Lady Gaga wants it. So does Jennifer Lopez, Robert De Niro, Serena Williams, and Michael B. Jordan (RIP). But these celebrities aren’t promoting a movie or top-shelf liquor, and they are not soliciting donations to a worthy cause. Instead, their star power comes together in an advertisement promoting that it is safe to visit facilities once again — as long as it has a WELL Health-Safety seal on the window.   

The WELL Health-Safety program is part of the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment. The standard, which is managed and administrated by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), focuses on how a building’s attributes impact human health and well-being.  

The concept couldn’t come around at a better time. As a nervous public balances the risk of contracting the latest COVID-19 variant against the potential pleasures of returning to the office, school, and places of recreation and commerce, a little celebrity nudge could go a long way to ease minds.  

But what does the WELL Building Standard and the WELL Health-Safety program mean for the cleaning protocols in facilities? Possibly quite a bit. Adoption of the WELL Certification is taking off, with the program presently enrolling 6 million square feet of property a day around the world, according to Nathan Stodola, chief engineer, IWBI, New York.  

“You see the WELL seal more and more out in the wild,” he says. “Awareness is certainly growing.” 

A Short History 

Launched in October 2014, the WELL Building Standard Version 1.0 offered a performance-based rating system that marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research. Created by Delos, a real estate company with a focus on health and wellness, the idea of the WELL Standard, now administered by IWBI, is to harness the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and well-being. 

Version 1.0 examined seven concepts to reach that goal. The concepts — air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind — may read like a cast list from the Avatar: The last Airbender movie but, according to the IWBI, meeting a given number of attributes within those concepts will improve the health of humans in that building. Receive a passing score in all seven concepts and the building can be WELL certified for three years.  

By the summer of 2020, WELL Building Standard Version 2.0 was released. The IWBI tweaked the concepts and rules while adding in some flexibility for meeting the criteria without reducing the rigor. For instance, Version 1.0 was basically limited to new construction or major redesign projects. Version 2.0 outlines important advances that can be made on an existing building through operations or policy. 

However, no matter the version, for a building to earn a rating it must meet all required strategies (preconditions). WELL ratings are available at the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum levels, depending on how many points (optimizations) a project achieves. Gold and Platinum levels are awarded if preconditions and a certain number of applicable optimizations are met. No matter what level the project is shooting for, it must be verified by an independent third party. 

If that sounds familiar, it should. The US. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard is very comparable in scope and scale. In fact, WELL and LEED share similar standards and requirements, along with the need for that independent third-party verification. In fact, they both  use the same company, Green Business Certification, Inc., to administer the ratings. 

However, the two diverge a bit on the goals. WELL zeroes in on the people inside a building and how those interiors impact human health. Meanwhile, LEED trends towards optimizing energy performance, reducing carbon footprints and preventing pollution, according to this blog by C.D. Smith Construction.   

Both ratings push the entire cleaning industry towards cleaner, greener, healthier practices, but LEED is a bit ahead in ratings numbers. Right now, there are over 100,000 registered and certified LEED commercial projects in the United States, according to the USGBC. But that reach could extend much further. 

“The influence of LEED on the cleaning industry is estimated to be about five times that,” explains Stephen Ashkin, CEO of the Ashkin Group, Channel Island Harbor, California. “A university may have two or five LEED certified buildings out of 100 on campus. They’ve built a green cleaning program that follows the LEED roadmap for those certified buildings, but they will typically use the roadmap for all the buildings on the campus.”  

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WELL Certification Emphasizes Facility Reopening