The WELL Building Standard And Green Cleaning

Focused on human health and wellness in the built environment, WELL concepts support sustainable cleaning programs.

By Michael Wilson
From the October 2019 Issue

When Kat West, senior sustainability manager with Jones Lang LaSalle (commonly referred to as JLL) in Atlanta, GA, discovered the new WELL Building Standard, she knew it was something the firm would embrace. “It is JLL’s job to be the leading-edge expert in all forms of real estate services,” she says. West was so impressed by the WELL program that she went on to be one of the first 100 WELL-accredited professionals in the world.

WELL Building Standard
(Photo: Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz)

With a focus on this building standard, which was developed by the International WELL Building Institute (IBWI) and launched in 2014, West made changes to JLL’s new headquarters. Here is a sampling of the things she’s made happen there:

  • large windows that allow the building to be flooded with natural light;
  • roof vegetation;
  • indoor plants throughout the building;
  • eco-friendly floor coverings; and
  • use of environmentally preferable cleaning solutions and procedures.

West’s goal, along with that of the others on her team, was to give building users and visitors walking into the new facility a feeling of “stepping into the forest for a hike or for a walk outside onto a nice tree-lined sidewalk.”

To many facility management professionals, what was accomplished at this JLL facility might sound a lot like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program that most all are familiar with. Yes, LEED and WELL are interconnected in many ways. In fact, some of the people behind the LEED program were the founders of WELL. However, the programs are different in many ways. To put it in the simplest terms: LEED is designed to focus on buildings, while WELL focuses on the people in those buildings.

Exploring The Differences

To illustrate the differences between the two programs, following is more detail. To become LEED-certified, a facility must earn “credits” by adhering to specific guidelines to, for example, reduce water, energy, and fuel consumption. The facility must also generate less waste, all of which helps reduce the facility’s environmental footprint.

Whereas LEED-certified buildings earn credits, WELL-certified facilities must adhere to certain “concepts.” These include:

Air: Indoor air quality checks are administered to ensure the maintenance of healthy indoor air. Windows must open and close, no smoking is allowed, and all indoor building materials and furniture must meet strict standards as to off-gassing.

Water. Drinking water must be filtered and also meet specific standards. It cannot be hard, or contain suspended solids, dissolved materials, chlorine, or fluoride. (Suspended solids are particulates, pollutants, and possible pathogens that can collect and contaminate water.)

Food. No chips, cheese, or cookies are offered in a WELL building. The facility must have healthy offerings such as organic fruits and vegetables. This also applies to grab-and-go food items.

Light. WELL-certified buildings must ensure “good visual acuity when performing a variety of tasks to avoid eyestrain and to minimize productivity losses and headaches,” according to WELL program guidelines.

Fitness. WELL buildings must provide building users access to a fitness center, bike, and walking paths, encourage staff to take the stairs when possible, and also provide shower areas for building users.

Comfort. Steps must be taken to protect building users from undue inside and outside noise. If users request humidifiers, fans, or standing/adjustable desks, these items must be provided.

Mind. For the most part, this concept requires the organization to provide educational resources for employees, including books, access to seminars, and graphics, all designed to stimulate ideas and help workers perform their duties.

Green Cleaning For WELL Buildings

When the LEED certification program was in its formative stages in the late 1990s, there were few green certification organizations. (LEED was founded in 1998, under the umbrella of the U.S. Green Building Council; WELL was founded in 2014.) Further, many had different standards and criteria as to what makes one cleaning solution “green” and another not. As a result, the original LEED program would only give “credits” if what were viewed as environmentally preferable cleaning solutions were in use. Today, LEED requires these be in use before a facility can even be considered for the certification.

Green Cleaning
For a green cleaning program based on the WELL Building Standard, the health and safety of janitorial staff is an area of consideration. (Photo: Getty Images/Jaruek Chairak)

WELL also requires the use of green cleaning products. One of the critical reasons for this is that most green cleaning solutions have a reduced impact on indoor air quality and contain few, if any, VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These can mar indoor air quality.

However, WELL takes this several steps further by putting much greater emphasis on occupant health. For instance, in humid climates, a WELL-certified facility is not to use carpet extraction systems, mainly because under those conditions carpet can take so long to dry that the potential for mold and mildew to form is increased. Instead, only “dry” carpet cleaning methods are allowed.

Other criteria that must be adhered to are the following:

  • Battery-operated cleaning equipment is encouraged; however, the batteries must be spill-proof and rechargeable.
  • All cleaning equipment must have safeguards such as rubber bumpers, wheels, and rollers, to help prevent damage to a facility. A healthy facility, in other words, must be as structurally damage-free as much as possible.
  • Dilution control systems must be installed in janitorial closets. With these systems, cleaning workers rarely touch cleaning chemicals, fumes are kept to a minimum, and cleaning solutions are properly mixed with water, ensuring they work effectively and are not wasted.
  • Training is a crucial part of the WELL program. Cleaning staff are to be taught cleaning steps in sequence—what to do first, second, third, etc. They must also be trained on ergonomic ways to perform their duties to help prevent injuries, along with ways to protect themselves from potentially hazardous materials. Further, training on the use of cleaning solutions, equipment, and materials must be conducted annually.
  • Training to help ensure the proper purchasing of cleaning supplies, equipment, and materials is also required. Think of the components of a green cleaning program as the spokes on a wheel. If one spoke is weak or broken, the wheel can collapse. This can happen as well when the wrong cleaning products are purchased in a green cleaning program.

Cleaning Product Selection

Because the purchase of cleaning solutions is crucial to a facility gaining and maintaining WELL certification, it is prudent to ensure the products chosen meet criteria. Selecting cleaning solutions independently or accessing an online mega-store may have negative repercussions.

For instance, while two or more cleaning solutions may be certified green, that does not mean these are equally effective, cost-effective, or the right “fit” for the facility. One way to ensure appropriate choices are made is to work with a janitorial distributor familiar with the requirements of both WELL and LEED.

Some distributors have access to online dashboards (many of which are free for facility customers to use) that help compare products as to their certifications, where best to use them, costs, and other criteria. Further, they can help select products that have been certified by specific green certification organizations.

For instance, at least one green certification organization places much more emphasis on indoor air quality and VOCs. Because this is such a key component of WELL certification, it would likely be best to select these products as long as they meet other requirements.

Growth Of WELL

The WELL Building Standard program is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. As of 2019, there have been more than 1,610 WELL projects, resulting in 159 certifications and 1,451 registered projects, (facilities in the process of being WELL certified). The program is now found in 81 countries; and while Kat West, whom we introduced earlier, was one of the first, there are now nearly 8,000 WELL-certified professionals.

Facility executives who are not familiar with WELL may want to take a closer look. The Standard’s goal of protecting health within a facility is one shared by broadly by building professionals today.

WELL Building StandardWilson is vice president of marketing and packaging for AFFLINK, a Tuscaloosa, AL-based provider of supply chain and strategic procurement services. Afflink is the developer of ELEVATE, providing clients with innovative process and procurement solutions to drive efficiencies in their businesses.

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  1. Great read. I developed my own “Green” cleaning system for carpets for commercial buildings in the mid 90’s in Atlanta GA before the term even came out. I used a chemist and plant expert to help me with this idea. Mostly because I came down with pneumonia from breathing in a leaky jug of “Traffic Lane Cleaner”
    So it was a necessity actually. I would love to get this certification you offer as well as talk Green home and office cleaning some time.
    Keep up the great work.

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