In a time where (even before the world was engulfed by a pandemic) health and wellness are very much front of mind for people and businesses alike, the process of discerning what standards are legitimate and rigorously tested can be a tough one. In a sea of wellness initiatives, the WELL Building Standard stands out. It’s one of the few that takes a holistic approach to factors within the built environment and how they impact upon human occupants.

“WELL first emerged in 2014. And primarily, the early adopters were investors looking to differentiate their assets,” says Lisa Hinde, Strategic Sustainability Director with real estate company JLL. “More and more occupants are seeking transparency around health and wellbeing, so we know that that's a highly valued attribute to any space that new organisations are starting to adopt. And we know from the peer reviewed research, that sustainable and healthy work environments are leading to more productive and engaged occupants.

“So we saw quite a few big investors investing in this space,” she continues. “The flow on effect of that was organisations like Interface, who were deploying their products in these spaces, were thinking about how the health and wellbeing benefits of their products could be brought into their own office. So they were one of the first to adopt it from an occupier perspective, to demonstrate their products that are healthy and sustainable, but also to better the experience of their own staff at their corporate headquarters.”

WELL looks at a number of different areas that affect the human experience in the built environment and applies science and rigorous testing to determine their impact. “It's not just a desktop summary of what you've done,” says Lisa. “There's someone conducting an independent review of your space and determining that yes, your air quality is good. Yes, your water quality is safe. It's also a cyclical process - you don't just do it once and then 10 years later, you can still claim that you've got these health and safety measures in place or health and well being measures in place. You're constantly checked.”

Pablo Albani is Principal of Interior Design at group GSA, and has a wealth of experience in applying a holistic health and wellness approach to design. He consulted with Interface along their journey towards implementing WELL standards in their office. “The Interface office is in a heritage building, which - in terms of the building - means you never know what you’re going to find,” says Pablo. “But once they decided to go down this road, they were committed. There were challenges in the building constraints in terms of clean air, there were existing conditions of the building that we needed to consider from a WELL perspective. So we spent a lot of time working out if things we wanted to do were physically possible to achieve. And if they weren’t, then we found other ways to satisfy the WELL components.”

The cost of these fitouts can be seen by some as prohibitive - and there’s no doubt that, like anything, opting for a higher wellness performance costs more than just doing the bare minimum. But for Interface, the holistic lens of the WELL framework applied to cost too. “They looked at their organisation internally, they knew they were a sustainable company,” says Pablo. “So when it came down to cost, they really looked at the whole picture. Their expenditure on the WELL certification is offset by things like staff wellness and happiness, staff retention and so on. So they said, ‘yes, we’re spending this much, but we're going to get so much value out of it across the organisation over time.’”

It’s both poetic and indicative of Interface’s company values that their thinking and approach is guided by a  holistic, long-term worldview. As they continued to learn and iterate through the journey of WELL certification, they identified new ways of working and beneficial processes that could inform the way they operate across their business. “One of the cool things about the Interface project is that a number of the policies that were implemented just for this project for certification have been adopted, Australia wide for the organisation,” says Lisa. “So it's really a great outcome overall.”

This podcast was brought to you in association with Interface, proud sponsors of the Sustainability series of podcasts. 

Listen to this episode here.