In recent years, energy and health have become increasingly important topics. More and more often, sustainable investments are now being measured against the ESG risk score, which examines Environmental, Social and Governance issues. The relatively new health certification WELL is also attracting more and more attention, although the certifications are still scarce in the Netherlands. What does WELL certification involve and what challenges does it present? Erik Dijkema and Sander van den Berg tell us more and explain it using the example of the World Port Center in Rotterdam.
As co-owner of the World Port Center Rotterdam, Unifore was already challenged by its tenants on sustainability in 2017. This was followed by energy labelling programmes and a nice first BREEAM certification (Very Good for the Riva office building in ‘s-Hertogenbosch). “We were increasingly challenged to think beyond the traditional approach,” says Erik Dijkema, Partner at Unifore. “Our tenants wanted to stay, but at the same time wanted us to be working with ESG. That means not just a focus on environmental impact, but also on other social aspects such as health. So from the first BREEAM project in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2017, Unifore has grown to the most complete ESG project in the Netherlands, World Port Center, with a BREEAM Excellent and now also a WELL Gold certification.”
In order to qualify for WELL certification, you need to check off a number of mandatory components. These mandatory components are called preconditions, and they are the basis for a healthy building. For example, the air and water quality must undergo a performance test, and boundary conditions on temperature control and noise must be met. There are also a number of basic rules regarding behaviour: people must be actively encouraged to drink water, there must be enough water taps, and smoking is all but completely prohibited. “We have created a Blue Lease for our tenants,” Erik continues. “This obliges the tenant and landlord to think about the E, S and G in a structured way several times a year. They also have to provide someone with an ESG calendar. In addition, we send out a newsletter every three months with all kinds of tips and tricks. From instructions on how to adjust your office chair properly to tips on getting more movement in or sleeping better. In all that, various themes that affect the health of the users of the World Port Center in Rotterdam are given a particular focus.”
In addition to the preconditions, WELL Gold certification requires fulfilling a number of extra credits as well. These are additional things like healthy food in your building, but also going beyond the prerequisites on things like improving air and water quality. “It seems like picayune details, but what it’s really about is making sure that you’re in control,” says Erik. “Everything is data-driven now and in buildings you have a lot of data to analyse. We want to follow that ambition: control our energy use, fight against greenwashing and being aware of what we are doing. Data is knowledge, and that knowledge lets us draw conclusions and make changes.”
With the ESG risk score as a starting point, Unifore wanted more than just to obtain a health certificate at the start of this project: BREEAM Excellent was also high on the wish list. That’s why they decided to combine BREEAM and WELL. This turned out to be a good move, says Sander van den Berg of CFP. “We started the BREEAM and WELL processes at the same time, which made it easy to combine a number of measures. For example, for BREEAM certification we placed a number of additional containers of greenery. We have largely filled these containers with edible plants that are used by the restaurant on the one hand and can be picked by the building users on the other. And with this, you also score credits for WELL. Another similar example is that the way we changed the lighting for BREEAM also scores points for WELL. So we are killing two birds with one stone.”
A large team worked for months on bringing home two very impressive certifications: WELL Gold and BREEAM Excellent. “We tackled the project with both the manager Savills and the owner Unifore and that worked well,” Sander recalls. “WELL requires many organisational measures, such as the creation of a policy manual. Then it’s important to sit down with the right people so that you can start making progress quickly. Architects, installers and other stakeholders were also involved in the process. These are the ones responsible for future renovations, and it’s important that these be carried out according to the new guidelines in the future. In total, we worked on the WELL certification for a little over a year, and we needed all that time. Some measures, like landscaping, cannot be implemented in every season, and in many cases you can’t change a vendor contract immediately.”
With all the experience gained recently with the World Port Center Rotterdam, Unifore is now getting to work on another 12 buildings in their portfolio. “We are using the ESG risk score as the starting point for the business case,” says Erik. “We’re taking everything we learned from the World Port Center with us, which will enable us to make huge strides. Measuring and reporting is key here and we can use the BREEAM and WELL labels to do that.”