What the WELL Building Standard Means for Interior Landscapers

I am in the Cleveland airport reflecting on my last few days. Once again, I am thrilled about the future of our industry.

I spent 2 days in a training program for the new WELL Building Standard. Along with 100 other participants, I learned about the science which is the basis of the principles behind the performance based standard of WELL. The standard is specifically designed for the purpose of creating healthy human work (and home) environments. During the training we learned about sleep patterns, circadian rhythms and how melatonin levels change throughout the day. We also heard the science and statistics about the 5 most harmful behaviors to human health (a little alcohol is ok). Simply stated, the WELL Building Standard is designed to create and address healthy living and working environments. Fellow Green Plants For Green Buildings (GPGB) board member Jim Mumford has written in more detail about the WELL building standard in a previous article.

As President and long-time board member of Green Plants For Green Buildings, I have been involved in developing programs and challenging the oversight of not having living plants and living walls recognized in sustainable building rating systems, including LEED, and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). Many supporters will remember that GPGB developed a pilot credit for LEED which, although submitted and reviewed several times, has never been (and probably will never be) accepted by USGBC. Despite the limitations and exclusion from LEED, GPGB has continued an ongoing awareness campaign about the benefits of nature in the built environment. We do this through our robust social media program as well as our popular CEU training programs for the design community.

At the time of the LEED pilot development, awareness of Biophilia and our innate need to connect with nature was not as prevalent as today. The choice by GPGB to develop the pilot credit under the indoor air quality section of LEED was a decision I take responsibility for. Had we written the credit under an alternative path such as Biophilia, we may have had better success. However, in the pilot process we stimulated industry and consumer awareness beyond our expectations. It also did not hurt that the market was ripe (pun intended) for our message. Fast forward to late 2013 and mid 2014-human connection to nature awareness is at an all-time high. With the publication of Terrapin’s “The Economics of Biophilia” and the follow-up “14 Design Patterns of Biophilic Design”, most in the design community have a solid understanding of what we as Interiorscapers have known for many, many years; that designing with plants and nature indoors is imperative for a healthy, productive home and workplace. Rarely, do I speak to groups where there is not some level of awareness of the importance of nature connections in our lives.

There should be a great deal of excitement in the Interiorscape industry about the new WELL Building Standard. Never have I seen this level of awareness in the design community about the benefits of nature indoors. WELL picks up where LEED and the Living Building Challenge leave off. It has a series of preconditions (imperatives) as well as optimizations (optional compliance paths). The projection is that WELL will do for building interiors what LEED did for the construction industry and the buildings themselves. WELL is human centered and evidence based. The basic premise is that all of us have a right to work in a healthy environment that supports not only clean air, water, and light, but our mind, comfortfitness, and nourishment. The Standard’s documentation is broken down in 7 sections with multiple pathways called “Features” for compliance. There are three features that apply directly to the work we do as interiorscapers, depending on how broad of a scope we offer our clients.

There are two biophilia features and both are embedded in the MIND section of the standard. Feature 88-Biophilia I – Qualitative, Part 1 (Nature Incorporation) and Part 3 (Nature Interaction), specifically address the provision of strategies and elements for both the interior and exterior of the building. Feature 100-Biophilia II – Quantitive, Part 1 (Outdoor Biophilia) and Part 2 (Indoor Biophilia) address landscaped grounds, rooftop gardens, potted plants, planted beds and plant walls.

The quantitive requirement for biophilia in the MIND section is very easy to calculate. For potted plants and planter beds, the requirement is a minimum of 1% of the floor area, per floor. For plant walls the requirement is, one living wall per floor which is 2% of the floor area, or one that covers the largest of the available walls, whichever is greater. Based on rough calculations for a 5000 square foot office, the requirement would be 50 square feet of planter beds or about 50 plants, (WELL estimates each potted plant to cover about 1 square foot). The rough living wall calculations for the same sized office would be one 100 square foot living wall, unless there is an available exposed wall greater than 100 square feet. If the available wall is greater than 100 square feet, the requirement would be to plant the larger wall.

As seen in the above example, the WELL program presents many new opportunities for GPGB supporters and our industry in general. Green Plants For Green Buildings could not be more thrilled about these new developments. Although the Standard is just rolling out, we have made efforts to be available to the WELL developers as subject matter experts. We are also a resource for the latest peer reviewed research through our online research library. By staying connected and available, GPGB can continue to influence policy while advancing our mission of communicating the aesthetic, environmental, productivity and health benefits of nature in the built environment.

To become a GPGB supporter or make a donation to support our efforts go here.


Featured image courtesy of GSky

Joe Zazzera is the founding principal of Scottsdale-based Plant Solutions Inc. He sits on the national board of Green Plants for Green Buildings and is chair of their LEED Advocacy Committee. Joe was named Home and Garden Magazine's 2013 "Master of the Southwest."

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