When we caught up with him at Green Cities last week, Paul Scialla, founder of the rocketing WELL Building Standard, confirmed what the sceptics disputed: WELL is poised to do exactly what a host of other programs, carrots, sticks and rating tools have failed to do – shake up the elusive B grade buildings market.
In a quick, highly succinct grab that evidenced why this man is making so many inroads in a patch that is not native to his skill set (he’s an investment banker) Scialla, said the biggest opportunities were indeed in old second hand buildings.
“You have to address existing buildings sector – it’s 98 per cent of the square footage,” he said.
QIC for instance. It was about to turn its 1960s 50,000 square metre building at 80 Collins Street in Melbourne into a WELL standard building. Its new building next door, around the same size, will also be in the WELL club.
“A million square feet, two buildings at 80 Collins Street side by side,” chipped in Australian Tony Armstrong who last year left a good job at CBRE to join the WELL team in the US and was by Scialla’s side at GC (and clearly well ensconced in American metrics… or imperials).
QIC confirmed the move.
“QIC Global Real Estate is committed to sustainability as a core platform in our business,” it said in a written response to our query.
“We recognise the new WELL Certification program as a valuable method of measuring a building’s influence on not just the environment, but also the health and wellbeing of the people who live, work and spend time within it.
“QIC has established a relationship with the WELL Building Institute and is currently in discussions with the group as a pathway to potential certification of key future developments.”
Scialla said CBRE’s director sustainability Pacific Emma McMahon was right when she told us earlier this year that getting a WELL rating allowed B grade buildings to play in the premium rent league.
This is hugely important. The B and C grade sectors of the market are the ones that have been by-passed by the green building revolution. (Revolutions generally start from the ground up and then topple the elite.)
This failure to ignite property’s “grass roots” so to speak has been the source of massive frustration to many in the industry.
McMahon, who’s leading CBRE’s push on the standard was unavailable this week, but in her absence Amanda Steele managing director asset services for the company said it was a mistake to lump all B grade buildings into one amorphous mass, and the same should be said of their owners.
“The issue with B grade building is that the industry has run rough shod over this sector but it’s got a lot of variations within it,” Steele says.
“Just because it’s B grade doesn’t mean it’s unsophisticated or that it’s about tenants looking for cheaper prices.”
Many buildings might be quirky or funky, or have heritage elements.
It could be exactly what the cool young things who cycle to work or identify as hipsters in plaid shirts are looking for – all part of the race to attract and retain tenants. Especially if the building has a WELL overlay.
“Techies don’t want a bland corporate environment; they’re not trying to be Sony; they’re trying to be Google.
“It’s the bike racks and slippery dips and bean bags in the corner. No one wants vanilla stock.”
But while WELL was sought by some companies as part of employee attraction and retention, others were interested in brand alignment. “I’m not surprised to see the health practitioners looking at WELL ratings,” Steele says.
In recent times, the conversation had “flipped” she said, from buildings to people.
The thing she loves the most is the research that proves that getting out of your office, having walking meetings and standing meetings is “good for health and success”.
“I love the innovation.” Property hasn’t been so good at that people-centric approach to delivery, but “it’s getting it”.
A problem with the green building sector is that it’s been too “singularly focused on energy for too long. I like WELL building standard because it’s more holistic and it’s looking at the well being of the person and by extension the building and who it can support.
“After all it should always have been about people. We’re been too clever by half when we talk about green and sustainability. We lose people in the jargon and in the science and technology around it and people are put off by it.”
Is there a danger we loose sight of energy efficiency? Building Alive’s Craig Roussac recently urged the industry to ensure it keeps its eye on both.
- See our article, WELL-being and energy efficiency: can we keep our eyes on both?
This is “absolutely important,” Steele says, “and it’s important that we keep focused on broader community health.
“We should never loose sight of climate change, which is the biggest risk to the community we’ve ever seen.”
Why is Australia the hottest market for WELL?
Scialla also confirmed what everyone now knows, Australia is WELL’s hottest markets.
On a per capita basis it exceeds anywhere else, he said citing “seven to 20 projects registered or about to be registered.”
“I can say qualitatively that the culture, the receptiveness and openness is amazing. I think you folks just get it.”
Yes, but why? How?
But maybe it’s simply the next logical thing. Wellness does something magical, it by passes all the political heat that’s dogged sustainability and anything even remotely connected to clean green energy and goes straight to the heart of what’s nearest and dearest to us, ourselves.
Let’s not call it an extension of the narcissism age though; let’s say instead it’s time overdue for a focus on the things that really matter, an evaluation of meaning in our lives (are we balanced, do we devote sufficient time to family and loved ones or are we obsessed with work kudos alone?) health, by eschewing easy processed food and thinking about real nutrition, and of course fitness.
WELLness encourages standing work, walking meetings, and greater social engagement among colleagues, a work place culture.
And who could possibly object to focusing on making people healthier?
Scialla is aware. WELL, he says, creates the space for sustainability to slide right in on its coat-tails. Because hey, clean air, less polluting dirty energy, less PVC and off gassing from nasty plastics and oil based products is good for us.
Geoff Dutaillis, head of sustainability for Lendlease Group, which has an alliance with WELL and wants to achieve a platinum rating at Barangaroo, also at Green Cities, agreed with the power of the WELL approach.
“If have a conversation about sustainability I’m lucky to get half the audience’s attention; if I have a conversation about pollution and health I will get 100 per cent of the audience.”