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Architects reach into WELL program to bring healthy design to masses

As a curious undergraduate studying interior design at Cornell University, Elaine Tripoulas became fascinated with how indoor spaces impact human life.

Her alma mater was one of the early supporters of the WELL Building Standard, a certification program for built environments rooted in scientific principles and data that support its methods of evaluating how spaces affect human health and wellbeing.

“I’ve always been interested in this field, but OTJ Architects really made my WELL accreditation happen,” said Tripoulas.
After joining the award-winning workplace architecture firm last year as a project designer, she was able to earn her WELL accreditation by June 2017. “The focus of WELL is on making the environment more positive for the people who are working in it,” explained Tripoulas.

Elaine Tripoulas

In her new role as one of OTJ’s WELL-accredited designers, Tripoulas lays the groundwork for a healthy building criteria so that tenants and landlords may easily take the steps necessary to obtain WELL certification if they choose to.

Here, the expert on wellbeing in the workplace shares three reasons why WELL is the future:

First, we live in a very health-conscious world compared to past generations of office workers. WELL addresses all different aspects of health through its system of “concepts.”

For example, a nourishment concept ensures that everyone is made aware of what is in the different foods that are available in the office, while a fitness concept ensures that exercise options, whether an on-site fitness facility or personal training services for employees, are plentiful.

Other WELL concepts include comfort, which provides guidelines on environmental features such as air temperature, and mind concept which encourages aesthetically pleasing and adaptable workspaces. Three other concepts are shared with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a widely used certification for green buildings. These common concepts include air, water and light.

Although the two systems do share some concepts, LEED focuses specifically on buildings while WELL is geared toward the people inside a building and their wellbeing.

“Much of what goes into WELL has to do with aspects of the workplace that people aren’t necessarily aware of, but makes this information available,” said Tripoulas. “It’s largely based on operations and human resources as the divisions providing incentives for the employees. Exercise, for example, is an action that would help a company receive WELL certification,” she said.

In her work preparing buildings for the WELL stamp of approval, Tripoulas will work with the tenant, landlord, contractor and OTJ to set the correct environment.

Second, the elements that make up the WELL certification cater to today’s changing workforce demographic. It is estimated that millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 meaning that retaining talent from this generation will be of great importance to companies.

Millennials are concerned not only with what the company they work for can do for them in the future but also with how their employer can help them in the present, as well as improving upon the day-to-day workplace. Although millennials especially appreciate features such as circadian lighting systems, the aspects of WELL benefit all age groups.

Companies can earn points for the mind concept by supplying employees with Fitbits or ensuring that work travel stays on a reasonable schedule, thus promoting overall work-life balance. In order for a project to become WELL-certified, a company must have every concept represented but not all aspects within each category.

There are certain prerequisites that a workplace must meet in order to earn a general WELL certification. But as with LEED, there are different levels of WELL certifications comprising silver, gold and platinum. The more optimizations or points that a company earns in each category, the closer it will get to increasing its WELL certification level.

Third, a design that keeps WELL in mind can reduce costs for companies. About 90 percent of a company’s budget goes to staff costs while the remaining 10 percent goes toward expenses such as rent and energy. If employees become healthier overall due to the WELL concepts, then a company’s healthcare costs would likely be reduced, leading to a sizable return on investment for the employer, and a well-deserved payoff for all parties involved.

In other words, WELL will do well for everything in the workplace, from staff health to cost savings.

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