JLL and Lendlease recently became the first commercial occupier and owner to achieve WELL portfolio ratings. What can we learn from this milestone? We spoke to JLL’s Lisa Hinde to learn more.
As COVID-19 casts new light on the importance of health and wellbeing in buildings, the WELL Building Standard can help Australia’s property industry benchmark their buildings against best practice.
The link between health, wellbeing, performance and property is notoriously difficult to measure, but a growing body of evidence is emerging.
One study found that doubling the outdoor air ventilation rate improved typing, proof-reading, addition and creative thinking by an average of 1.7 per cent.
Another study, which analysed sick leave data for more than 3,000 workers across 40 buildings, attributed 57 per cent of all sick leave to poor ventilation.
A third study found office workers reported more headaches and posted a 6.5 per cent slower rate of typing when they were in an office with a “pollution source” like a dirty carpet.
The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, has emerged as the best tool to benchmark the features that support human health and wellbeing. Since then, 328 projects have achieved ratings – 20 of those in Australia. Thousands more buildings are registered for certification.
In 2018, the International WELL Building Institute introduced the WELL Portfolio rating to streamline and scale health and wellness strategies across multiple assets.
IWBI chairman and CEO Rick Fedrizzi says taking a portfolio approach can “impact the wellbeing of many while improving their competitive advantage”.
JLL’s WELL portfolio of 194 properties spans the Asia Pacific and North America. The health and wellbeing strategies driven throughout the portfolio influences a massive 23,000 people across 18 countries.
Lendlease’s WELL portfolio, meanwhile, comprises three Australian funds with 14 assets across 569,216 sqm that accommodate nearly 60,000 people. Lendlease’s International Towers at Barangaroo are among the assessed assets.
Kylie Rampa, CEO of property at Lendlease, says her company has “always held a belief that highly sustainable assets deliver superior health and wellness benefits for both the environment and our tenant customers”.
“These assets are also being sought out by investors as a way of creating both environmental and social value, alongside long-term risk adjusted financial returns. WELL provides an important global benchmark for health in buildings that supports positive change in the industry.”
Baselines and benchmarks
Hinde, JLL’s strategic sustainability director, worked closely across both the JLL and Lendlease portfolios. She emphasises that WELL Portfolio helps asset owners and tenants set a baseline before embarking on incremental improvements over time.
“It isn’t about aspiring to the highest score, or having one property that is a flagship healthy building. Instead, it’s about making a commitment to improve all of your buildings or tenancies year on year,” Hinde explains.
“People want to experience the benefits of a healthy and vibrant workplace, regardless of the location. The continuous improvement program behind a WELL Portfolio program supports this.”
Hinde says the “scalability” of the WELL Portfolio approach surprised her team.
“While there are site-specific features, we were surprised at how accessible it was to scale some initiatives across properties – like HR policies or procurement of fresh fruit and vegetables. Once you’ve completed the groundwork at one property it’s relatively straightforward to scale across an entire portfolio.”
And because WELL is broad in scope, a host of teams beyond building service – human resources, procurement, contractors, architects and more – must sit at the table during the process.
“Input is required from each team. But you don’t have to do everything at once. You might spend one year nailing HR policies and the next addressing the types of air filters across the portfolio. You can stagger activity so it’s not a huge upfront commitment.”
A potent force for change
Hinde says WELL is a “good gateway” to the property industry’s broader sustainability agenda.
“People care about their health and are interested in how their workplace influences that. The principles of health and wellbeing are attractive to departments that wouldn’t normally be interested in sustainability ratings because they can see a direct benefit to users of the space,” she adds.
Australian property companies are primed for WELL Portfolio ratings, “because there are certain policies that we take for granted – like minimum leave or Medicare – that make it easier for us to meet global best practice benchmarks meaning our attention can expand to new and innovative elements”.
Hinde’s advice to others?
“We undertook performance testing of eight commercial office buildings across a three-week timeframe – and it was challenging to coordinate. Looking back, I think we’d probably stagger this performance testing and third-party verification over a longer period.”
While there have been questions around the cost of WELL ratings in the past, Hinde says the WELL Portfolio process is “a streamlined and cost-effective way to pursue an inclusive approach to health and wellbeing”.
“Australia’s property sector is competitive. Whether it is portfolio comparisons, leadership boards or point scores, I think competition will drive change and we’ll see an increase in stellar policies that support health and wellbeing in buildings as a result. I think WELL Portfolio will be a potent force.”