Realizing the Future of WELL

by Rachel Gutter
May 18, 2018 8:35 AM ET

Last week, we flipped our calendars from April to May, and with that ushered in a landmark month in IWBI history – the one in which we'll launch the next version of WELL.

It’s been a long journey. When we started thinking about the future of WELL, there were a few things we knew we wanted to achieve. As we get closer to being ready to share with you all what we’ve been working on, I wanted to take a moment to reflect not only on what we’ve created, but how we did it.

Locally Attuned.

Since we first launched WELL in 2014, we’ve grown to encompass more than 800 projects across 32 countries around the world. We thought about our expanding reach and the call from our community to make WELL a truly global standard. 

Over the past year, in speaking with our customers, we realized that our approach to globalization must be localization. We abandoned the notion that we could create a one-size-fits-all solution, and instead embraced the reality that people are different, places are different and just as trends in disease vary by region and by community, so too must our approach in how we promote health and wellness. 

To do this, we learned about how different communities in different parts of the world use and experience their built spaces and how those things can affect health and well-being. We learned not only through extensive reviews of the evidence – speaking with health and wellness experts from leading scientific and research institutions, looking at global data and studies on the morbidities and mortalities of communities around the world, evaluating the risk factors that contribute to specific diseases and health outcomes and understanding the things we can do to intervene and maybe even prevent disease – but also by speaking to the practitioners on the ground, hearing from those of you working hard every day to create spaces that make people feel healthier and happier. 

We learned about the experiences in your community: the challenges you face and the way you’re rising to meet them. We learned from you, and we used what we learned to build a version of WELL that can grow and expand to address local health imperatives in every corner of the world. And this point on growth is essential: what we’ve built isn’t a pre-mapped solution to all the challenges around the world. What we’ve built is a system, a new way for WELL to become ever more responsive to local concerns, so that we can continually learn from you. 

When we launch the new version of WELL, you won’t see a fixed scorecard. Instead, you will see features that IWBI recommends based upon the details of your project and aligned with the most urgent health concerns in your country. As a project team, you can further customize your scorecard by choosing the features that fit the needs of your project, your organization and the populations you serve. Rather than assigning a WELL scorecard for your project type (as with our previous pilots), we’ll work with you to design a unique WELL scorecard for your project. 

Equity Promoting.

When we think about the reach of WELL, we don’t stop at how many countries have WELL projects. We think about who is affected by WELL, the kind of lasting culture we want to create in WELL spaces and the kind of leadership we want to exhibit as an organization and as a movement.

WELL is a leadership program. It is rigorous, it celebrates and rewards innovation and it urges us all to move toward defining a new baseline for all of our built spaces. And the spaces we build aren’t just physical – they include the social spaces that we create, because structures are built for people; to facilitate the ways we interact and collaborate and support one another. This next version of WELL includes even more pathways to create spaces – both physical and social – that are inclusive, supportive and fair. We believe that healthy buildings and communities can be a great equalizer, extending benefits ranging from clean air and water to equitable and just policies to all who live, work and play within them. 

We’ve also done a significant amount of work to reduce barriers to entry, driving equity into the very architecture of the standard. With the next version of WELL, we aim to balance our commitment to innovation and leadership with our dedication to making certification accessible and achievable for all kinds of projects, all over the world. 

One of the main ways we’ve done this is by looking at our preconditions, which are mandatory for certification, and asking ourselves, “Can any well-intentioned project achieve this?” Applying this lens, we were able to reduce the number of preconditions by half, focusing on the most important things that a WELL Certified project must be. We’ve maintained high expectations for performance but believe that most projects will be able to achieve the preconditions without major capital expenditures. This reduction, along with a scoring system that requires a flexible selection of project types, not only opens the door to new project types in new places, it also creates a viable pathway for existing buildings.  

Creating a truly equitable system takes time, and we plan to do even better and even more. Through partnerships with like-minded organizations, we will continue to develop new pathways for projects to demonstrate achievement and launch more tools and resources to support them in the journey. 

Collaboratively Developed.

It’s always intimidating to be at the cusp of something so potentially disruptive, but we take comfort in knowing that being disruptive is part and parcel to making meaningful change. At IWBI we believe that we are in the business of market transformation. During my nearly 10 years at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), I learned first-hand that market transformation is a careful dance – one that requires us to move in harmony with our customers, balancing what should be with what can be by steadily raising the bar on what constitutes leadership. 

With the next version of WELL, we’ve taken some pretty big leaps to move the needle on health and wellness because we believe our shared goals and ambitions are too great for us to be timid.  

Our goals and ambitions, however, are also too great for us to make decisions without being deeply informed and connected to our customers and community at large. And this is what truly gives us confidence about the enhancements we’re introducing to WELL.

Every major decision we made – and also many of the smallest decisions we made – were directly informed by your experiences and your input. We conducted multiple surveys, did dozens of stakeholder interviews and hosted nine full-day roundtables throughout the world. You told us what you need, what you find valuable, what should change and what should stay the same. We asked questions and we listened and we took your advice as directives for taking WELL to the next level. We heard your frustrations, your hopes and your dreams for what we can do together and we channeled as much of it as we could into this next version of WELL. 

We are ever-humble knowing that there’s still much to learn, but we’ve focused on building a version of WELL that is flexible and adaptable to your local realities and your specific ambitions and opportunities. Because ultimately, what we have is an incredible opportunity like no other to improve the health of countless people who move through the spaces we build together. 

Your environment – both physical and social – dictates what you take in – mentally, physically and biologically – every day. It’s responsible for what you breathe into your lungs, what you have available to consume into your body, what comes into contact with your skin; it facilitates the creation and interchange of ideas, the normalization and adoption of behaviors that become embedded into a culture. This all happens whether we take care of our environments or not, whether we create them mindfully or not. It is our job, our obligation, as those trusted with creating beautiful, sustainable and healthy spaces, to make sure that the environments in which we live, work and play truly help us become the healthiest, happiest versions of ourselves. 

We look forward to sharing the next version of WELL with you in the coming weeks, and equipping you with the education and supporting resources that you need to be stewards, ambassadors and advocates for this forthcoming phase of advancing change through WELL. We can’t wait to continue to build the future of this movement alongside all of you.