The Atlanta office of architecture design firm TVS is the first project to achieve both WELL and LEED certification at the platinum level using the new shared pathway.

The Future of Green Building and Wellness

The CEOs of the International Well Building Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council discuss how their organizations will be working together to achieve mutual facility goals.

By Greg Zimmerman, senior contributing editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Biggest Challenges Facing Sustainable and Healthy Buildings

Green building is the future. Health and wellness are the future. The worst pandemic in more than century and the continued extreme weather due to climate change are just two major examples of why focusing on these two facility-related strategies is now an imperative. 

Sustainability and health and wellness building strategies – like improving access to natural light and views of nature in buildings – are often complementary. Focusing on one means a de facto focus on the other. The result is, simply put, a better facility – better in terms of value, better in terms of a building that’s attractive and engaging for occupants, and better in terms of helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.  

In that spirit of cooperation, for the first time ever, the leaders of the U.S. Green Building Council – CEO Peter Templeton – and the International WELL Building Institute – CEO Rachel Hodgdon – have come together for a joint interview to discuss how these two organizations will be working together now and into the future. 

FacilitiesNet: We saw recently how USGBC and IWBI announced its even stronger alliance. Tell us more about that and how that collaboration is supporting LEED and WELL adoption? 

Rachel Hodgdon: USGBC and IWBI have a tremendous track record of collaborating. We’ve been partners for almost 10 years. Our longstanding partnership reflects the inextricable link between human health and planetary health. 

More recently, we wanted to respond to the increased demand among organizations looking for actionable, efficient strategies to demonstrate meaningful impact at the intersection of climate change and human health. That’s why we partnered to make it easier for projects to pursue dual certifications for LEED and WELL, and it’s exciting to see how quickly the market has embraced it. In a matter of months, nearly 350 projects from 38 countries, representing more than 82 million square feet, opted to use the pathway. This rapid adoption shows just how much global demand there is for balancing the mandate of decarbonization and energy performance with the imperative to enhance human health and performance.  

At our WELL Summit here in Washington D.C. at the end of September 2023, Peter and I were able to acknowledge the very first recipient of WELL and LEED certifications using this pathway – TVS Architects in Atlanta.  It was a highlight of the week.   

Peter Templeton: USGBC’s partnership with IWBI builds upon our shared commitment to driving positive health outcomes across the built environment. Improving human health has been a foundational component of LEED since its inception. LEED and WELL have an overlap of aligned strategies and goals. With the next version of LEED v5 – USGBC will continue to take steps toward improving buildings that address human health and wellness while also meeting our climate goals. Corporations are taking notice and it’s exciting to see companies and organizations embrace both rating systems and take action to create healthier and more sustainable spaces.  

Partnership has been deeply embedded within the USGBC culture and mission since its founding. The issues we work on – climate action and adaptation, biodiversity, human health, resilience, social equity, and others – require interdisciplinary collaboration on a global scale. There’s simply no other way to drive meaningful progress. 

We’re also doing more to work with partners to strengthen rating system development and delivery. Earlier this year, USGBC and RMI published the joint report, “Driving Action on Embodied Carbon in Buildings”, which will inform next steps to reduce embodied carbon emissions both industrywide and within LEED. And I’m incredibly proud of our partnership with Rachel and the IWBI team to create the dual certification pathway, which is a win for organizations that want to lead the way on both sustainability and health. 

In addition to partnerships with world-class organizations like RMI and IWBI, we often collaborate with government leaders to drive public policy that equitably decarbonizes buildings. This work includes building code innovation and dynamic building emissions performance standards at the state and local levels, as well as federal advocacy. We announced a collaboration at Greenbuild with the Biden-Harris Administration to create a national definition for zero-emissions buildings to align goal achievement throughout America. We’re excited to apply the definition within LEED in the near future. 

On the global stage, we have longstanding partnerships with green building councils in nearly a dozen countries, as well as with organizations like the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and World Green Building Council, to continue expanding the green building movement worldwide. Later this month, USGBC will send a delegation to COP 28 to advocate for greater urgency on building decarbonization. At COP, we’ll also release powerful new research on the state of the U.S. building decarbonization market that we conducted with the global sustainable design and development firm Arup.  

FacilitiesNet: Can you give some specific examples of health, wellness and sustainability strategies that complement each other in facilities?  

Hodgdon: The good news is I think the industry has successfully debunked the myth that energy efficiency and indoor air quality are somehow at odds. Put simply, we don’t have to sacrifice utility savings for indoor environmental quality. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Because of technological advancements, including the deployment of sensors and responsive systems, buildings that balance the priorities of energy efficiency and occupant health can actually realize even greater energy savings. For example, a combination of air quality sensors and occupancy sensors can trigger the increase of fresh air into a space on demand. In fact, Honeywell released its third annual Healthy Building Survey that shows how workers are increasingly concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ). The survey found that more than a third of respondents believe that employers should be able to address both IAQ and carbon emissions. 

FacilitiesNet: Where do we go from here? 

Templeton: This year is USGBC’s 30th anniversary, which has given us the opportunity to reflect on USGBC’s first 30 years, and it’s been humbling to see the accomplishments of our member community celebrated from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the floor of Congress this year. We have so much to be proud of. But even as we celebrate the achievements from our first 30 years, we’re looking ahead to the next 30 years. 

The role of buildings in society must continue to evolve to meet the urgent challenges of the 21st century. In our forthcoming 2024-2026 strategic plan, we identify core strategies to evolve USGBC to meet these challenges. We aim to present USGBC’s strategic plan in the coming year and that will include growing the global green building movement inclusively with new generations of changemakers and take into account issues like equity, resilience, health, and decarbonization among other issues. We are also working to launch new programs that improve building performance across entire real estate portfolios, empowering organizations to achieve their ESG goals and enabling USGBC to create impact at greater scales. 

Executing these strategies is how USGBC will continue to transform how buildings and communities advance human and environmental wellbeing, both now and long into the future. I’m confident our best work is still ahead of us. 

Hodgdon: I’ve long said that climate change is the greatest human health challenge of our time. We need much faster adoption of decarbonization strategies like the ones prescribed in LEED. We also need WELL’s greater focus on health. We need solutions for climate resilience. Climate change is not a threat to the health of the planet – the planet is going to be fine. Climate change is a threat to the conditions that make our planet habitable for human beings. Health impacts are mounting due to extreme heat, flooding, water scarcity, wildfires, and conditions that contribute to new diseases and their rapid proliferation, just to name a few. Our buildings need to be designed and operated as shelters from these storms.  

Toward that effort, we also need policymakers to apply focus to health in buildings by introducing new policies and other incentives for healthy building practices. Recently, IWBI, along with other leading public health organizations, including six former U.S. Surgeons General, sent a ​​letter to our nation’s elected and appointed officials urging them to do just that — rethink the future of all building policy so it better supports positive health outcomes. We’ve had great success over the past two decades in advancing green building policy, but moving forward we need to have policies in place that help building owners and operators accelerate efforts to optimize their spaces for health and well-being. 

Greg Zimmerman is senior contributing editor for and Building Operating Management magazine. 

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  posted on 11/21/2023   Article Use Policy

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