Agents of the Healthy Workplace: The International WELL Building Institute and CBRE

Agents of the Healthy Workplace: The International WELL Building Institute and CBRE

01 Jul 2015

By Patricia Kirk, Green Building & Design Magazine, July/August 2015

The headquarters for CBRE, a global real estate brokerage and advisory firm, is a poster child for creative offices, as it’s not just an open space bathed in natural light that invites collaboration and socializing, it’s also healthy for its employees.

Located on the top two floors of a 12-story building in downtown Los Angeles, the company’s new headquarters was the first commercial office space to achieve WELL Certification. This performance-based building rating system, which was developed by Delos Living in collaboration with scientists and physicians from Columbia University Medical School, architects, engineers, and other experts (and that also served as the subject of gb&d’s March/April Humans and Health issue cover story), focuses on healthy indoor environmental design that incorporates ideas across seven categories that affect human health: mind, comfort, fitness, light, nourishment, water, and air.

CBRE’s Workplace360 design by Gensler architect Lindsay Malison incorporates architectural elements that achieved both WELL Certifications and LEED Gold and also created a “wow” factor that includes a glass atrium running the length of the 48,000-square-foot office space to create a sky garden.

LEED VS. WELL
Speaking at CBRE in March during a panel discussion designed to bring our very own March/April cover story to life with experts on the topic, Kamyar Vaghar, strategic advisor at Delos’ International Well Building Institute (IWBI), pointed out that 90% of an individual’s life is spent indoors, but 70% of buildings have poorer air quality than the outdoors.

He noted that IWBI has partnered with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide third-party WELL Certification in collaboration with GBCI. He also explained that there is a 20 to 30% overlap between LEED and WELL and that the two are designed to work harmoniously. In fact, WELL’s biophilic design elements that bring nature inside are similar to criteria for LEED Gold and Platinum buildings.

As we noted in our March/April feature, WELL differs from LEED, however, in that it is fundamentally about the people in buildings. “We continue to monitor the health of the inside environment,” Vaghar adds, pointing out that WELL requires recertification every three years to ensure a space continues to meet the WELL standard.

Positive employee feedback
Fourteen months after opening its new space, CBRE conducted a survey to gather employee opinions about the new office design, which resulted in exceptionally positive feedback. Going forward, CBRE plans to 2015_03_17GBD32_Well_Building_Event026 copyredesign and WELL Certify its offices globally, and has also become a thought leader for healthy design, advocating its benefits to clients worldwide.

The WELL Certified office standard, which includes more than 50 wellness amenities and innovations, prescribes technology enhancements and performance-based measures to address 23 health pathways to improve quality of indoor air, water, light, nutrition, and comfort.

Among CBRE’s wellness innovations and amenities is ergonomic furniture that offers employees the option to sit or stand, a treadmill workstation, mats that cushion feet and encourage proper posture, flexible dual monitors, water hydration stations every 50 feet, and circadian LED lighting, as well as wellness education and fitness activities, such as yoga classes.

Beth Moore, CBRE director of workplace strategy, reported that some 83% of CBRE employees say the company’s new office space makes them feel more productive, 92% feel the space is having a positive impact on their health and well-being and would not go back to the old way of working, and 90% would recommend the Workplace360 approach to colleagues and friends.

A panel discussion at CBRE brought our March/April cover story to life with experts on the WELL Building Standard.A panel discussion at CBRE brought our March/April cover story to life with experts on the WELL Building Standard.

Features garnering high marks
A notable workplace feature highly valued by survey participants was the free-address, activity-based work environment, which allows employees to move around to different work areas to encourage teamwork, creativity, innovation, leadership, and a drive for excellence. They also mentioned the adjustable desks, which provide the ability to stand at will, as well as the easy access to water at hydration stations.

Employees also reported that the sky park has had a positive influence on their health and well-being, citing natural light and views of the downtown skyline as sources of this effect. “This is our park—we eat and work out here,” Moore commented, gesturing to the surrounding atrium where the event was held. “We love the opportunity to connect with nature.”

“There’s interest across the board to bring the outside inside with plant material,” commented architect Carlos Posada, a principal at Gensler. The sky park space, which contains more than 1,000 drought-resistant plants, also serves as a hub for co-working, meeting with clients, and socializing, and includes a café and large-screen monitor to facilitate interactive media and teleconferencing.

Moore also stressed the importance of lighting on health and productivity. Studies have shown that lack of natural light during daytime hours and blue-rich light from glowing screens and other sources at night both disrupt metabolic function, immune response, cognitive performance, and even genetic expression.

The circadian adaptive LED lighting used in the CBRE office space emulates nature’s cycles to restore the natural 24-hour cycle of the human body and helps to lessen strain on eyes and headaches. Posada explained, for example, that color temperature of the lights softens after sunset, when the space is used for socializing.

The path to the WELL way
With an audience composed largely of architects, members of the panel offered suggestions for getting started on WELL Certified projects. Moore explained that the WELL program dictates who needs to be involved and when. “It makes it simple and intuitive,” she said, “but from the start, you need a qualified consultant to walk you through the process.”

Even if the schematic design is 100% complete, simple adjustments can still be made, Posada noted, pointing that the hydration stations were an add-on. He stressed, however that you need a commitment from the contractor from the start. “With CBRE the contractor came in on day one, and so was a part of the team.”

Why workplace design matters
Stressing that both employers and employees benefit from a healthy work environment, Moore observed that millennials, who will comprise 40% of the workforce by 2020, are making decisions about where they work based on their values. Their expectations for a workplace environment plays a significant role in this choice, she continued, emphasizing that employers that meet their expectations will attract the best talent.

With onsite fitness classes, the liberating free-address work system, and a variety of places scattered throughout the office space for socializing, connection, interaction, collaboration, and employee engagement, Moore suggested that the Workplace360 environment is a good fit for millennial values and expectations.

She suggested that these types of amenities and innovations can help retain employees and keep them happy and productive, noting, on the other hand, that time and money invested in training are lost when employees leave unhappy.

Vaghar also pointed out that various studies have shown that a healthy work environment improves productivity by reducing employee absenteeism and improving worker comfort, morale, and attitude. He noted that even a 10% boost in productivity is significant.

Panelists discussed the fact that IWBI has partnered with the U.S. Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide third-party WELL Certification in collaboration with GBCI.Panelists discussed the fact that IWBI has partnered with the U.S. Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide third-party WELL Certification in collaboration with GBCI.

Verifying healthy claims
“IWBI is currently working with a committee of medical scientists to develop studies that will provide empirical data on the health benefits provided by WELL features,” Vaghar said.

Separately, IWBI’s parent company Delos recently partnered with the Mayo Clinic to design, develop and operate a WELL Living Lab, which will simulate realistic living and working environments, including homes, offices, schools, community facilities, and hotels to test, monitor and identify the efficacy of wellness-based interventions.

Located adjacent to the Mayo campus in Rochester, Minnesota, this lab is the first of its kind dedicated exclusively to research, development, and testing of new and existing technologies and other innovations designed to improve the health and well-being of occupants in various built environments. It will begin operations in October of this year.

Paying it forward
Vaghar also noted that, as a benefit corporation (B-Corp), IWBI has launched a “payback” initiative that will direct 51% of net profits from WELL Certification fees to projects that otherwise may not be able to achieve WELL Certification. Over the past year, IWBI assisted Brad Pitt’s Make It Right program in building a green, healthy home for a low-income family in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.

Additionally, Delos and IWBI founder Paul Scialla partnered with the US Green Building Council to build the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center, a LEED-certified and WELL-certified orphanage and children’s health clinic in Haiti. Delos has also partnered with TECHO, a non-governmental organization based in Chile that trains and organizes youth and the community on projects to overcome slum poverty, to build 200 affordable housing units in Haiti. And so, it seems, IWBI is just getting started.

Source: Green Building and Design