Leveraging the WELL Building Standard in the Wake of COVID-19
Hayley Koerbin, Tetra Tech High Performance Buildings Group sustainability lead in New Zealand, discusses how our physical environment impacts our health and the need for building design standards to enhance our well-being indoors.
COVID-19 has forced white-collar workers from around the world to work from home. As many of us prepare to return to the office as restrictions ease, we are reflecting on what the new normal of work, life, and health looks like.
We spend the majority of our time indoors, and our physical environment impacts our health more than our lifestyles, medical care received, and genetics. Yet, design standards to enhance our well-being indoors are almost nonexistent.
This is where the WELL Building Standard (WELL) comes in. A global rating tool backed by years of scientific research, WELL focuses on how effective buildings and organizations are at supporting the health and well-being of building occupants. One unique aspect compared to green building rating tools, such as Green Star, is that WELL certification relies on performance verification. This requires actual testing and visual inspections by an independent verifier of air quality, water quality, light levels, and acoustic quality to name a few.
In response to COVID-19, the International WELL Building Standard launched the Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Respiratory Infections. “Chaired by renowned experts and populated by dozens of thought leaders and authorities [including myself] from across public health, medicine, design, real estate, government and academia,” according the WELL, “the Task Force on COVID-19 is informing new Guidelines for Prevention and Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery, and enhancements to the WELL Building Standard itself.”
Released in May 2020, “Strategies from the WELL Building Standard to Support in the Fight Against COVID-19” identifies strategies from WELL v2 that reflects how organizations can approach prevention, preparedness, resilience, and recovery in relation to COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. Focusing on not only design but also operations and policies, these strategies call out initiatives from enhanced air quality to supporting flexible work policies and employee mental health under eight key themes, with all strategies backed by science. The eight key themes are to:
- Promote clean contact
- Improve air quality
- Maintain water quality
- Manage risk and create organizational resilience
- Support movement and comfort, including work from home
- Strengthen immune systems
- Foster mental resilience
- Champion community resilience and recovery
The Task Force is actively working on more comprehensive guidelines and looking at how to expand and strengthen some of the strategies already in place within WELL v2. These detailed guidelines are due for release in late 2020.