International WELL Building Institute founder Paul Scialla discusses how COVID-19 has forever changed our view of our surroundings, and accelerated our awareness of a healthier living and working environment.
- Paul Scialla's passion for altruistic capitalism and sustainability led him to found Delos and the International Well Building Institute, bringing together the world's largest asset class, real estate, with the world's fastest growing industry, wellness. He created the Well Building Standard, the first global rating system to focus exclusively on the ways buildings and everything in them can enhance our health and wellness. It's a system made all the more critical for a post-COVID world.
AKIKO FUJITA: I'm Akiko Fujita. And now we're joined by Paul Scialla. Paul, great to have you on today. Welcome.
PAUL SCIALLA: Great to be with you.
AKIKO FUJITA: Let's get right into this momentum, or movement, that you have created through the Well Building institute. Because this is something you started eight years ago-- pre-pandemic, pre- all of this talk about ESG. What was the vision? How have you seen that evolve?
PAUL SCIALLA: Yeah, we've been merging the health sciences with the building sciences for, as you said, over eight years. We wanted to really understand the built environment-- our homes, offices, schools, hotels, and its impact on the human condition; given we as people are spending over 90% of our lives indoors.
So taking an evidence based approach to quantify the connection between everything that surrounds us indoors-- air quality, water quality, lighting, thermal, acoustics, biophilic elements, surface and cleaning protocols, and mapping those directly to our respiratory, cardiovascular, immune, cognitive, and sleep health outcomes.
AKIKO FUJITA: So walk me through what exactly it means to have a well building. This is an actual certification that businesses get or that buildings get. How do you measure that?
PAUL SCIALLA: So our platform has two components to it. On one side, the International Well Building Institute is the largest certification body for healthy buildings in the world now with certifications in 63 countries. This is a third-party document review and performance verification of the health and wellness attributes of a building. And now, particularly with the Well Health Safety rating, it really covers the health and safety protocols of any organization, any building type, what have you.
AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, there's no question you have seen huge momentum as a result of this pandemic. You already had a lot of growth going into this year. Walk me through how the certification has evolved as a result of the pandemic, and the new safety and health concerns that have popped up.
PAUL SCIALLA: So launched, about five years ago, the Well Building Standard, which covers the full gamut of all health and wellness categories across thermal, acoustics, water, air, light, what have you. Clearly what happened earlier this year was a need.
Industry came at us across sectors asking, can your International Well Building Institute-- as the world's leading certification platform for healthy buildings, can you issue us some type of criteria and rating and a third-party review of health and safety protocols? Clearly this pandemic has caused that need to arise with regards to looking at things like cleaning protocols and frequency therein, emergency preparedness planning, stakeholder engagement, health services, communication policies, what have you.
So that was really the catalyst, starting in February, where our Institute went broad with over 500 virologists, behavioral scientists, building scientists, public health experts to pull the relevant features from the Well Building Standard that have to do with health and safety protocols and hence the launch of the Well Health Safety rating a couple months ago.
AKIKO FUJITA: So let's try to break off some of those elements there. There's a lot of viewers I think who are familiar with the air filters and the basic distancing that we've heard about with the temperature checks, all of that, that come with being able to operate in a building safely during a pandemic. But you've listed a number of other criteria there. Walk us through some of the specifics that are involved.
PAUL SCIALLA: So this is not meant to just be a reaction to COVID-19. In fact, most of these features already exist in the Well Building Standard and have for years. Clearly you get into elements of optimizing ventilation, to your point.
But emergency preparedness-- this can cover and does cover not just COVID-19 as mentioned, but broader pathogen concerns-- whether it's today or years in the future, and other elements of health and safety. So these categories are meant to be rigorous at the categorical level with regards to scientific verification, but also flexible enough so organizations can meet the flexible criteria in each category.
AKIKO FUJITA: And you've talked about working with government agencies. I imagine you've gotten a lot more buy-in as a result of what we've experienced over the last six or seven months or so. Can you talk about those conversations that's happening at the government level, not just here in the US, but internationally?
PAUL SCIALLA: Yeah. I mean, even here in the United States first, 1,400 mayors have signed off on the Well Health Safety rating as one of the responsible means and mechanisms to reopen buildings safely with regards to governing practice. But we've got conversations now with governments around the world even looking at their own real estate portfolios, looking to put all their buildings that they occupy through the Health Safety rating as well.
AKIKO FUJITA: And so let's talk about who has actually adopted the criteria-- a lot of familiar sights for those of our viewers, when you talk about Yankee Stadium, Royal Albert Hall over in the UK. How have you had to adapt the criteria that you've set forward to some of these event sites?
PAUL SCIALLA: Well, good. I mean this applies to any typology. You will see this seal, the Well Health Safety seal on the front of supermarkets, grocery stores, corporate headquarters, manufacturing facilities, stadiums, offices, hotels, restaurants. Basically if it's got a front door, it actually can be rated for health and safety protocols. And the system was built to be able to adapt across multiple locations, and even in some cases, thousands and thousands of locations as part of a overall corporate portfolio.
AKIKO FUJITA: And what our viewers gonna notice as a result of that?
PAUL SCIALLA: Well, the seal itself is a symbol of confidence. This process is putting science, structure, form, validity, and most importantly, third-party verification-- so employees know that their company has done something. Or guests or visitors or patrons know that the building they're walking into has gone through a third-party verified process as it pertains to health and safety.
The seal itself has a QRC on it, an element of transparency. So walking into any door, whether you're walking into your office or into a grocery store or into a hotel for instance, that QRC will show and demonstrate the features of compliance for that particular facility.
AKIKO FUJITA: And so anybody who's visiting that building can actually look at that and see exactly what specific standards were met as a result of the building?
PAUL SCIALLA: That is correct. That is correct.
AKIKO FUJITA: You've talked about this unique situation that you're in right now as a result of a pandemic. But to your point, this is something that is expected to go well beyond this moment in time. What is the case for a well building?
PAUL SCIALLA: You look at the wellness real estate principles-- air, light, water, thermal, acoustics, biophilic elements. If one good can come out of all of this is a better awareness that our surroundings have a huge impact on our health outcomes. They have a huge impact on our productivity, and obviously on our health and safety.
AKIKO FUJITA: And from a corporate standpoint though, how do you measure that? When you're trying to sell the need for this standard and the seal, you've talked about productivity is one thing. But what does it mean from a profitability standpoint for companies and for that buy-in.
PAUL SCIALLA: I'll compare this to the green building movement, the efforts in green building to reduce energy costs. When you look at any building, about 2% of the ongoing cost of any building is its energy usage-- waste, water, utilities. And that has formed a $4 trillion industry, called green building, trying to reduce that cost input.
Now consider this. Over 90% of the ongoing cost of any building are the people inside of it-- salaries, wages, benefits, health care costs, productivity and output, attraction, retention. The well building movement promotes better outcomes for the 90% input of any building. And you consider the cost to achieve this, fractions and fractions of 1% premium to normal construction or renovation, or in some cases even smaller than that-- versus the gains in again attraction, retention, productivity, reducing health care costs.
All of these are very big quantifiable indicators that show that the well building movement is an economic movement first that happens to have tremendous societal benefit. Using our real estate as a health care intervention tool to deliver preventative medical intentions to enhance all these outcomes, again, it's a good blend of both the societal and an economic win.
AKIKO FUJITA: And, Paul, this is something that you have been preaching for the last eight years. But it feels like at the corporate level, at the executive level, there has been a shift in the approach of the workplace as a result of what we've gone through with this pandemic. We've talked a lot about the work-from-home movement, companies being more in tune with the mental health of their employees and overall wellness. Can you speak to the conversation shift that you have seen over the course of this pandemic?
PAUL SCIALLA: Yeah. A big, big, big shift as folks in leadership positions at companies want to really figure out how to appropriately communicate to their employees on health and safety protocols. We've also seen a massive recognition of this entire category in the ES&G complex. The "E" in ES&G has been largely defined as it comes to our buildings for years, the environmental elements to a building.
The "S" has been largely missing, that social component of how a real estate portfolio-- how an office, whether it's owned or leased, but how that real estate itself can contribute to societal benefit. So we've seen a massive jump in interest not only on the investment side, but also the user side, in using systems like the Well Health Safety rating, the Well Building Standard to up their ES&G scores to demonstrate that they are making material changes that can be quantified.
AKIKO FUJITA: The argument of course was any kind of standard in building, and we've heard it with the green building, that the cost is just too high. How do you make it economical for some of these companies, some of these developers who don't necessarily have to deal with the high end? What does the cost structure look like? And in the broader picture, how much growth do you anticipate?
PAUL SCIALLA: OK. So with the help Well Health Safety rating, this is a document review of protocol. You're dealing with a system that can be down to a couple of hundred dollars per building, with regards to third-party verification of those practices. So that is built to scale.
We've seen tens of thousands of buildings, hundreds and hundreds of organizations, already go through the system. Whether it's some of the world's leading banks-- JP Morgan will be putting the Well Health Safety seal on all bank branches and global offices; stadiums, like you've mentioned.
But from a corporate standpoint, this is not an onerous cost. Even the full well certification of a development project-- it's about 1/3 of 1% premium to normal construction to build Well Certified Platinum. This again is not an onerous economic proposition.
And we've seen clients come to us and say, "maybe two months we broke even, just in reduced absenteeism. And again, this is through the years, not even relevant to the health safety side of this. But very quick break-evens. It's a very economic proposition-- quite different, candidly, than the longer multi-year payback of green building.
AKIKO FUJITA: We're of course talking about buildings at a time when there are a lot of Americans, a lot of people around the world, who are afraid to leave their homes because of the concern around the infection. You've got a good front seat here to see how quickly things are going to start to reopen. When are you anticipating things return to normal? And what does that normal look like?
PAUL SCIALLA: Yeah, you know, I think the pendulum swings in the extremes. When this first started there was a lot of talk, "well, no one's ever going back to an office again." And you're starting to see that start to shift as well. Obviously we can't control the population statistics and what the path may be on any type of element here at a governing level.
What we want to focus on here is, again, this is not just about today. If one good can come out of this, it's a renewed or re-upped ante and focus on health and well-being and health safety in buildings. So what we're seeing here is a lot of folks, regardless of whether they may be fully returned or not, are going through the necessary motions to put this in place.
AKIKO FUJITA: And finally, the fundamental shift here that we're talking about, I realize this isn't just about the pandemic. But there's no question, whenever we return to our offices and to these buildings spaces you're talking about, people are going to be thinking about that differently. What is that shift that you're expecting?
PAUL SCIALLA: That's a great question. Let's relate it to this. I would say maybe one 1 out of 100 people a year ago, in the developed world, probably had an opinion or a concern or even a thought about something like indoor air quality. That number is 99 out of 100. That shift in mentality, that awareness, that learning curve, that change happened in less than a year.
This pandemic will come and go. Future ones will come and go. Even look at the forest fires and the pollution issues. But the acute awareness now has been elevated, which is a good thing. And if that's gonna lead to more corrective action and better, healthier spaces in the long run, then that's a positive outcome.
AKIKO FUJITA: Paul Scialla, thanks for joining us today.
PAUL SCIALLA: Thanks for having me.