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LEED, WELL And The Chicago Contractor Bringing Them Together

A conference room in Leopardo's offices at 210 North Carpenter St., Chicago

Patty Lloyd is no stranger to making buildings green. As the director of sustainability at Chicago-based contractor Leopardo, Lloyd has overseen the LEED certification process for dozens of building projects in Illinois and beyond.

But now, Lloyd has also been learning all there is to know about indoor air quality and has become a connoisseur of office snacks, in the service of a new goal: WELL certification, which measures how buildings and spaces work to promote healthy lifestyles and overall employee wellness.

“Once you get into the world of dual certifications, the level of collaboration, attention to detail and coordination intensifies exponentially,” Lloyd said. “You have two sets of rules and recommendations and two separate governing bodies you need to sign off.”

Lloyd’s latest LEED-WELL dual certification project is especially meaningful. It is Leopardo’s new office at 210 North Carpenter St. in Fulton Market. For Lloyd and her colleagues, it will serve not only as a workspace, but also as a showroom for clients to see what LEED- and WELL-certified spaces can look like. Leopardo’s office, which opened in December 2018, is anticipating LEED v4 Silver certification and will undergo performance verification for WELL v1 Gold certification this year.

Created in 1998, LEED has become the industry standard for green building certification. The program, which is backed by the U.S. Green Building Council, emphasizes choosing building sites, materials and fixtures that promote sustainability, energy and water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. The LEED guidelines have gone through numerous iterations, and Lloyd said the current standards, known as LEED v4, are very stringent, a far cry from the program stipulations of the last decade.

WELL is much younger. Launched in 2014, the program describes itself as a standard for buildings, spaces and communities to “implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness.” 

The offices of Perkins Eastman at 209 South LaSalle St., Chicago

While buildings and offices might work toward LEED certification by investing in a more efficient heating system or constructing a bike room, they can get closer to WELL certification by implementing improvements to air quality, supporting volunteer opportunities for employees and offering fresh fruits and vegetables instead of sodas and cookies.

Buildings that offer LEED and WELL certifications are becoming coveted office spaces. A study from McGraw Hill found that owners of green buildings grew their return on investment by 19.2% for existing green projects and 9.9% for new projects. While some of those returns came from savings on utilities, the majority came because tenants will pay a premium for green office space.

While WELL certification is still in its nascent stages, Lloyd expects it to become just as influential as LEED.

“With WELL, there is a return on all sides,” she said. “The building owner gets better rent and lease results, the employer sees greater retention and attraction as well as enhanced productivity and reduced healthcare costs, and the employee gets a healthier environment with benefits aimed directly at improving their experience.”

Of the 251 projects worldwide that have been WELL certified so far, 10 are in the city of Chicago. Lloyd said that she has worked on what she hopes will be the first WELL v2 certified project in Illinois, the Chicago office of Perkins Eastman, an international architectural and planning firm.

A golf simulator at Leopardo's offices

The two programs share certain requirements — known as “crosswalks” — which can simplify the dual certification process. The emissions standards for materials like flooring, furniture and finishes are essentially identical for WELL and LEED, Lloyd said, and the credits Leopardo will receive for human-friendly acoustic design also count toward LEED. But some synergies are more coincidental. 

“WELL and LEED will reward you for being near mass transit, but the reasoning is different,” Lloyd said. “LEED is rewarding you because by using mass transit you are avoiding emissions from single-occupant vehicles. WELL is rewarding you because when people use public transit, they must walk to and from the station. So there is a health and wellness perspective as well as the energy and emissions perspective.”

On rare occasions, the programs actually specify different goals. In restrooms, for instance, LEED asks companies to choose air dryers because they eliminate paper towel waste and reduce the carbon footprint of hand drying. WELL asks for paper towels, which allow for maximum germ removal. Leopardo’s new office offers both.

A meeting room in the Perkins Eastman Chicago office

Because WELL is still so new, Leopardo is one of the only contractors that offers a seasoned dual certification team, Lloyd said, and the company plans to keep investing in its sustainability and wellness arms as the movements continue to grow. Lloyd expects the number of WELL certifications to balloon — though there are only about 250 projects that have been WELL certified so far, over 3,000 projects are registered for certification in the coming years and more than 5,000 people have become WELL accredited professionals, including Lloyd.

On a more personal level, Lloyd said she supports projects seeking green building certifications because she believes every industry has a part to play in reducing humanity’s contribution to global climate change, and rating systems provide the platform for manufacturers, designers, engineers, builders and owners to contribute. Working on dual certification for the Leopardo office has given those issues meaning for some of Lloyd’s closest colleagues.

“In the Leopardo Chicago office, we were able to learn, make mistakes, make choices, get feedback, improve our operations and make improvements for our staff all while adding to our résumé,” Lloyd said. “Seeing our staff be more aware of LEED-related issues or seeing visible health and wellness results thanks to our pursuit of the WELL Building Standard is incredibly gratifying, and it goes a long way in validating our desire to take on the dual certification.” 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Leopardo. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.