The WELL Building Standard – What it is and Why we should care

COVID-19 has changed not only how we interact with each other, but also how we think about building design. Until 2020, resilient building design focused primarily on natural and man-made disasters, such as seismic, wind, and flood events. After the events of 2020, it comes as no surprise that pandemics have been added to the list of potential hazards.

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and the WELL Building Standard (WELL) rating system have been around since 2014. IWBI is committed to developing spaces that improve occupant quality of life and WELL is uniquely positioned to address the resilient design aspects of pandemics.

Contact us to learn how we can help you incorporate WELL Building Standards to your building program

What is the WELL Building Standard?

The WELL Building Standard v1, which launched in October 2014, is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of buildings that impact the health and well-being of the people who live, work, and learn in them. Designed to work in harmony with LEED, the Living Building Challenge (LBC), and other leading global green building standards, it encourages projects to pursue both WELL and standards that address environmental sustainability.

Each feature of WELL is designed to address issues that impact the health and comfort of building occupants and considers the impact to the human body on the cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, integumentary, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, and urinary systems. Many of the features are supported by existing standards set by various government agencies and standard-setting organizations. Additional features are intended to change behaviors by providing information and support for making positive lifestyle choices.

Why do we care about IWBI & WELL?

“I’ve known about WELL since its inception and attended the first WELL Conference in New Orleans in 2014,” said Kimberly Limbaugh, SGA Director of Sustainability. “This year, even before COVID-19, we had decided to dig deeper into WELL and gather information that could be applicable to our work. WELL’s response to COVID-19 has elevated their standing in the design community, and I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the future.”

WELL registrations have surpassed 550 million square feet across 62 countries, with over 11,000 WELL Accredited Professionals and registrants across the globe. The latest pandemic has highlighted the critical role that buildings play in supporting human health and safety.

What is the status of the WELL Building Standard v2?

The WELL Building Standard graduated to v2 in the first quarter of 2021 and consists of 10 concepts including air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community.

These concepts are further broken down into 100+ features, 23 of which are required Preconditions for WELL certification.

Additionally, within the WELL Building Standard v2 framework, there are 8 groups of evidence-based strategies to help support the fight against COVID-19.

  • Promote clean contact
  • Improve air quality
  • Maintain water quality
  • Manage risk and create organizational resilience
  • Support movement and comfort, including work from home
  • Strengthen immune systems
  • Foster mental resilience
  • Champion community resilience and recovery

After 7 years of research, WELL v2 was set to launch in March 2020. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its release was delayed, and instead, a task force was launched to inform new Guidelines for Prevention and Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery for communities and organizations. The task force was comprised of nearly 600 public health experts, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists, and real estate professionals. After reviewing recommendations from the task force, the WELL Building standard graduated from v2 pilot to v2 in the first quarter of 2021.

One of IWBI’s first outcomes from the task force was the announcement in June of the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facilities, Operations, and Maintenance.

What is the WELL Health-Safety Rating?

The WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence-based, 3rd-party verified rating system for all facility types.  An annual renewal process is required to ensure standards for health and safety are consistently being met.

The rating system addresses a post-COVID-19 environment focused on broader health and safety-related issues surrounding operational policies, maintenance protocols, and emergency plans. The WELL Health-Safety Rating is designed to provide evidence-based best practices for operating through a crisis, and long-term strategies so organizations are better prepared to weather another crisis. It’s designed to support all spaces during emergencies and normal operating conditions. Its strategies cover a broad spectrum to support health and safety while allowing flexibility to implement short-term measures in emergencies.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating includes a subset of features available in the WELL Building Standard v2 Pilot and it can be used as a stepping stone toward achieving WELL Certification. The WELL Health-Safety Rating requires a minimum of 15 of its 21 features to be met to be awarded the WELL Health-Safety seal.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating core areas include:

  • Cleaning and Sanitation Procedures
  • Emergency Preparedness Programs
  • Health Service Resources
  • Air and Water Quality Management
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Communication

The WELL Health-Safety Rating is meant to complement, rather than replace health-based, governmental guidance and requirements. As with the WELL Building Standard, the rating is intended to grow and adapt over time to accommodate diverse space types and geographies and respond to ever-evolving issues within facilities operations and management, and health and safety. The rating system includes operational strategies to mitigate mold and air & water quality contaminants. It also includes strategies focusing on mental health during a crisis, sick leave policies, and community immunity.

What are the next steps for the WELL Building Standard?

The IWBI has reduced its cost for WELL AP registrations by over 50%. They are also providing the primary study materials for free download, along with a free on-demand five-part WELL AP exam prep series, and the ability to test remotely for the WELL AP exam.

While more comprehensive guidelines are still underway, IWBI has provided some information, including their ‘Places Matter’ educational video series, to serve as a roadmap to help plot the path toward a healthier and more secure future (see resource list below). Resiliency is sure to be top of mind for both businesses and building owners as we all work together to respond to critical needs arising from difficult circumstances.




International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)

Global Health and COVID-19