It’s not often that we consider the health of a building or the built environment. And yet, most humans spend the majority of their time indoors. Whether that be at home or at the office, everyone is inside for most of the day.
The International WELL Building Institute or IWBI decided to measure the health of buildings and to award those healthy buildings with the WELL certification. A WELL certification assesses the health of a building in seven different categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.
Each category assesses not only the health of the building, but how the building affects its occupants and their health.
So, what’s it like to work in a building with a WELL certification?
We assume that indoor air is clean and healthy to breathe, but according to the EPA, air pollutant levels can be 2-5 times higher indoors than outdoors. High levels of pollutants and Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs in the air can reduce worker productivity as well as health. Air pollution contributes to 50,000 deaths annually in the United States.
The IWBI sets standards for how clean the air must be inside their certified buildings.
Air quality not only benefits the health of workers, but also their productivity. When workers breathe clean air, the higher levels of oxygen help to improve cognitive function and job performance — by up to 60%, found one study by Harvard University. Air purifiers and plants can both be used to improve indoor air quality.
Being just 2% dehydrated has been shown to impair cognitive function. Access to clean water is an assumed luxury to most Americans, but it’s not the case everywhere in the world. Even in the U.S., water can become contaminated with heavy metals, cancer-causing toxins, pharmaceutical drugs, and personal care products.
WELL building certification not only encourages clean drinking water, but to sustainably use water. Instead of establishing one standard for all water, thresholds are set based on how the water will be used (drinking, flushing toilets, cooling towers, etc) so as to preserve water while ensuring quality.
The biophilia hypothesis says that bringing nature inside and surrounding ourselves with natural elements can improve health and happiness. This might include incorporating plants or decorating with natural materials such as reclaimed wood, but bringing in natural light has multi-physiological impact..
Humans function on a 24-hour sleep and wakefulness cycle. The hormones and brain chemicals that control this cycle are managed by light. Insufficient light indoors, whether natural or not, can cause workers to get insufficient sleep, which ultimately affects their work performance.
Chronic sleep or wakefulness is associated with a number of health issues. Access to natural light can improve well-being, sleep, and worker efficiency.
Creating a comfortable environment requires the maintenance of many subsections, including olfactory, thermal, acoustic, and ergonomic. Workers are more efficient when working in an environment that doesn’t smell bad, has the right level of noise, isn’t too humid, is kept at a soothing temperature, and provides comfortable work space. If all of these conditions are met, workers will be more productive and efficient at work.
Nourishment, Fitness, and Mind
With over half of the world’s population being obese and poor nutrition being a major contributor to preventable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, nourishment, fitness, and mental health are all important areas that WELL assesses. Our physical and mental health are inextricably connected. WELL standards strive to create an atmosphere for physical health and a healthy state of mind.
It’s not obvious to most people how a building can play a role in human health, but where people spend their time affects how they feel. Research has shown that healthier built environments that bring people closer to nature makes them happier, healthier, and more productive.
So, what’s it like to work in a WELL certified building? Simple. It feels happier, healthier, and more productive.