Emma McMahon, CBRE

The US-devised WELL Building Standard is continuing its steady march into the property industry and looking more like an incursion every week, especially given the chatter among guests on Thursday morning at Deb Noller’s Switch Automation presentation at AMP Capital HQ in Sydney.

But the most exciting thing we picked up on the day was that it’s the B- and C-grade buildings that may be able to make the most of this system, opening up the possibility that, finally, there might be a trigger that works to unlock sustainability in this stubborn sector.

But it won’t be cheap. According to feedback after our story two weeks ago, it’s a multiple of the cost of Green Star (actually it turns out it’s around $100,000 for a 40,000-60,000 square metre building, so a five-times multiple, to be precise).

This means that brand wise and productivity wise, it needs to deliver in spades.

Gatekeepers for WELL were not forthcoming about pricing, following our inquires, saying  only that this varied “not only based on size, but there is also flexibility to include projects of different typologies”.

“The higher the square footage, the more flexibility is afforded on pricing, providing economies of scale,” a spokeswoman said.

Here’s a link where you can get a “customised quote”.

The system was developed by Delos, which “established the International WELL Building Institute, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delos, to share the WELL Building Standard globally”.

“IWBI is a public benefit corporation that was founded by Delos pursuant to a Clinton Global Initiative commitment by Delos founder Paul Scialla to improve the way people live by developing spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life.”

So it’s got some solid credentials amid a commercial framework, and the chatter is that Sciallia is completely unabashed about that.

WELL’s executive vice president Jessica Cooper will be Sydney next week and one of the headline speakers at Philip Ross’s Worktech 2016 conference to explain why it’s worth the investment, and there will be an opportunity to quiz Scialla himself when he attends Green Cities in March.

Another thing that makes it a big investment is the level of achievement required. This is no greenwash, it seems.

The most expensive challenge so far seems to be the extreme standard on air filtration that might make sense for car-dependent highly polluted cities in the US and China, but not so apposite in Australia where we already have pretty schmick “world’s best practice” air systems.

Upgrading these to the WELL standard can be pricey and the industry is asking the WELL people if the standard should be adjusted for local condition.

CBRE director, Pacific, Emma McMahon, who attended the Switch Automation event, said standards were “way over and above what’s expected here in filtration and to the level only generally seen in hospitals”.

The more powerful filtration systems then impact on energy consumption, which cascades down to the NABERS rating.

That’s something “we’re explaining to IWBI”, she says.

Among some of the more challenging requirements for the high performance air systems are negative pressurisation in a building lobby to prevent outdoor air coming inside.

This is tough for permeable buildings such as retail facilities open to the outside – in response, by the way, to years of lobbying from designers who say we should make abundant use of Australia’s generally temperate and benign air.

“Clients are pushing back. That’s not best practice in Australia and it’s about having the IWBI understand what is good quality here.”

This doesn’t mean the standard will change but there may be alternative ways to meet the required features.

B- and C-Grade property owners be upstanding – your time might now be here

Last time we wrote about WELL we nominated a swag of property owners registering or planning to register for the standard, but on Thursday we heard the names of another five or six who are in the wings.

What’s surprising is that these owners are not the top-end players.

It seems it’s the B- and the C-grade buildings that stand to reap the biggest rewards from going WELL.

Picture this: your B-grade portfolio currently attracts B-grade rents. You spend a bit on up upgrade (long overdue anyway), fork out for the WELL registration and suddenly you can charge premium rents – in a B-grade building.

McMahon confirmed our take. It’s considerably harder to extract the additional return on investment from applying WELL to a premium buildings than it is to the neglected B grade down the road, she says.

It seems a bit counter intuitive at first, but it makes sense.

Meanwhile, another guest on the day, Bruce Duyshart, who authored the book Smart Buildings, Better Experiences, and was much acclaimed as a building and systems technology wizz by Noller up on stage, said even he was challenged by the level of data tracking that WELL requires: where did the apples in the canteen come from, for instance; who says they are organic? What about the waste? Can we be sure it’s properly separated and who is measuring each component?

We’ll keep you updated on any movement in adapting the standard to local conditions.

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  1. Forget the issue of air filtration, just count the number of “prerequisites.” By my count, there are 41 things every building MUST DO to qualify for a WELL rating at any level. Consultant costs alone are likely to be twice that of Green Star. I’d wager that WELL is a non-starter for all B and C buildings and most A buildings as well.

    1. Time will tell. We were given names of serious contenders in B grade space but were requested not to mention yet. And just received from CBRE notice of a strategic alliance with Delos “Under the alliance, CBRE will pursue WELL Certification for at least 100 buildings, sites or offices managed by or associated with CBRE worldwide.
      “Additionally, CBRE plans to professionally accredit 50 CBRE employees through the WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) program.
      Dave Pogue, Global Director of Corporate Responsibility for CBRE, said; ‘More and more occupiers are recognising the role the physical and environmental characteristics of their offices can play on the recruitment, retention, health, and even performance of their employees. Space matters. And Delos, as creator of the WELL Building Standard, developed a comprehensive way to measure and recognise the efforts taken in this area. This is an important new way of assisting our clients in a growing area of priority and focus, and we are pleased to play an active role in both the development and advancement of the standard’.”
      There’s something viral about WELL.

  2. “$100,000 for a 40,000-60,000 square metre building”

    Where does this come from? Based on the calculator and AFTER an early adopter discount, the cost of certification for a 45k sqm building is still likely to be $200k+

    It’s worth remembering that this price doesn’t even consider the costs associated with getting the building or tenancy to a point where it could meet the WELL Silver Standard, let alone Gold or Platinum. As an example, the specs around air filtration are expensive, both initially and to maintain. It’s a really hard standard, which is great for the Healthy Building movement. But I am not convinced that is is even remotely accessible for lower grade buildings yet…

    1. We’ll double check that, Jack. And need to spend more time crunching the numbers with rents. Early days.