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RAISING THE GREEN BAR: New standards meant to promote ‘healthy’ buildings

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First came avocado toast. The next thing, it seems, could be a wave of changes to building standards.

In a race to lure millennials and talented workers, many companies are reaching for ways to make their workplaces more desirable. A pair of new certifications aimed at building workplace health could help clients do just that.

The Daily Reporter recently spoke with Phil Vetterkind, director of sustainability at Hunzinger Construction, about how these new programs could change the construction industry in Wisconsin.

The WELL building standard

A new building certification that tracks how structures and companies support workers is emerging in Wisconsin.

It’s called the WELL Building Standard, a system that was started in October 2014 after six years of research and development. A handful of projects in Wisconsin are being built according to the standard, but none has yet earned the blessing of the International Well-Being Institute, the organization that certifies such projects, Vetterkind said. Companies on the east and west coast, however, are using it as a way to recruit workers.

Earning a WELL certification is not easy, Vetterkind said. It measures compliance according to seven different categories, such as “water,” “light,” “fitness,” “comfort” and “mind.”

Meeting WELL’s “water” criterium, for instance, requires that an inspector test a building’s water for purity. Its “nourishment” requirement, meanwhile, is meant to make sure that food served in vending machines isn’t riddled with sugar.

But although WELL may be a high bar for many buildings under construction in Wisconsin, Vetterkind expects many of its design elements to creep into plans for future construction.

That’s because WELL doesn’t just deal with a building’s office kitchen or faucets. Its requirements might lead designers to make sure stairs are easier to find than elevators in a building’s lobby, something meant to encourage employees to walk more.

But for clients who view WELL’s requirements as being too onerous, there’s another option.

The FITWEL building standard

One more attainable alternative to WELL is a certification process called FITWEL.

The program uses a three-star scoring system to ascertain how well commercial spaces, mutifamily-housing buildings and other projects meet its standards. FITWEL tracks how a building “impacts community health,” “reduces morbidity and absenteeism,” “promotes occupant safety” and accomplishes other goals.

Much like WELL, the process takes into account how buildings support healthy activity. The process, for instance, awards points for designing buildings that can accommodate alternative forms of transportation, such as biking. Well-designed stairwells, also, will earn clients points.

Vetterkind said the FITWEL certification will also arrive in Wisconsin soon. Both certification systems let employers signal that their workplaces support healthy activities, which helps retain and attract workers. They also stem from a perception that millennials enjoy working in spaces that are built with a different set of priorities than older structures were.

“Millenials want to be in more walkable places — all those sorts of things are permeating (the design process),” Vetterkind said. “We know that these rating systems are geared toward retention of employees and attraction of employees.”

New LEED standards

While new certifications such as WEL and FITWEL emerge, the common LEED certification system is undergoing change for the first time in years.

The new changes fall under a revision called LEED 4.1. The U.S. Green Building Council says the changes are meant to make construction work more “inclusive and transparent”

The LEED standard — which stands for Leadership in Energy Efficiency — has been at work in Wisconsin for years and is a formula for building green structures that promote health and help reduce energy use and expenses..

Changes to the program call for tracking buildings’ emissions of greenhouse gas — a first for LEED. The program also includes revisions to ASHRAE 90.1-2016. That energy-code standards, developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, applies to commercial buildings.

Other changes to LEED include:

  •  New Rainwater Management requirements with a lower minimum percentile for storms and added guidance for zero-lot-line projects
  • An overhauled renewable-energy credit that takes into account diverse methods of renewable-energy procurement
  • Restructured credits for materials that allow clients to benefit from the use of green materials used in a structure, for instance.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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