The WELL building standard

We spend around 90% of our lives indoors and the workplace is where we spend many of our waking hours.  There is a real opportunity to increase human health by the way we design the built environment and maintain the quality of our internal environment.

By Marcus Eckersley


Where we live in Asia, with a growing middle class economy and urbanisation, has an increasing human and environmental impact. For example, Type II diabetes in China has increased substantially over recent decades and in China alone is estimated to affect 1 in 10 Chinese adults. 


Whilst in 2015 a report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) revealed that the little red dot of Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations, when compared with the UK, where diabetes affects about 1 in 20 adults, this is extremely alarming.  Many of the changes in lifestyle and diet are a direct result of increased economic development and urbanisation, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle.


Another side-effect of increased development in Asia is air pollution. In Hong Kong when the wind blows from the north the smog rolls into town.  Most people now have apps on their phones tracking the air quality.  Here in Singapore we suffer from annual episodes of transboundary haze in addition to everyday air pollution developed by cars, buses and industry.  On the worst days you can actually taste the by-product of these processes.


So what has this got to do with buildings?  We spend around 90% of our lives indoors and the workplace is where we spend many of our waking hours.  This has a lasting impact on our bodies, our minds and can even affect how we sleep.  Interestingly, the air quality inside, in most cases can be worse than the outdoor air quality.  Therefore, there is a real opportunity to increase human health by the way we design the built environment and maintain the quality of our internal environment.


The WELL Building Standard, a scheme which has been developed by built environment professionals and doctors together, gives us a framework which we can use to assess how ‘healthy’ a building is for the occupants.  WELL is also complementary to all existing sustainable building standards (Green Mark, LEED, BREEAM, Green Star etc.).  These systems have been in the market place for a number of years and assess a building’s impact predominantly on the use of environmental resources and to a lesser extent the indoor environment and human health.  Considering a WELL certified building alongside one of the existing frameworks, we now have more information to develop buildings that look after both the environment and the humans within.


This is not a new concept as for years we have considered occupant comfort and health in buildings as the basics of good design.  The big difference is to test and verify that the installation is actually achieving the design intent by physically verifying the prerequisites.  Compliance requirements for WELL fit into seven key areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.  Each category is scored out of 10 and depending on the total achieved a silver, gold or platinum rating is awarded.


The detail of how and what is tested is quite remarkable:  use of natural materials with low volatile organic compounds, recycled materials, air quality, how many staff can eat together, which oxygenating plants can be used and to best effect, standards to which water is supplied, how the spread of germs is limited like choosing a brass worktop for the kitchen for its antimicrobial qualities, how staff are incentivised to exercise and how their food choices are healthier as a result of positive peer pressure.  Everything is covered even how the office is set out to achieve a space that people can work and socialise in.


Making the workplace a better environment to be in has a positive impact on health and wellbeing.  We could also say that it assists with the recruitment and retention of staff.  Attracting the right staff and retaining them is made easier by having a workplace that is certified healthy.  Candidates are becoming savvier on the choices they make in their careers, and are looking at how their workplace environment is going to treat them.


These frameworks however do not co-exist without some tension and it is imperative that we do not take our eye off the ball by improving health and well-being at the expense of the wider environment.


What provides a healthier workplace for a person may come at negative impact to communities or the planet at large. For example, providing increased air quality and quantity could result in higher ventilation and air purification energy consumption which, if taken from the electricity grid, means higher greenhouse gas emissions.  A solution to this problem would be to use passive measures to reduce pollutants in the air such as green walls.


With increased human impacts, and the development of the WELL building standard, we are currently in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way we view our interaction with the built environment, which is a real opportunity to have wide ranging positive impacts particularly given the issues discussed earlier, and which also apply to most countries globally.


One thought we would should consider is how we ensure we can incorporate both the sustainable design methods that we have spent over a decade perfecting, and the WELL standard concepts, concurrently and not in isolation of one another.  We should all design buildings that are good for us, and for the world we live in.


At Cundall the London office at One Carter Lane is the first project in Europe registered to receive the WELL Building Standard certification ( Because of this great success, with incredibly positive feedback from staff, they are also reviewing their office in Singapore and Hong Kong to see if the same principles in what is best for people and what is best for the environment can be applied.  A more in depth look at the WELL Building Institute can be found at


Photo credit: Dirk Lindner


Photo credit: Dirk Lindner


Photo credit: Dirk Lindner





Marcus Eckersley is the Director of Cundall Singapore Pte Ltd and Chair of the British Chamber’s Property & Construction Business Group Committee.


A Chartered Building Services Engineer, Marcus has worked with Cundall for ten years, first based in their Manchester office before opening their Singapore office in 2012. Marcus has extensive experience across a number of sectors including workplace, data centres and hotels.


Cundall were recently shortlisted for two Annual Business Awards by the British Chamber, in the Investing in People and Excellence in Innovation categories.


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