For the Kador Group, achieving WELL Platinum certification for their 500 Collins street property was as easy as having a high functioning building to begin with — for others it may not be so simple. However, as demand grows for healthier buildings and tenant wellness, building owners are being told to consider their options carefully, with many existing features likely to already count towards a rating.
WELL platinum is the highest level of certification under the International WELL Building Institute’s rating scheme. Buildings are judged on tenant wellbeing across 10 key categories — air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community.
The office building at 500 Collins Street, which dates back to 1973, recently became the only existing building in Australia to achieve a Platinum level rating, once again raising the bar for what we should expect of the buildings we inhabit.
Back in 2007 the property also became the country’s first existing building to receive a 5 Star Green Star Office Design rating.
Officially the building is owned by Kamirice, one of the banners Aussie developer Kador Group operates under.
Managing Director of Kador and Kamirice, Mark Ross told The Fifth Estate sustainability was a central concern for his company, with an eye to the financial benefits as well as the social.
Prompting the company’s decision to aim for a Platinum WELL rating was not just growing public focus on health and wellbeing but the market advantage of having a demonstrably better functioning building.
“We saw that by providing a well rating here at 500 Collins it would assist tenants in attracting staff and, therefore, that’s a competitive advantage that we would have over similar buildings in the market,” Mr Ross said.
Having passed WELL’s independent environmental testing process, the building now displays live air quality readings in public spaces, adding an extra element of transparency and trust with building occupants.
While the testing process is relatively rigorous, particularly for a Platinum certification, having already updated the building to achieve the Green Star rating helped the building pass without the need for major refurbishment or capital investment.
All up the company spent less than half a million dollars of extra expenditure on the process of achieving a WELL certification.
This was on top of several million spent to upgrade end of trip facilities such as bike storage, showers and lockers as well as a new business lounge, but Ross said the company had intended to build these facilities anyway.
“The key point is that existing building owners don’t have to invest millions and millions of dollars to make their buildings healthier,” Ross said.
Can older buildings perform better?
Leading the WELL certification process for 500 Collins Street was accredited assessor, Hayley Koerbin of engineering consultancy firm, Norman, Disney and Young.
“It’s a building that has been wisely invested in over the years. Whenever Kamirice, and Kador as managers, have been doing refurbishments they’ve definitely kept efficiency and wellbeing in their mind,” Koerbin said.
The building’s chilled beam cooling system and upgraded lighting were both installed before the certification process started and were able to be recognised as creating a better environment for tenants.
Not all older buildings will have the benefit of such upgrades and may have to spend more, for instance on rectifying water systems if older piping is found to degrade water quality, which was not the case for the Collins Street property.
“If you’re taking a building that has had nothing done to it for sort of 20 years, then there’s probably quite a gap there to what sort of level of certification it could achieve,” Koerbin said.
Thermal comfort can be a more difficult measure for older buildings to meet due to often having single glazed windows and a lower quality of insulation. However, with updates to the building code in recent years these factors are frequently being addressed in new refurbishments.
Koerbin says all this does not mean that the WELL certification is out of reach for many more older buildings.
For one thing, the certification process is highly customisable, with a point system applying to 180 different features.
“You can very much pick the journey that’s most applicable to your building,” Koerbin said.
“We’ve done some gap analysis work for existing buildings in Melbourne and the results were definitely positive that they were able to achieve WELL certification without any significant investment or upgrades.”
With growing tenant demand for better health and wellbeing standards, and the benefits extending to increased staff productivity and retention, the payoff may be worth the upfront cost of making upgrades, and Koerbin said tenants and workers were right to demand greater transparency and accountability of building owners.
“We’ve built buildings to protect us from the elements and now we’re in this state of play where a lot of our buildings are actually harming our health,” Koerbin said.
“So it’s now become quite counterproductive to why buildings were created in the first place. So this shift to health and well being is very much the second wave of sustainability.”