practice in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research to create healthy and sustainable workspaces.
The project’s lighting design combines an office layout that maximises natural daylight with light sensors that reduce or increase lux levels when appropriate. Others features are more prosaic, such as changing facilities, showers and bike racks to encourage cycling to work, as well as weekly yoga classes and fresh fruit in the café. One Carter Lane has won accolades: the first building in Europe to achieve the highly coveted Gold Certificate under the standard in 2016.
“The acceptance of sustainability, the wellbeing of the planet and the environment as an integral part of most developments has been a long fight,” says Cundall’s sustainability partner Alan Fogarty. “The WELL Building Standard takes a slightly different view – putting people’s wellbeing at the heart of the building. One thing our design at One Carter Lane has shown quite clearly is that, although the two ideas need to be addressed together and holistically, the two are not always completely compatible.”
“The physical and social environment has a much larger impact on people’s health than lifestyle, medical care or genetics”
A research-based standard
So what is the WELL Building Standard? And what’s in it for employers? One statistic drives both: most people spend 90%
of their time indoors. “The indoor environment has a huge impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” says International WELL Building Institute’s Europe manager Laura Wilkes. “The physical and socialenvironment has a much larger impact on people’s health than lifestyle, medical care or genetics.”
The standard is the culmination of six years of research on integrating environmental health, behavioural factors, health outcomes and demographic risks with building design, construction and management. This evolved into a performance-based system that measures, certifies and monitors seven features of the built environment that affect human health and wellbeing: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Spaces are evaluated for one year to ensure all necessary criteria are met before achieving certification, and are then re-evaluated every three years. The primary focus is occupant wellbeing, with more and more companies wanting to create healthy places for their staff.
Since its launch in 2014, more than 4,000 buildings across the world have been registered or certified under the standard. For many companies, investing in people and helping to improve their physical and mental health makes common sense, with 90% of corporate expenses linked to salary and benefits. This means the return on investment of healthier and happier employees extends to cost savings.
THE WELL BUILDING STANDARD – BY NUMBERS
The number of WELL projects registered around the world
The number of projects formally certified under the standard
47,287,64 square metres
The amount of WELL project space globally
The number of countries with WELL projects
Money well spent
Cundall spent £850,000 on the fit-out and a further cost in certification fees, consultancy time and hard materials of £55,000. Within 12 months, it was paying back. The company reported a 27% drop in staff turnover within a year, saving £122,000, while absenteeism fell by 50%, leading to an annual saving of £90,000.
Although measuring improvements to employee performance is tricky given the wide disparity in metrics and staff tasks, some statistics are emerging. CBRE Madrid, another Gold winner, reports that 80% of employees think its new office enabled them to be more productive. The company found overall productivity had increased by 30%. Other savings speak for themselves – a 12% reduction in energy use, water consumption down 40% and overall employee satisfaction up 76%.
Office developers are now getting in on the act. In the US, the Urban Land Institute says developing healthy buildings leads to greater marketability, faster leasing and sales or higher rents – in some cases as much as 20% above market rates. Yet regardless of the financial benefits, the key principle remains. “If you change the environment, you can change how you live,” says Wilkes. “The ultimate goal is creating a positive human experience.”
Case study – Arup, Boston
In 2017, engineers at Arup, Boston refurbished a 1970s-built office at State Street to the WELL Building Standard before moving in. New features included a circadian lighting design with dynamic controls to automatically adjust brightness and colour in line with the position of the sun. The office also had highly reflective ceiling materials for maximised indirect lighting, a ventilation system to filter air and ventilate spaces in response to occupancy levels, as well as a larger dining area to reduce mindless eating at desks. The company provides healthier food options, while a sparkling water dispenser means staff hydrate more often. Arup conducted an occupant survey at its old office in Mass Avenue and then another survey six months later at its new office, then compared the two:
Huw Morris is a freelance journalist.