"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Even after COVID, constructing “health” is significant

May 11, 2023 – In 2017, Shangwen Kennedy, an experienced Harvard-trained architect and concrete planner, desired to try something latest: create spaces that improve the health and well-being of the individuals who use them.

She and her husband bought a small inn in Encinitas, California, near San Diego, and undertook extensive renovations to the grounds and property. Shangwen had learned of a brand new certification program designed to assist developers and owners gain a foothold within the emerging field of wellness constructing, much like the better-known LEEDS standard for environmental stewardship.

Creating beautiful spaces was now not enough, and Shangwen faced a challenge: “How do you create a life-giving space? This requires a different approach.”

Now their Inn at Moonlight Beach has garnered worldwide media attention since becoming the world's first WELL-certified hotel. With its organic enhancements, herb and vegetable gardens, state-of-the-art ventilation and water treatment systems, and relaxed, peaceful atmosphere, this five-suite inn is a component of a growing movement to make sure health and wellness in communal spaces.

Buildings large and small in all varieties of industries around the globe are being built to realize and promote WELL certification. This began before the pandemic, but COVID-19 raised concerns about safety and cleanliness in public environments and WELL has responded by providing a spread of authentications to create standards and trust.

To receive WELL recognition, buildings must meet standards in areas equivalent to water, air, light, thermal comfort and sound.

“Before COVID and after COVID, the game is completely different,” said Yan Tai, senior vice chairman of PR and communications on the International WELL Building Institute, the world's leading certification body for healthy buildings. “It used to be really nice to have, but now it's really a must-have.”

A “commitment to places where people come first”

The International WELL Building Institute is built on a “commitment to places that put people first,” its website states. “Organizations everywhere – from startups to Fortune 500 companies – are using WELL to prioritize the health and safety of their employees, maximize property value, and optimize their organization's human and social capital performance.”

According to the study, investing in healthy buildings pays off through improved performance and better financial returns. For example, employers report 28% higher job satisfaction and a 10-point increase in average productivity scores.

WELL works with 41,000 projects in 124 countries. Projects featured included the National University of Singapore, the Rose Quarter Campus in Portland, Oregon, and Edge Technologies in Amsterdam.

Some governments use WELL standards, including Chicago. It is included within the Fannie Mae Healthy Design Certifications.

“Now more than ever, companies must adhere to strict standards when it comes to how they care for their employees and manage the downstream impacts of their products and services,” says Matthew Trowbridge, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the WELL Institute. “IWBI applies the science of the WELL Building Standard to help organizations meet and exceed industry performance standards to become leaders in healthcare.”

The global Standard Chartered Bank participated within the WELL process to realize standardization of health and safety at its locations. The bank received the WELL Health and Safety Assessmentan evidence-based assessment with a concentrate on plant operations and management.

“Our goal from the beginning was to create something that would help our colleagues feel comfortable returning to the office. [after the pandemic],” said Peter Simpson, Head of Safety and Security. “We have taken every step to keep our workplaces clean and safe during the pandemic, but we wanted something we could visibly demonstrate to our employees so they could feel safe.”

The WELL program is analogous to the higher known LEED US Green Building Council rating for constructing and promoting green community spaces.

However, WELL’s focus is on the individuals who use the buildings.

“People spend 90% of their time indoors,” says Jessica Cooper, Chief Product Officer at WELL.

“Does the physical, built environment impact human health? The answer is a resounding yes.”

A lift from the pandemic

The WELL founders brought together public health experts, architects, designers and others to debate ways to advertise human health through buildings.

“We look at things like air and water quality. We look at ways to support healthy eating through the environment, ways to encourage exercise and physical activity, light quality and thermal comfort,” Cooper said.

Among other things, WELL promotes the situation of local factories that supply access to nature and offers policies to support parental leave.

After the COVID outbreak, WELL recognized that there was a necessity for standards that might support wellbeing without being as all-encompassing as the unique Omnibus certification, so the corporate created more targetedAssessments, “a subset of strategies of the broader WELL standard that focus on health and safety issues primarily related to buildings, operations and management,” she said.

During the pandemic, applications skyrocketed, she said, because builders, employers and businesses were on the lookout for a strategy to gain recognition for his or her efforts, “particularly in hospitality and other sectors that were not yet as ready to sign up for full certification. … The standard became more stringent as a result of the pandemic.”

Before the pandemic, most WELL customers lived in business offices or retail spaces or in apartment buildings.

“But with COVID, all industries took notice. The inn in California was the first to receive WELL certification,” and now several chains are involved.

Back at Moonlight Beach

In the guesthouse at Kennedy, who lived in Moonlight Beach, California, was an excellent early adopter and evangelist of the WELL standards.

She proudly described the laborious strategy of restoring the healthy soil that may later support lush gardens of lavender, bamboo, rosemary, mint, kale, and countless other plant species.

“The priority was on nutrition and systems for a biodynamic environment and the WELL standard, not so much on structures,” she said.

The inn has been featured in local and national media and a visit offers an entire sensory experience – with an orchestra of floral and herbal scents, a sea breeze and an enveloping tranquility.

“It's not just about how beautiful things are,” says Kennedy. “It's about how well they thrive.”