WELL certification: Strong interest in workplace well-being in Spain
Interest in health and well-being in the workplace is rapidly rising. The only building certification that focuses on these issues, WELL, is growing constantly. Not least in Spain. “The growth is amazing, and we’re seeing the same development in other European countries,” says Bieito Silva Poti, architect and WELL Performance Testing Agent at Spanish WELL partner ITG.
Bieito Silva Poti
- An architect who has worked for the past years as a sustainability and well-being consultant.
- Responsible for Well certification at ITG, Performance Testing Agent and Well Faculty.
- He has previously also worked with the Breeam and Leed certifications.
- He is a Living Building Challenge Ambassador and Fitwel Ambassador.
In 2018 the Spanish non-profit technology organisation ITG (Instituto Tecnologico de Galicia) signed an agreement with the Well Building Institute. With this agreement, the Well certification entered the Spanish and South American markets. This has proved to be a wise move. ITG is seeing a widespread interest in Spain in health issues in general, and specifically in the Well certification.
“As an authorised partner of Well, we organised a conference on well-being in 2019 called ‘Wellference’. It attracted 300 attendants the first time it was held. I would call this a success and an indicator of the strong interest in healthy workplaces in Spain,” says Bieito.
High demand for healthy workplaces
The Well Building Standard is the first rating system to focus exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve comfort and enhance health and wellness. Health is something most people are concerned about, and many people take a keen interest in health issues. Employees today want to work in a healthy environment.
“This is important to us, and employers know that. And the good thing about health issues is that all parties concerned not only benefit from it, but notice it very clearly. If your work environment improves, it becomes easier to focus on your work. A healthy and comfortable workplace results in less distractions and better performance. But it’s not only about increasing productivity. Some direct employer costs, such as sick leave, are linked with a substandard, uncomfortable and unhealthy work environment,” says Bieito.
Workplace well-being is crucial
Interest in health issues is significant among what Bieito refers to as high level companies, i.e. ones that seek to attract the most talented and well-educated people. They are dependent on successful employer branding. The workplace is vital in this regard: geographic position, design and health factors can decide whether a candidate for a position will accept an offer or not. It is not only economic factors such as salary, pensions and insurance that are crucial to these decisions nowadays. If an employer is turned down by a qualified candidate, the process of finding a new candidate can be very costly.
“In Spain we see many companies, not least international ones, that are refurbishing and certifying their buildings. And property owners who build new buildings also have an interest in certifying them, as they are aware of the high need for their tenants to offer employees a healthy workplace,” Bieito explains.
A healthy and comfortable workplace results in less distractions and better performance.
Remarkable growth in Well projects
Since its creation in 2014, 4,136 projects in 59 countries have applied for Well certification. In Spain the growth has been remarkable: more than 300 percent in 2019. Admittedly the increase started from low numbers, but it is nevertheless significant. ITG had 85 Well projects in progress at the start of 2020.
“The growth is amazing. The same development is seen in other European countries such as France and the UK. You can also see it the large number of conferences on well-being organised around the world. Interest is enormous.”
So what is the workplace situation in Spain? Open-plan offices dominate the scenario, while enclosed offices are very rare, says Bieito.
“The quality of the buildings is quite good, although health was not the main focus when these buildings were constructed. But the foundation is there, and most buildings can easily be adapted for health and apply for Well certification.”
Noise is the most challenging problem
Due to the prevalence of open-plan solutions, acoustic conditions are far from optimal in most Spanish offices. And in addition to the acoustic disadvantages of open-plan workplaces, there is also a cultural factor to consider in Spain.
“I think we talk louder than people in many other countries. That makes the office noise levels even worse,” Bieito says. He adds:
“Noise leads to concentration problems. This is probably the most challenging problem we have in offices today. I think the first measures to be taken are installing sound absorption in open spaces and insulating walls that separate private from open spaces.”
A long road to travel
Awareness of noise as a negative work environment factor is fairly low in Spain, he says.
“If you’re used to a certain situation, it’s difficult to imagine that another one could be much better. I think companies are working on the issue of acoustics, but we still have a long road to travel.”
As a partner of the International Well Building Institute, ITG takes a lead in travelling these long and perhaps winding Spanish and South American roads. Its task and commitment comprise three areas:
A lot of effort is now being made in the areas of education and communication. But as more projects achieve their goals, the number of performance verifications will increase.
It seems Bieito will have some work to do in the years to come.
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.