The differences between WELL and LEED certifications for sustainable buildings

October 10, 2023

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and WELL (The WELL Building Standard) certifications are both internationally recognised benchmarks for real estate. LEED was devised in 1994 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and WELL, which is managed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), was launched in 2014.

To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. Projects go through a verification and review process by GBCI and are awarded points that correspond to a level of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

On the other hand, projects pursuing WELL Certification earn points based on performance outcomes for various policy, design and operational strategies and can achieve one of four certification levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Spanning 108 features and 10 concepts, WELL defines itself as a “roadmap for improving the quality of air, water and light with inspired design decisions”.

WELL and LEED certifications have a different focus

The main difference between the certifications is where they place their focus. LEED puts the centre of attention on the building itself while at the heart of WELL is human health. To put it another way, LEED aims to determine the overall sustainability of a project based on factors like design, construction, maintenance and operation while WELL instead, focuses on factors affecting occupant health and includes areas such as nourishment, fitness and mind.  

To give a specific example we can use the common element of light. The WELL standard “provides guidelines that minimise disruption to the body’s circadian system, enhance productivity, support good sleep quality and provide appropriate visual acuity” while the LEED programme focuses on encouraging the optimisation of daylight in relation to its impact on energy consumption.

WELL and LEED certifications have a different process

Another difference between the standards is their timeline and process, LEED is documentation focused whereas with WELL, in addition to submitting documentation, WELL Performance Testing Agents conduct performance tests on-site and send a range of samples to labs for testing. And while according to the USGBC it can take as little as 25 days for LEED certification, the timeline for WELL certification is measured in months rather than weeks. Due to the nature of the credits WELL requires recertification every three years which is not the case with LEED.

LEED works for all project types from hospitals to manufacturing plants, showrooms and office buildings. It has options to fit new construction, major renovation and shell and core projects addressing design and construction activities as well as options for existing buildings and interior spaces. WELL is different because, while it can apply to both old and new interior fit outs, when it comes to shell and core projects it is not possible to get WELL certified but rather WELL compliant. The reason being that many of the credits apply to the elements of the fit-out and things like having certain policies in place for the employees. Put simply, if you don’t have those in place yet, you can’t apply for those credits.

LEED or WELL: Which Certification is Right for Your Building's Sustainability Goals?

This is a question which will have a different answer for every building owner and occupier depending on the project type (fit-out vs shell and core) and their own unique goals and priorities. The truth is that both certifications complement each other and can work in tandem to deliver the maximum benefits to building owners and occupants. Both LEED and WELL certifications can help real estate professionals to optimise their investment. For commercial or residential property owners or managers, both can contribute to ESG goals, allowing building owners to manage their buildings’ performance and allowing occupiers to enjoy an enhanced experience of the built environment..

At Metec we are team players, working collaboratively with our design partners and construction teams. Wherever you are in your sustainability journey, we can help support you in achieving your vision. If you would like to chat to us to learn more, contact us here.

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