Stamford Advocate

Certification puts workers' well-being first

Larger companies are paying more attention than ever to the wellness of their employees, including considerations for air quality and light according to John Hannigan, principle of Norwalk-based Choyce Peterson which focuses on tenant representation in commercial real estate.

With people spending 90 percent of their lives indoors, much of that time sitting in an office working, a new building certification catching on throughout the country takes into account not only the environment but also the health of those who work there.

The WELL Building Standard puts the health and wellness of the people who work in a building as the top priority in its design, operation and maintenance. A program of the International WELL Building Institute, the standard draws upon seven aspects of human health: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness,comfort and mind.

"The next iteration of what buildings will look like will certainly include health," said Victoria Lanteigne, senior accessibility consultant for Norwalk-based Steven Winter Associates, which provides consulting services and specializes in energy, sustainability and accessibility.

Lanteigne, who works in the company's Washington, D.C., office, is one of fewer than 150 people around the world to become a WELL accredited professional.

Since the first version of the WELL Building Standard was introduced in October 2014, more than 200 projects totaling more than 45 million square feet across 21 countries have been registered or certified.

But Lanteigne said the company, which works with projects all over the nation, doesn't currently have any projects seeking certification. "It's, I think, very new to the industry," she said. "It just takes a while to gain some momentum."

In fact, the standard is so new to Connecticut that only one project in the state, in Hartford, is now seeking certification.

Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute, said plenty of research went into creating the standard and roughly half of the concepts explored are operational, while the other half are architectural. "If we're spending 90 percent of our time indoors, I think we would need to pay attention to how any four walls and a roof are affecting our wellness," he said. Scialla is hoping the standard catches on similar to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification program, which focuses on energy, the environment and sustainability. Started in 1994, there are now about 80,000 LEED-certified buildings encompassing more than 15 billion square feet.

Just as LEED spawned a cottage industry of designers and consultants to help companies achieve certification, the WELL Building Standard could do the same. In Shelton, Grey Wolf Sensing Solutions is sensing opportunity - in June the company issued a flyer with technical details on how its air-quality sensors could help building managers meet the criteria required for certification, measuring total volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and ozone among other particulates.

Southport-based Summit Development has not specifically pursued the WELL Building Standard, but David Walsh, director of asset management, said it is something the firm would consider for some of its properties. Summit, which specializes in purchasing distressed buildings and renovating them to Class A office space, owns 96 properties in Connecticut, New York and Florida. The bulk of its assets are throughout Fairfield County.

The firm, in partnership with Grossman, purchased Lee Farm Corporate Park in Danbury in 2013 for $16.9 million. The property had sold previously in 2007 for $37 million. Lee Farm Corporate Park now has a fitness center, cafeteria, open lobby spaces and outdoor seating areas. Its location also makes it suitable for long walks on quiet roads.

"We believe in highly amenitized buildings. The more services we can provide, the better it is for our tenants," Walsh said. "At Lee Farm, for instance, there are quite a few quiet places to go and sit. Also, the cafeteria on site has many healthy options because that's what a lot of people want."

Felix T. Charney, founder, CEO and president of Summit Development, said he is currently eyeing a property in Fairfield County that he can renovate to include amenities that would be on par with the requirements of the WELL Building Standard.

"We are exploring a level of amenities commensurate with high-end apartment buildings," Charney said. "There's a lot to be learned from what high-end apartments and high-end hotels are doing now. So much of that genre is applicable to what we are doing."

Walsh, who previously worked for Reader's Digest, said Summit's buildings attract many Fortune 500 companies which expect healthy environments for their employees with good air quality, upgraded HVAC systems, LED lighting and on-site cafeteria and fitness center of high importance. He said companies prefer when their employees can stay on the campus instead of having to drive to lunch or a fitness center.

"The larger companies have those standards anyway," he said. "So we have to deliver that."

From a tenant's perspective, certifications like Energy Star and LEED matter most to larger corporations that have adopted corporate mandates on energy and the environment, according to John Hannigan, principle of Norwalk-based Choyce Peterson, which specializes in tenant representation in commercial real estate.

"These medium to large-size companies are paying more attention than ever to the wellness for their employees - that can be all the way from a wellness program on a health insurance plan to the office environment for air quality ... and exposure to outside light through the windows," Hannigan said. "There is a greater awareness (and) discussion of wellness that is going to keep expanding as time goes forward. I do think that this will be more on the radar in the future."

Alex Soule and Keila Torres Ocasio contributed to this report.