(L-R) Mark McKenna, NDY; Romilly Madew, GBCA; Tony Armstrong, IWBI.

Australia is on the cusp of a retrofit revolution and achieving WELL Building Standard accreditation in less buoyant tenancy markets such as Brisbane and Perth would give property owners the edge without being cost prohibitive, the Air Conditioning Refrigeration & Building Services (ARBS) 2016 exhibition heard on Tuesday.

“Existing buildings are really important for us in terms of wellness,” Mark McKenna, NDY’s group leader sustainability, told the “Is wellness the next green?” seminar.

“Repositioning an asset to be healthy may be the difference between getting a tenant or not,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the Australian building sector to get those two factors aligned.”

Moderator Tony Arnel, global director of sustainability at NDY and president of the Energy Efficiency Council, said more than two million square metres of space now had WELL certification in 12 countries.

The standard, established in the US by the International WELL Building Institute, uses evidence-based medical and scientific research to harness the built environment as a vehicle to support health and wellbeing.

Australian heavyweights are clamouring to register WELL projects. At CBRE, panellist Tony Armstrong spearheaded it at Macquarie Group, which became the standard’s first global partner, establishing Sydney’s 50 Martin Place as Australia’s first WELL-certified office (platinum).

Since joining the IWBI in Sydney eight months ago, Mr Armstrong has enjoyed “a burgeoning tsunami” of WELL registrations from developers including Lendlease, DEXUS, QIC, Mirvac and Frasers Property.

Mr Armstrong described WELL as like “a nutrition label for a building”. He said it was a performance-based system focused on outcomes, and required much less documentation than other systems.

He said we needed WELL because Australian white-collar workers spend 90 per cent of their time indoors and this had a massive impact on health. The standard targets seven key areas:

  • Air covers air filtration, ventilation, VOC materials and humidity (an optimal 30 to 50 per cent). “The level of ventilation has huge impact, with studies showing people’s performance suffers with levels of CO2,” Mr Armstrong said.
  • Water looks at water quality and eliminating toxins, taste properties and practical considerations such as ensuring there’s a drinking station within 30 metres of every work station.
  • Nourishment is important when people are really busy, Mr Armstrong says, with tiny short cuts adding up to big problems. “Take biscuits out and bring fruit in for when people don’t have time to get proper food,” Mr Armstrong said. It’s also about providing ample refrigerator and bench space and facilities to make healthy food.
  • Light is all about taking advantage of natural light and using lighting to work with our circadian rhythms, creating a similar “melanopic lux” to outside.
  • Fitness promotes end-of-trip facilities for cyclists, runners and walkers; opportunities for people to do yoga (not necessarily within the building); and infrastructure such as interconnecting stairs – or if not within tenancy, the option to use fire escape stairs for one or two floors rather than the lift.
  • Comfort looks at improving thermal comfort, which is different for men and women, managing odours and adjusting acoustics. “We need to take more proactive approach to managing sound,” Mr Armstrong said. “People are driven nuts crammed into spaces.”
  • Mind is about educating people to be healthier, providing leave, offering mental health support and creating quiet spaces.

Understand the mega trends

Romilly Madew, chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia, said the council was looking to be an agent for WELL, working closely with Mr Armstrong, and planned to provide training for assessors as partners of the IWBI.

She said Australia had come a long way since Green Star was introduced in 2003, with 30 per cent of CBD office space now certified and green building doubling every three years.

“Six hundred thousand people now work in Green Star offices in Australia,” she said.

However, Ms Madew warned that we need to stay ahead of the game.

“There’s a lot happening and we need to be cognisant of that. The leading companies in the property industry understand the mega trends.”

These included the healthy buildings movement and resilience – not just rising sea levels and recovery from natural disasters, but access to food and resources and limiting urban sprawl.

“The clever companies are looking at how to build in resilience,” she said.

Greening up infrastructure, taking advantage of digital disruption, using social media to drive business strategy and embracing diversity are also crucial.

Later this year the GBCA and NABERS will introduce a “net zero” label to reward those businesses achieving net zero carbon levels.

“Green Star must push holistic thinking, creating healthy buildings in healthy communities,” Ms Madew said.

Collaboration is key

Mark McKenna said one of the great things about WELL was that it was forcing a more collaborative process between the key players in the building and operating of work spaces.

“The WELL standard brings all that together: how you work in space but also how you feel,” he said. “If a tenant is interested in improving the health and wellbeing, it has far greater impact.”

Mr McKenna said much of the success of WELL relied on the tenant to make good decisions, with services making up 20 per cent of the standard’s focus, the workplace 20 per cent, and company policies a massive 60 per cent. For example, achieving thermal comfort for individuals can be as simple as “allowing people to navigate towards spaces that are cooler or warmer”.

However, it’s not a matter of getting certification and walking away – a key feature of WELL is regular testing of mechanical features.

And the cost?

The cost for WELL certification is calculated per square metre. If you’re building for WELL certification, the cost of achieving it is likely to add 1 to 1.5 per cent to the cost of a project. If you’re building for Green Star, it’s not likely to cost any more.

Several WELL projects are underway in Geelong and developers such as Grocon have reported that because they started the WELL process early enough, they were just doing things slightly differently but without extra costs.

“It’s easier to use both Green Star and WELL,” Ms Madew said. “If you’re doing both at the same time, you don’t have to do it twice; we recognise it both ways.”

Mr McKenna agreed. “A lot of effort and money that you spend on Green Star is in that overlap. Doing WELL and Green Star doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive when you do it together.”

Barriers to achieving WELL

“Essentially we need to know they have enough natural light in the building,” Mr Armstrong said. “If not, it’s impossible to fix. They also need a good HVAC system.”

He said a new HVAC system had the potential to be cost prohibitive.

“Any building doing Green Star, we already know has great HVAC. Even though the focus is different, the technology used creates the right kind of environment for WELL.”

Surprisingly, according to Mr McKenna, water quality was likely to be a bigger deal than air quality.

“Melbourne water quality levels wouldn’t pass the standards,” he said. He outlined three requirements: turbidity (<0.3 NTU), residual chlorine (<0.6 mg/L) and fluoride (<4.0 mg/L) that are not up to scratch.

“Personally, I think if you are going down the path of testing water, it’s one of the big risk mitigations. It will trip you up at the end.”

Working out who is going to manage a building’s results – landlord or tenant – is also important. The standard requires presentation of annual results and recertification every three years so it’s important to have up-to-date performance figures on hand.

Finally, Mr McKenna advised undertaking a gap analysis on the road to achieving WELL.

“See how far away you are from achieving certification,” he said. “Of the 100 or so features in the standard, 30 or so have alternative pathways. It’s a new standard so it’s open to the fact that you may get a similar outcome but just demonstrate it a different way.”

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  1. Consumers deserve full disclosure:
    (1) Delos Living is linked to several donations and inexplicable perks to the Clinton Foundation officers.
    (2) Business both judge and jury. Delos charges for advising on building wellness while their other arm the IWBI charges for the certification. Even the IWBI staff is Delos staff, including the new CEO.
    (3) 99% of WELL Certificate material is lifted off the internet. There is no value-add for a smart builder, designer, architect.