What the heck is the WELL Standard?

Thejus Chakravarthy
4 min readNov 30, 2020


Photo by 贝莉儿 DANIST on Unsplash

Back in 1993, the LEED standard was created. It was based on the idea that a building, a constructed thing, should be as environmentally friendly as possible to the outside world. There have been some questions and concerns since its inception, but the LEED standard has been adopted globally as an environmental benchmark.

ooooh, shiny LEED badges

Then, in 2014, the WELL standard was created. It was based on the idea that a constructed thing should be as environmentally friendly as possible to the people inside itself. Again, questions and concerns arose, but slowly the WELL standard is being adopted globally as well.

okay, so it’s not shiny, but it’s still good!

Let’s use a beehive as an analogy. The LEED standard looks at how the beehive affects the land around it. The WELL standard looks at how the beehive affects the bees. And, unlike a bee, humans have a choice as to which hive they want to buzz around in.

a bee realizing that this studio apartment is just not working out anymore (Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash)

The WELL standard focuses on the following aspects: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Each of these aspects, or features, comes with a stack of standards that are driven by the current research on human health

For example, in the WELL 1.2 standard, the air that comes into the building needs to have:

  • Formaldehyde levels less than 27 ppb
  • Total volatile organic compounds less than 500 μg/m3
  • Carbon monoxide less than 9 pp,.
  • PM2.5 less than 15 μg/m3
  • PM10 less than 50 μg/m3
  • Ozone less than 51 ppb
  • and Radon less than 0.148 Bq/L [4 pCi/L] in the lowest occupied level of the project

None of these are particularly hard standards to meet, but if any of them are out of whack, the current research says they could trigger “ nausea, headaches, asthma, respiratory irritation and allergies”.

So, the WELL standard is a way to make sure the workplace is as healthy as it can be. Which, while good for the workers, is not always an incentive for the queen bee, now is it?

why bother giving them actual space when we can cram more of them in? (Photo by kate.sade on Unsplash)

That is, unless you realize that a healthy workforce is key to the queen’s survival. No company can survive the loss of its employees, whether through attrition or through a pile of sick days caused by tainted food, stuffy air, and/or extreme stress from the expectation of responding to emails at 2am.

Wait, what was that about emails?

One of the WELL features is ‘mind’, where a standard requires:

  1. For non-shift work, introduce organizational cap at midnight for late night work and communications.
  2. Provide employees with a 50% subsidy on software and/or applications that monitor daytime sleep- related behavior patterns such as activity levels, caffeine and alcohol intake, and eating habits.

The WELL standard isn’t just a neat plaque to toss on the front of the building. It’s a way to support the lifeblood of any company, it’s workforce. And the standard ensures that the supports don’t get knocked out just because it’s financially convenient. A building, and the companies inside that building, can lose their WELL accreditation if a company fails to keep up its end of the bargain.

As it becomes harder and harder to trust that your company has your best interests at heart, it might be easier to look for companies in buildings that are WELL certified. That way, you busy little bee, you can count on being in an environment that feels less like a fluorescent hell and more like a sunlit field.

Parting shot of a bee (Photo by Ben Vaughn on Unsplash)



Thejus Chakravarthy

if i’m not optimizing some operations puzzle or the other, i’m probably reading (or writing, apparently)