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Real Estate & Construction

Well, you better consider WELL

By Andrzej Gutowski, associate director, Green Building Certification, Colliers International
Header gutowski andrzej colliers


Sustainability has been a buzzword for the last nine years in Poland.

The first building obtained green certification in 2010, and since then the real estate market has rapidly adopted green and environmentally friendly practices. As reported in April 2019 by PLGBC, Poland has become the sustainability champion of Central and Eastern Europe, with more than 640 buildings certified, which exceeds the number of green buildings in all the remaining countries in the region put together.

Sustainability certificates were introduced as a way to transform the real estate sector by balancing the triple impact of buildings on people, the planet and profits. Although human health was assessed in the certification process it was never the main reason behind the certifications. Fresh air, acoustics and harmful emissions from paints and carpets may have been verified, but they have rarely been a priority. The major focus is placed on energy efficiency and environmental benefits.

With green certification being more relevant than ever in view of climate change and the scarcity of resources, the health of a building’s users has been found to have a huge impact on productivity and thus the financial performance of companies. An estimated 90% of the cost for running an office is related to HR, with only 9% going on rent and around 1% on electricity and water. More importantly, the living environment is expected to have the greatest impact on our health, exceeding age or healthcare. Such a huge impact is driven also by the fact that modern people spend around 90% of their time in buildings – places that can generate worse conditions in terms of air quality, acoustics or thermal comfort than the outdoor environment. Lack of physical activity, limited opportunities for healthy nutrition and stress all add up to health issues and in consequence to the productivity of a building’s users.

Research has been carried out into the impact of buildings on people. This was then translated into best practices, which were combined to form Wellbeing certification programmes, focused solely on the health and comfort of building users. Systems like the WELL or FitWel certifications aim to transform the work environment and provide clear and scientifically based parameters for buildings and working space. Air quality, thermal comfort, ergonomics, promoting healthy behaviour and physical activity, aesthetics and art are all aspects of design that did not have clear and robust guidelines in the past, but now with unified and clear requirements at the center of the new certification scheme, they can be implemented.

The WELL standard, as the first wellbeing certification scheme in the market – raised the bar in terms of the scope of certification and in its rigorous verification requirements. The system is composed of several prerequisites, such as air quality, that are mandatory for all certification levels. It is not only the design of space that is being analysed – actual measurements will be taken for several building environment parameters, for example internal smog levels (PM 2.5 and PM 10), formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and ozone levels. All these need to meet WELL requirements. WELL not only checks the design and current level of assessed metrics – a lot of requirements will also need confirmation that they are maintained properly, with annual documentation provided by the space or building owner to the certification body. Such complex verification ensures that a building and its systems are in good condition not only during certification, but also during normal building use.

Such certification could not come at a better time, as many employers are experiencing problems in attracting and retaining talented staff and new workers. The generational shift has enforced different strategies. As new generation is entering the labour market, the requirements and expectations about the working environment are now crucial. According to the Well.HR report, 43% of Millennials are expected to change employer within two years and only 28% declare they would like to work in the same company longer than five years. The retention of talented staff will become increasingly challenging, and wellbeing strategies are expected to be the most relevant in this – 80% of candidates with 10 or more years’ experience will choose an employer mainly based on such strategies.

The benefits of investing in wellbeing strategies are visible today – case studies and reports show that investment in this area has significant rates of return. Implementing measures aimed at wellbeing and health can lead to a 25% decrease in sick leave. Even only taking into account health benefits, investments show significant a ROI, not to mention productivity gains, which can be significant as well. As more studies emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that the work environment has an impact on behaviour, thinking and memory. The amount of fresh air, lighting, thermal comfort and acoustics have a significant impact on productivity levels.

Wellbeing certification is definitely starting to gain more traction. Currently in Poland only a few buildings have so far obtained certification or precertification. Two major developers that implement WELL principles are SKANSKA and HB Reavis, and other will follow.  Market dynamics and a growing focus on the work environment will favour Wellbeing certification schemes – building users’ and workers’ needs are becoming increasingly important for companies and studies suggest they will become even more crucial in the near future. Co-working offices could benefit from certification the most as their core business is delivering spaces that could greatly benefit from such certification and from being able to show independent confirmation that international best practices are implemented.

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