GRESB and WELL: Complementary Tools to Promote Transparency and Leadership on Health and Well-being

Health and well-being has emerged as an important issue for real estate companies and funds. Investors and tenants have expressed interest and there is increasing recognition that the promotion of health and well-being can contribute to competitive differentiation, value creation, and risk management.
GRESB and its partners explored this with a series of events in major cities around the world. During these events, we are often asked how GRESB works with the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL). This post provides highlights of connections between the systems.
First, GRESB and WELL assess different things. GRESB is an assessment of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance of real estate companies and funds. Consequently, the unit of assessment is an organization, and GRESB’s focus is on entity-level business strategy, management practices, and performance. WELL is a performance-based leadership standard for building projects. It can be applied to guide and recognize leadership in the promotion of health and wellness for interior fit-outs and whole buildings, and in the future will be applied to neighborhood-scale development. This means that GRESB and WELL are natural complements, with GRESB focusing on organizational practices and performance and WELL defining project-scale leadership and performance.
GRESB and WELL have strong synergies. We can describe two different types of connections: building certifications and, more broadly, individual indicators. Of course, WELL is a project-level certification, and, as such, it can receive partial recognition within GRESB’s Building Certifications Aspect. The partial recognition reflects GRESB’s long-standing criteria that green building rating systems must address energy performance along with additional factors. By design, WELL doesn’t address energy since its intention is to work alongside green building rating systems as a complementary certification. GRESB will provide partial recognition for WELL Certification this year and give this issue more consideration before the release of the 2017 Real Estate Assessment.
Equally or more importantly, GRESB and WELL have complementary requirements for individual WELL Features and GRESB indicators (questions). This means that entities familiar with GRESB are likely to have management practices and systems that make it easier to achieve WELL Certification. Conversely, many WELL Features contribute directly to GRESB indicators. For example, the GRESB Health & Well-being Module has a new indicator for leadership. This GRESB indicator provides information about the specific individual (or individuals) responsible for directing health promotion activities. Existence of leadership for health and well-being at the company or fund level is likely to facilitate achievement of the over 100 discrete, project-specific health promotion strategies or features recognized by WELL. To take this a step further, implementation of individual WELL Features provides easy answers for GRESB Health & Well-being Module questions 4 and 7, related to strategies promoting health and well-being. Although it is challenging to compare WELL and GRESB side-by-side given the difference in scale and approach, there are clear instances of alignment. For example, both GRESB and WELL recognize the importance of monitoring outcomes using tools such as occupant surveys. A highlight summary of connections is shown in the accompanying table.
The bottom-line is that the WELL Certification and its underlying strategy to promote health and wellness contribute positively to GRESB. In turn, GRESB and the new GRESB Health & Well-being Module provide an organizational “wrapper” around the WELL Certification to understand portfolio-level issues, such as how leadership and business strategy contribute to successful implementation of health-promoting strategies at the project scale. Together, WELL and GRESB provide an effective platform to promote health and well-being and provide transparency for investors and other stakeholders.
This article was written by Chris Pyke.