WELL certification: Lena is cycling at her workstation in the ‘coffice’
When the real estate company Castellum planned to refurbish their regional office in Stockholm, they aimed to design an excellent workplace: an office that would enhance staff well-being and improve work performance. For this reason, Castellum chose to be the first Swedish workplace to gain certification under the Well Building Standard, a relatively new standard focusing on health and well-being.
A few blocks away from Stockholm Central Station, next to a tangle of railway lines, is a wedge-shaped building inspired by the famous Flatiron Building in New York City. It’s not just inspired by it, but has also brazenly borrowed its name. But most of the similarities stop at the building’s shape. The Flat Iron Building in Stockholm consists of two parts, and its narrow end is dominated by large glass panels. The two building bodies are separated by an open section at street level used as a communal square, but are connected at sub-ground level.
Castellum’s regional office is in the main section of the building. Or the ‘capital ship’, to use a marine term. This is an apt metaphor, since the building, like the adjacent railway line, is situated beside the water along Klara Strand next to the small bay of lake Mälaren where the Swedish capital city is located.
Valuable experience for other projects
The building, which was constructed in 2008, has been awarded Leed Gold certification, as well as Silver certification from the Sweden Green Building Council (Miljöbyggnad). The building was added to Castellum’s portfolio after Castellum acquired the real estate company Norrporten in 2016. Soon after this, Castellum decided to move its regional office into the ‘Flat Iron’, where Norrporten’s office was already located. Castellum wanted to go a step further by also focusing on softer values than those in traditional environmental certifications.
“We decided to radically renovate the whole storey. We’d already started looking at the Well standard in other projects. Using the standard in our own Stockholm office was an opportunity to learn more about the process and the benefits it offers, and to gain experience to take with us to other projects,” says Robert Carlsson, Sustainability Manager Castellum, North Stockholm Region.
Activity-based in three areas
The new activity-based office was ready in the summer of 2017. It comprises three areas:
- Communal areas with space for movement, collaboration, creativity and discussion.
- Quiet areas for concentrated, individual work.
- A more traditional open plan office area.
There are also conference rooms and telephone cubicles.
“There’s something for practically everyone, depending on how you want to work. Since I travel a lot and carry my office in my bag, I find it a great solution,” says Robert.
Seven concepts of Well
Well (version 1) is based on seven concepts (or aspects): air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. These aspects include hard values such as the choice of building materials, but the focus is on the people who will work in the building. This approach is strongly reflected in various optional requirements that Castellum has chosen, such as:
- regular lectures related to health and well-being,
- active workstations, e.g. with access to desk bikes,
- a bicycle room with tools for bicycle commuters,
- company subscriptions to different health magazines.
“Well is an excellent complement to environmental certification. However, I can’t see how it could replace, for instance, Leed, since then you’d lose certain aspects such as energy efficiency.”
Besides the visible factors that affect health and well-being, there are also invisible factors such as air pollution. Well certification addresses this by imposing a requirement to use products that emit low levels of chemicals and particles.
Small efforts bring big rewards
Office coordinator Lena Nanberg works in the reception. She believes that small efforts such as putting out flowers, plants, fruit and health magazines do a lot to improve comfort and well-being. Sometimes she uses a desk bike to boost circulation. And she always tries to take part in the wellness activities that are regularly organised, such as running, yoga and lectures on topics such as mental health.
“If the company didn’t offer these things, I wouldn’t do any fitness activities. There’s so much else in life that takes up your time. This makes it easy to stay active. It’s important since we sit down so much,” says Lena.
Well imposes high requirements for sound, light and air conditions inside the building. The air quality, heat and cooling can be controlled in more zones than in a traditional building. Light control is also technically advanced. The lighting must maintain specified lux values and have different characteristics throughout the working day.
“The lighting follows the circadian rhythm. It’s slightly bluer in the morning and becomes whiter as the day progresses. It also varies with the seasons. Lighting isn’t something we tend to notice much, and that’s exactly as it should be,” says Robert.
A holistic approach to the sound environment
When it comes to acoustics, efficient sound absorbers have been installed in the ceiling, the area that absorbs the most sound. To further enhance the effect, there are wall absorbers and screens next to the workstations. There is also absorbent furniture and flooring as well as lighting that also absorbs sound. To neutralise noise disturbance in the combined reception, communal and work area, which is fondly referred to as the ‘coffice’, sound is actually added in the form of music.
“Strangely enough, I find it quieter in the coffice, even though there’s music and conversation going on there. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think music has a calming effect,” says commercial property manager Özlem Balevi. She feels the activity-based concept works very well.
“No two days are the same. If I need to focus fully on a task, I sit in a quiet room. But I’m generally not disturbed by ambient noise. Overall I think we have a good sound environment, including in the open part of the office.”
Reasonable and justifiable costs
Gaining Well certification inevitably means extra costs. Robert points out that it’s not primarily the works required to gain the certification that hike up the costs. It’s the certification fee and the need for a special consultant. However, he stresses that the costs are reasonable and justifiable in relation to the benefits. According to the World Green Building Council, a business’ staff account for 90% of its costs. In view of this, investments that enhance staff well-being – in turn boosting productivity – increase the company’s profits.
“We’re also subject to third-party auditing which clearly certifies that we meet the requirements. This proves we’ve gone the whole way. And above all, we now have an office that is fabulous to work in.”
In Robert’s opinion, Well is easier to work with than other standards.
“There isn’t as much documentation. Above all, greater focus is placed on measurement and results than on calculation.”
We see enormous value in focusing on health and well-being in our workplaces.
Well has three certification levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum. Castellum aimed for Gold – and achieved it. The fact that the building already had Leed Gold certification was a big plus.
“The building met high sustainability standards, so we started off with an advantage. It might be more difficult to gain Well certification for an older building.”
Based on its experiences from the Stockholm office, Castellum will now work with Well in all its new build projects. The company currently has seven projects underway where Well is being looked into.
“We believe we can use aspects of Well in smaller projects too, without going all the way towards certification. We see enormous value in focusing on health and well-being in our workplaces,” says Robert.
Text: Lars Wirtén
What is Well?
Well is the most comprehensive building certification focusing on health and well-being, and is administered by the International Well Building Institute. The certification takes into account both social and physical conditions in order to enhance people’s health and well-being.
All types of buildings and activities can be certified, such as offices, housing, restaurants, hospitals and more. Parts of buildings can also be certified, for instance a single storey.
Well v2 certification (version 2) considers ten* basic concepts:
- Thermal comfort
*In 2018, three further concepts were added to the original seven: acoustics, materials and community. As a result, there are now two versions of the certification: Well v1 and Well v2.
Well certification comes in three levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Source: Sue Clark, Director of International Programs, Sweden Green Building Council.
How Ecophon Master™ A helps meet requirements for Well v1 Certification
Ecophon Master™ A contributes to three of the seven concepts considered for Well v1 Certification: Air, Light and Comfort. Each concept includes various requirements that must be met in order to achieve a certain certification level. The summary below shows which of these requirements are met by Ecophon Master A. To read more about the specific requirements, visit Wellcertified.
Air: Ecophon Master A has minimal emissions, so contributes to a healthy indoor environment (Requirements: 01 – Air quality standard, 04 – VOC reduction, 25 – Toxic material reduction).
Light: Ecophon Master A contributes, through its surface design, to a healthy light environment with a light reflectance value of 85% or more (Requirements: 59 – Surface Design).
Comfort: Ecophon Master A contributes to a good acoustic environment thanks to a short reverberation time, high speech clarity and minimal sound propagation (Requirements: 78 – Reverberation time, 80 – Sound reducing surfaces).