An interiors project for TD Bank headquarters, located in the TD Centre in downtown Toronto, recently became the world’s first project certified under v1 of the WELL Building Standard. What turned out to be a 18-month long process—optimizing 25,000 square feet of the 23rd floor—was a challenging feat that would not have been as smooth if it hadn’t been for a strong partnership with landlord Cadillac Fairview.
“If you’re pursuing a WELL project that’s the first thing to do—talk to your landlord about their level of involvement and interest in pursuing along with you,” noted Martha MacInnis, design director of TD Bank Group, who recently spoke at the Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC) national conference on June 7.
In a packed room at Toronto’s Allstream Centre, MacInnis spoke alongside David Hoffman, general manager of Cadillac Fairview’s TD Centre, and Barbara Ciesla, senior vice-president of strategic consulting, people-place, Jones Lang LaSalle, and project consultant on behalf of Cadillac Fairview.
The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It complements other green building rating systems such as LEED.
“LEED to me looks at how we can minimize our impact on the environment,” said Ciesla. “WELL looks at how we create built environments and minimize the impact to human occupant.”
The WELL program has been gaining momentum across North America and some expect it will semi-transform the building sector with its people-focused approach.
The 23rd floor of TD Centre was selected for the first of several WELL pilots because it was the last of a 40-floor optimization renovation. This gives TD Bank Group the ability to compare data around employee feedback. With data from all other 39 renovated floors, all with the same level of fit and finish, impending pre and post occupancy surveys on the WELL floor will be compared with feedback from the 39 floors.
Initial steps began with a day-long meeting involving the landlord, architect, engineers, the general contractor who helped with preliminary pricing and a Delos wellness consultant. Everyone “combed through the gaps” and what needed to be addressed, along with testing another renovated floor to look for air and water quality.
As they went through the process of internal approval, the team first looked at preconditions and base requirements for meeting the certification level. They also looked at optimizations and costing for elements.
MacInnis said the cost increase above their original optimization project would have been 12 per cent without help from Cadillac Fairview and other vendors who sponsored products. The team was able to leverage features that were already a part of the building. Hoffman added that the base building has a significant role to play in achieving WELL. With this project, 38 out of 102 features were landlord-dependent, while 28 were supported by the landlord.
“As the landlord, I clearly needed to put the team and property in a position that any tenants looking to achieve WELL certification were in a strong position to be supported,” he said.
Upon approval, they started pre-occupancy surveys of all employees moving onto that floor.
Business case for WELL
More businesses are realizing how the physical environment can dramatically improve employee engagement. A report from Jones Lang LaSalle, Perspectives on Workplace Sustainability, cites studies that show a 20 per cent productivity gain from greening a workplace, specifically natural light, thermal comfort and good indoor air quality.
During the discussion, Ciesla noted the 3-30-300 rule of thumb that organizations typically spend approximately $3 per square foot per year for utilities, $30 for rent and $300 for payroll, aka. people costs.
“When looking at reducing energy and rents costs, we have to focus on people,” she said. “If we can put people in better buildings and improve productivity by 5 or even 10 per cent, 10 per cent of 300 is your total cost of rent.”
From a landlord perspective, Hoffman earmarks human capital as a driver of value and measuring the quality of real estate.
WELL features achieved
More than 60 WELL features were integrated into the design. Some of these included optimal lighting and enhanced water filtration at the tap, with messaging about water quality displayed around the sink. The team also went through an exhaustive effort with the vending provider because nourishment requirements for WELL are applicable if any sort of food is supplied. Each product and beverage had to meet certain standards.
A carbon filtration was installed on the base building mechanical system, a feature the landlord helped sponsor.
“The great part about that is that system impacts more than our floor,” added MacInnis. “We, in addition to some of the other tenants, receive the benefit of that filtration on the base building system versus if we did it just on our specific WELL floor.”
An ergonomics representative gave each individual an ergonomic consultation to identify needs, while ergonomic chairs, adjustable height desks and touchdown stations were incorporated, some placed around the perimeter of the office, next to the window glazing, giving workers access to views. A tranquility lounge was also designed within the business unit for dedicated technology-free rest space.
Lessons learned in the WELL process
Before employees moved into the space in September 2015, the design team learned many lessons that can inform other companies looking to pursue WELL. Here are some worth noting.
Although the team had the opportunity to do preliminary air quality testing on the other floor, it was difficult to identify, noted MacInnis. Despite the use of low-to-no VOC materials and finishes, elevated levels of formaldehyde above the threshold were coming from an unknown place. The team later learned the formaldehyde stemmed from outdoor air.
Materials started the discussion around health and wellness up to the launch of the WELL Building Standard. Besides filtration, the elements coming into a building are important to determine and more emphasis needs to be placed on purchasing practices.
Formaldehyde, for example, can be found in the unlikeliest of places, from artwork and paper towels to office furniture.
While the WELL standard is constantly evolving, people have the opportunity to pursue the original version or the updated version. Meanwhile, some features require measures in place for future challenges, even if a building doesn’t have them.
“Even if the carbon filtration wasn’t installed on the mechanical system, the team would still have to leave space for that, which could be an issue at other locations,” said MacInnis.
The nourishment category proved challenging in terms of business costs that had to be made to provide the requirement for fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. While there wasn’t a requirement for frequency, the team had to develop a plan to address that.
“It’s a small investment from the business unit and it’s created a lot of buzz around the culture of wellness in the workplace.”
Program going forward
TD Bank Group worked with the business along the way, which resulted in employees creating a 10 to 15-person team to proactively lead their own business unit initiatives.
“There is great interest in keeping this going and we are working with them to help communicate success with other business units, installing signage throughout the floor—not only the physical WELL features, but also the programming elements,” said MacInnis.
This business is also sourcing local resources for monthly wellness lectures and health fairs, working with local naturopathic doctors who can help them understand their own individual health and wellbeing. Other initiatives include Walk and Talk Tuesdays, where employees, along with the senior vice-president, bring their discussion outside for 10 minutes.
“It’s really evolved from a real estate initiative to a business led initiative,” she said. “People are coming to us form business asking for WELL space because they’ve heard all the great things about this particular project.”