WELL, LEED, and Hotels

On June 13, 2019, in Default, News, Slideshow-Homepage, by Ashkin Group

Water Street Tampa is a billion-dollar, 50-acre real estate development, designed to revitalize the city’s waterfront area.  The project, which was launched in 2016, includes open parks and public gathering spaces, and more than one million square feet of retail, cultural, and office space, as well as two high-end hotels. Developers predict more than 230,000 people will either work, play, or stay in in the complex every day.

While this might sound, in some ways, like the new Hudson Yards development in New York, or the Lincoln Yards project now being developed in Chicago, there is something very different about Water Street Tampa.  This is the first entirely WELL-certified city district in the world.  All the buildings in the development are being built so that they meet WELL certification standards, and this includes the two hotels which make up a key part of the complex.*

For many in the hotel industry, in fact in most industries, WELL may be something they have never heard of before.  Moreover, those that have heard of what is officially called the International WELL Building Institute, may think it is a program very similar to LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

In some ways, WELL is similar to LEED, but in many other ways it is quite different.  It all comes down to the emphases of the two programs.

While LEED is most focused on buildings, WELL is most focused on people, or more specifically, the health and welfare of the people in those buildings.

Adding to the possible confusion, many of the same people that were involved in the development of LEED are now involved in the WELL program.  To help clarify things, let’s briefly review what LEED is all about and then discuss WELL.

The U.S. Green Building Council created LEED in the early 1990s. It is a voluntary program that ranks buildings according to four levels of sustainability: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.  While 80 points are needed for the Platinum designation, only 40 are required for a building to be LEED certified.  The LEED program is designed to objectively measure how sustainable a facility is in several key areas, including the following:

  • The environmental impact of the site
  • How efficiently the facility uses water, fuel, and energy
  • Materials used to construct the facility (sustainable sources are necessary)
  • Overall indoor environmental quality (For instance, the facility must be cleaned using Green cleaning solutions because they have less impact on indoor air quality.)

We should mention that the benefits of being LEED certified are many. Further, many of these same benefits also apply to WELL, giving hotel administrators one more reason to take a closer look at the program.

Typically, a facility that is LEED certified is less costly to operate, may earn tax credits as a result of steps taken to reduce energy and water consumption, and generates less waste. In addition to these advantages, LEED certified office buildings tend to attract more and higher quality tenants, and certification is often used as a way to help market the facility.

Now, let’s take a look at how WELL, which dates back to 2014, differs.

Nowhere in the LEED program does it discuss what is sold in the facility’s vending machines; however, in order for a property to be WELL certified, the candy bars and chips must go, being replaced with healthier food offerings such as apples, carrots, and fast foods made of organics ingredients.  This falls under one of the seven categories or concepts that must be met in order for a property to be WELL certified.  Along with this category, “nourishment,” the other categories are the following:

Air quality. A WELL certified building is tested twice, once before occupancy (or at the beginning of the certification process) and again ten months later for verification purposes. Building users must be able to open and close windows; the number of volatile organic compounds used in all construction materials, furniture, and finishings must be reduced, and no off-gassing is allowed during or after construction.

Water.  WELL is not as concerned about reducing water consumption as it is with ensuring that water in the building has been filtered, is not hard, and does not contain “suspended solids,” chlorine, fluoride, or dissolved materials.**

Light. Both LEED and WELL require that the facility provide ample natural light.  However, WELL takes this a step further.  The program wants light to complement the circadian systems of building users.   This refers to our internal clocks. This is accomplished, for example, by testing the lighting systems to ensure they provide adequate light levels at different times of the day.

Fitness. Among other healthful amenities, the Tampa Water Street Project includes fitness areas, yoga classes, bike and running areas.  A hotel property seeking WELL certification would need to provide similar facilities.

Comfort.  This is a rather broad category; however, users of a WELL certified building should not be bothered by noise from an adjoining office or hotel room. Further, during the winter months, personal humidifiers might be provided if necessary, along with  fans during the summer months. And because they have become increasingly popular with so many business travelers, a hotel might want to include standing desks in their guest rooms and business centers.

Mind.  For a hotel property, this requirement may be met simply by ensuring all properties have readily available, high-speed internet access. In an office building, this might include providing online books, access to re-search engines, graphics, and other materials and information that might be needed for building users to perform their work activities more effectively.

We mentioned earlier that building owners and managers of LEED-certified properties have often used their certification as a marketing tool.  In general, a LEED-certified property is viewed as a healthier facility that is more efficiently operated.  For hotel owners, being WELL certified will likely also be a marketing tool.  The certification tells guests that a number of very significant steps have been taken to ensure their stay is comfortable, healthy, safe, and active.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Green cleaning and sustainability, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC, for measuring and monitoring sustainability to protect natural resources and reduce facility operating costs.  He has been directly involved with the LEED program since its beginning, is on the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF).  He can be reached at steveashkin@ashkingroup.com

* The hotel properties are expected to be open by 2020

**Suspended solids are particles found in water which may be made up of pollutants or pathogens.


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