LEED and WELL certifications: differences, benefits, and drawbacks

by | Apr 5, 2022 | Energy, Environmental, Facilities Management, Health & Safety, Sustainability

As human beings we spend a significant amount of time indoors. Consequently, our environment plays a large role in our comfort, health, and wellbeing. The ventilation, the presence of natural light and indoor environment quality work together to influence our productivity at work. A building is often an organisation’s largest monetary asset which accommodates an organisation’s other largest asset, its employees. Consequently, the relationship between the workplace and employees is closely related. Ensuring that a premises meets sustainability standards ensures a healthier, more productive workforce. Employee expectations and priorities are changing. Now, potential employees take note of an organisations sustainability credentials and look for employers who expect employees to have a quality of life. LEED and WELL certifications are global standards that focus on all three areas of sustainability – social, economic, and environmental. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. WELL is short for Well Building Standard Certification and is an architecture led aid for human health.  

LEED 

  • Has been around in one form or another since 1994. 
  • LEED focuses on improving the environmental performance of new construction through sustainable design and criteria for performance measurement.  
  • LEED focuses on sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.  

WELL 

  • Established in 2014, it is a relative newcomer to sustainability certification. 
  • WELL certification focuses on air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mental wellbeing. 
  • WELL certification is considered to the world’s first certification that focuses completely on enhancing people’s health & wellbeing through the built environment.     

Benefits

The development of the LEED system helped to establish a spectrum of standards that took a holistic approach to design. When LEED was first developed, the focus of the standards was on the ‘life-cycle’ of a building and prioritising energy efficiency and employee health for the long term. As a result, LEED helped to legitimise green design as a business investment. Consequently, LEED became seen as offering a competitive edge to the owners of a building trying to attract tenants. The benefits of the certification over the long term include prioritising building efficiency, decreasing operational costs, increasing asset value, ensuring the productivity, comfort, health, and wellbeing of occupants. LEED and WELL certifications offer advantages as it signals the sustainability credentials of the building and the organisation that occupies it. The status that a LEED certification gives to a building or business has become so great that for some organisations, the desire to acquire it is greater than the difficulty in applying for it. 

According to the USGBC (US Green Building Council), both LEED and WELL certifications give credibility to organisations trying to attract talent. Other effects on organisations include contributing to ESG goals by contributing to indoor environmental quality which reduces absenteeism and stress and improves productivity. Additionally, it allows owners of buildings to manage the sustainability performance of their premises.

WELL certification is based on medical research that examines the connection between the built environment and our health and wellbeing. The advantages of the WELL certification for the owners and occupants of a building include reducing waste, conserving water, and positively affecting employees’ wellbeing. A survey of occupants of WELL certified buildings in 2018 indicated that full time employees who were in the building for most of their working day reported increased enthusiasm and energy, increased productivity and a significant decrease in their stress levels.

Drawbacks

The need for businesses to be sustainable is increasing. While many organisations may strive to be sustainable, LEED and WELL certifications have some drawbacks, most notably, the cost of becoming certified. The costs of acquiring the certification are the building owner’s responsibility and can vary in price. Additionally applying for certification on your own is difficult and expensive which means that you will probably have to pay for a LEED or WELL consultant to assist in the qualification process. The implication of this is, although sustainable workplaces or buildings should be available to everyone, the associated costs put sustainability out of reach of some building owners and organisations. Other obstacles that prevent people from applying for certification include the extensive paperwork that is time consuming. LEED certification has evolved since its inception however some negative perceptions persist. One of these is the length of time that it takes to become certified. It is true that previously it took a lengthy period to become certified, however, this has been addressed and now according to the USGBC it takes 25 days for LEED certification and 6 months for WELL.

Other drawbacks of LEED certification include the way certification is calculated. Acquiring a LEED certificate for your building has become a status symbol and is a points-based system where it is possible to acquire points towards your certification. However, both factors encourage people to work the system and make the sustainability benefits secondary. One example of this is the addition of features that will garner you more points – installing a bike rack for your employees is one way to gain a point, however the redevelopment of a hazardous waste site also only accrues one point for your LEED certification. The imbalance between the two is clear.

There are several other criticisms of the points-based system such as it discourages innovative sustainability techniques as the recognition for innovation is acquired only as bonus points, therefore, not recognising the value of innovation in sustainability.     

It’s hard to find any drawbacks with WELL certification, however the cost and the time it takes to become certified is a perceived disadvantage. Additionally, it is more costly to implement WELL approved systems in an existing building than a new build. The survey of occupants of a WELL certified building is discussed briefly in the benefits paragraph. The survey shows which areas of the occupant’s life the WELL certification had no effect, for example: most respondents of the survey did not find that their use of a WELL certified building affected their desire to exercise more and that it did not have any effect (positively or negatively) on their sleep.  

LEED and WELL certifications aren’t perfect, but they offer a structured way of improving the environmental effect and quality of life a business premises offers. Finding ways to support your sustainability efforts can take many forms. Regardless of what stage of the sustainability journey your business is at, facilities management can help support your sustainability efforts. If you would like to chat to us to learn more, contact us here.

Acacia Team
Acacia Team

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