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Human health & the built environment

Center for Sustainable Landscapes_CREDIT Denmarsh Photograph

1 December 2014

People’s health and wellbeing is in focus of a new green certification launched by the International Well Building Institute in the U.S.

Truly sustainable buildings should not only be environmentally friendly, but also be concerned about the wellbeing of the people who inhabit them or work in these buildings.

In the United States, the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) has created the WELL Building Standard which focuses on the way human health and wellbeing can be improved in the built environment.

Earlier this year, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has become the first institution to attain the IWBI’s highest distinction, the WELL Platinum Certification, for its Centre for Sustainable Landscapes.


The International Well Building Institute is a public benefit corporation (B-Corp) whose mission is to improve human health and wellbeing through the built environment. B-Corps like IWBI are an emerging U.S. corporate structure for corporations committed to balancing public benefits with profitability.

Thus, the IWBI has committed to direct 51 percent of net profits received from WELL Building Certification project fees toward charitable contributions and support investment focused on health, wellness, and the built environment.

“Our mission is to bring human health to the forefront of building practices and reinvent buildings so they are not only better for the environment, but also for the people in them. It’s an important point of inflection for our market and our movement. Historically, sustainability has focused on the impact that buildings have on our climate and environment. Bringing wellness into the conversation adds a new emphasis on the individual, and opens up the field for research and development,” said Michelle Moore, Senior Vice President of the IWBI.

Launched by Delos founder Paul Scialla in 2013, the International Well Building Institute aims to improve the way people live by developing spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life by sharing the WELL Building Standard globally.


The WELL Building Standard (WBS) was launched in October 2014 as a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that affect the health and wellbeing of the people who live, work, and learn in them.

“The public release of the WELL Building Standard v1.0 marks a momentous step forward in our efforts to bring health and wellness into the indoor environments. Through the launch of WELL v1.0, we are creating a clear intersection for the wellness, sustainability, and real estate communities to come together to support human health through the built environment globally,” commented Paul Scialla, IWBI’s Founder.

The WBS focuses on seven categories of building performance: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Pioneered by Delos, a platform which includes research, consulting, real estate development and innovative solutions for the built environment, the WELL Building Standard is grounded in evidence-based medical research that demonstrates the connection between buildings, where we spend more than 90 percent of our time, and health and wellness impacts on us as occupants.

The WELL Building Standard v1.0 is optimised for commercial and institutional buildings and can be applied to three project typologies: new construction and major renovations, tenant improvements, and core and shell developments.

The WELL Building Standard is administered by the International Well Building Institute and committed to third-party certification through IWBI’s collaboration with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).


Built in 1893 at the height of Pittsburgh’s industrial revolution, the Phipps Conservatory – a gift to the city from philanthropist Henry W. Phipps – was brought into existence as a sanctuary, a verdant space where smog-weary citizens could find respite from the notorious steel mills and smoke stacks that relentlessly polluted the metropolis.

“Today, as one of America’s greenest public gardens in one of the nation’s most liveable cities, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens not only carries on this legacy, but continues to evolve far beyond our own founding mission by reimagining and reinventing our campus, and establishing ourselves as an international leader in sustainable architecture,” the conservatory said.

As part of this evolution and a three-part masterplan for expansion that began in the 1990s, Phipps Conservatory has since built the first LEED visitor centre in a public garden; a tropical forest conservatory celebrated as the most energy-efficient structure of its kind in the world at the time of opening; the first-ever LEED production greenhouse; and the Centre for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), a dynamic education, research and administrative facility that is expected to be the first building anywhere to achieve all of the globe’s highest green building certifications.

The Centre for Sustainable Landscapes, which received the IWBI’s WELL Platinum Certification, was designed and built to promote the health and wellbeing of the people working and learning inside. It combines different sustainable features: operable windows provide fresh air and views of nature; the building orientation maximises northern and southern exposure, allowing for natural light to illuminate the interior space; indoor air quality is monitored and conditioned to ensure a healthy atmosphere; and, clean air plants – species adept at removing pollutants – help occupants breathe easier.

“Additionally, we have created the BETA (Biophilia Enhanced Through Art) Project, an inspiring collection of art at the CSL that includes paintings, sculptures, sound compositions and more. Showcasing the work of local, national and international artists, it takes the CSL experience to a new level of sensory immersion, enhancing and restoring bonds between people and the natural world,” explained a spokesperson.

Principles of sustainable design also carefully dictate both where and how to build so that new constructions work with, rather than against, nature. The CSL stands on a former brownfield, a space once compromised by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. This site has since been successfully restored, and is now healthy and safe for people, plants and animals. While the landscape features native plants that are found growing naturally within a 200-mile radius of the CSL, a green roof on the building highlights edible varieties that can be harvested for use in educational programming.

“Since a key component of our mission is to inspire and educate, the CSL is a place where guests can gain knowledge about healthy, sustainable living, and where children can learn and engage with nature in a living classroom that constantly evolves. The CSL serves as a global model for sustainable design and operations too, helping to inspire others to reconnect with nature now in order to live more sustainably in the future. Since 1893, we have been connecting people to plants. The CSL carries on with this tradition by showcasing the vital role plants play in our lives — from cleaning water for reuse to providing food and wildlife habitat within a picturesque landscape,” commented Phipps.


The unique concept of the new green standard focusing on human wellbeing developed in the U.S. is likely to be adopted in other countries.

Now, projects registered and certified through the WELL Building Standard include more than 7.7 million square feet of commercial, institutional, and multifamily projects in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and China.

The creators of the WELL Building Certification, the IWBI say they are committed to providing professional education on health and wellness in the built environment that works in alignment with existing professional credentialing and continuing education requirements. In early 2015, the IWBI is going to launch professional education, supporting publications, and the WELL Accredited Professional program.