What Cleaning Contractors Need to Know about WELL

Most cleaning professionals are familiar with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.  There are now thousands of LEED projects and LEED-certified buildings encompassing more than 95 million gross square feet of LEED-certified space. Further, around the globe, it is estimated that more than 170,000 total square meters of space are LEED certified every day.

However, recently a new program has entered the picture, which in some respects is similar to LEED but has a different emphasis. Known as the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI®), the program began in 2014 and its focus is not so much on buildings but on the people working in those buildings. Moreover, this is where the professional cleaning industry, and specifically building service contractors, come into the picture because IWBI shares the professional cleaning industry’s focus on protecting the health of building users.

Possibly, to help better understand WELL, we should point out how it differs from LEED.  Some of the key differences include the following:

•    LEED was started by the US Green Building Council in 1998 and is a program run, operated, and funded by the government.

•    WELL, as mentioned earlier, was launched in 2014 and is a privately operated organization.  In fact, WELL is a corporation, but an unusual type of corporation.  It is recognized, at least in the US, as a “public benefit” corporation.  The shareholders expect the organization to make a profit, but the corporation has a specific, public benefit, and that is to help keep building users healthier. 

•    Similar to LEED, WELL is a performance-based system that measures and monitors a facility and how it impacts health, productivity, and the comfort of those using the facility.

•    Both LEED and WELL work closely with architects and designers, but WELL also turns to medical experts to explore the connection between buildings and the health of those working in them.

•    Both organizations use an independent, third-party organization to certify facilities. However, LEED certification typically involves providing facility data and the filling out of forms by building owners and managers.  With WELL, someone from the organization personally visits the facility, ensuring it complies with WELL standards and guidelines.

•    Finally, just as LEED has different levels of certification such as LEED Silver, Gold, and Platinum, similarly, WELL facilities can be certified as WELL Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

According to Nathan Stodola, director of the WELL building standard, in many parts of the world healthcare systems have traditionally focused on health issues after someone becomes ill.  However, with the increased costs of healthcare across the globe, as well as the increased prevalence of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer, that focus is being redirected toward prevention. Ultimately, it is far less costly and certainly much better for building users if the facilities they use every day are operated in such a way that their health is protected.

Further, the WELL program places a big emphasis on the comfort of people working in facilities. “Occupant satisfaction in the building is as big a part of the WELL Building Standard as overall health,” adds Stodola. He also says that poor soundproofing in facilities and temperature issues tend to be the most significant areas of complaint in most office spaces.

The “Concepts”

To be WELL certified, 102 different performance metrics must be evaluated in seven key categories referred to as “concepts.”

Air. The facility must have steps in place to optimize indoor air quality, which includes the removal of airborne contaminants, preventive measures, as well as air quality purification when needed.

Water. This provides for strategies to remove pollutants from water through effective filtration systems.

Nourishment. Healthy eating habits are encouraged by providing building users with healthier food choices as well as information about nutrients and nutrient quality.

Light. The goal here is to minimize disruption to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms impact most living things. We sleep when it’s dark and get up when it is light.  By providing proper illumination levels in a facility, the results can be improved energy and productivity, with fewer mood swings.

Fitness. Many large office buildings in North America and around the world are adding gyms to their facilities to be used only by building users. Making such facilities available is a crucial factor for a facility to be WELL certified.

Comfort. We mentioned earlier that noise and indoor temperature issues are two of the most significant problems in many facilities. The WELL program has created design standards and criteria to help facilities eliminate these and other sources of discomfort.

Mind. WELL certified facilities provide building users with relaxation areas, quiet areas, and through the use of design elements, take steps to support mental and emotional health.

To develop these metrics, the WELL organization turned to architects, designers, and construction industry professionals, as has the LEED program. However, as referenced earlier, WELL took the additional step of creating a medical review board to help establish these metrics.  As we can see, there is some overlap.  Both are very focused on indoor air quality and lighting, for instance, but LEED does not address issues, at least explicitly, such as nourishment, comfort, fitness, and mind.  These are people-focused concerns, and where WELL takes a different fork in the road from the LEED program.

The Role of Cleaning in the WELL Program

Let’s say you are a building service contractor and one of your clients wants to be WELL certified.  While your services may have little involvement with nourishment, water, light, and fitness, except possibly for cleaning a fitness center, it will have a huge role to play in the other concepts mentioned earlier, most specifically, protecting indoor air quality and ensuring building user comfort.  Among the steps you would need to take to help ensure your client is WELL certified would include the following:

•    Ensure equipment used in the facility abides by GreenSeal® 42 Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services for Powered Equipment Use/Maintenance Program or the equivalent.

•    All battery powered equipment must be equipped with environmentally preferable gel batteries.

•    Equipment must be designed with user safeguards as well as rubber bumpers that help prevent damage to building surfaces.

•    Wall-mounted auto-dilution systems are a must to limit direct exposure to chemicals and provide proper dilution.

•    Cleaning workers must be trained on how to perform specific cleaning steps, how to reduce injuries to themselves and others, how to eliminate exposure to hazardous materials, and must be expected to wear protective gear when needed.

•    Training on the use of green cleaning solutions is required, and cleaning workers must take annual classes on the use of these products.

•    Cleaning contractors must also be taught on how to purchase green cleaning solutions to promote sustainability.

The actual cleaning protocol is very extensive, reflecting how important cleaning is to WELL certification. It even goes into such details as how often the undersides of entry mats should be cleaned (at least once per day); why all product labels must follow the Globally Harmonized System for labeling; as well as the establishment of a cleaning and disinfecting protocol to determine where disinfectants and sanitizers are needed in a facility as well as how often they are to be used. The goal here is to help prevent pathogens from becoming immune to these products.

Because the cleaning-related aspects of the WELL program are extensive, many cleaning contractors turn to cleaning consultants to help guide them through the WELL “cleaning maze.”  In some ways, it is similar to other training programs such as ISSA’s CIMS program, but with far more detail.

The big question now is, will the WELL program grow?  By all indications, it is growing and will develop further.  A key reason for this is that it is so specifically designed to help protect human health. Also, according to Chairman and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, who has been associated with green cleaning and sustainability issues for more than twenty years, the program is not costly. “When companies recognize that they can implement WELL for less than what their employees spend on coffee in a year, with the possibility of greater [worker] productivity, fewer absences due to illness, and lower insurance costs, they become interested,” says Fedrizzi.  He adds that WELL certified buildings “can have an immediate and measurable impact on the health and well-being of employees, tenants and customers, faculty and students, and families who occupy [WELL certified] buildings.”

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with building service contractors to help them streamline their operations, market themselves to grow their businesses, as well as instruct them on how to develop sustainability initiatives and healthier cleaning strategies so that their clients’ facilities function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached through his company website at http://www.seguraassociates.com.