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Sustainability Isn't Just About Energy Efficiency Anymore, It's About Wellness

A bigger push toward the health and wellness of office workers could change the way buildings are designed, built and operated throughout San Francisco and the nation.

Enovity co-founder and principal Greg Cunningham, Advanced Microgrid Solutions chief commercial officer Katherine Ryzhaya and Wendel Rosen partner Don Simon ESD vice president and director of the San Francisco office Aliza Skolnik during a Bisnow event last year.

WELL Building Standards, administered through the International WELL Building Institute, differ from LEED standards, which focus on the environmental impact from design and construction.

WELL Building focuses more on how organizations affect the health and well-being of occupants, according to Aliza Skolnik (far right), an ESD vice president who is director of the company's San Francisco office.

For many organizations, WELL Building is not just about improving the quality of life inside offices.

“In the Bay Area, one of the biggest driving factors is a competitive advantage both from a real estate perspective, and … the talent retention perspective. It is paramount to organizations to attract the best and the brightest,” said Skolnik, who will be speaking at an upcoming Bisnow event.

To attract the talent, many organizations are incorporating wellness standards. This often includes how much parental leave an organization offers, how long work hours are, how nutritious the food in the cafeteria is as well as the quality of the air and water within the building.

Delos published the first WELL Building Standards in 2014, incorporating research from medical organizations. WELL Building reviews air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and state of mind.

WELL Building and sustainability are becoming blended topics. Combined with new LEED version four, which incorporates a lot of well-building materials, building owners are now targeting both LEED and WELL Building standards since they complement each other.

Sustainability Isn't Just About Energy Efficiency Anymore, It's About Wellness

Skolnik said one of the biggest trends her firm is following is how materials affect the health of building occupants. ESD incorporates WELL Building through its mechanical, electrical and plumbing design, HVAC and lighting design, which can all play into health and wellness.

The firm is reviewing water quality reports to better understand filtration and how to incorporate these strategies into design. It is looking at how lighting design can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and how the brain and photo receptors respond to different types of light.

Skolnik said more data and more real-world performance metrics are needed to clearly identify the benefits of well-building for people, organizations and businesses. Delos is working to replicate certain environments to study the impact on people. She said so far there is only anecdotal support on the benefits of the standards.

Well-building is a concept being adopted nationwide. Skolnik said ESD has some clients wanting to implement WELL Building standards across their entire portfolios.

North American employers spent $16.2B toward health and wellness programs and services in 2015, and 53% of workers had access to wellness programs and services, according to data from the Global Wellness Institute released last month. Having healthy employees who take fewer sick days also benefits employers.

ESD is a design and consulting firm with offices in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and Abu Dhabi.

Find out more about WELL Building and sustainability at our San Francisco Sustainability event Feb. 27 at the Argonaut Hotel.