Every day we are bombarded by unhealthy food choices. It’s the fine-dining restaurant that serves oversized steaks and it’s the c-store that offers low-cost 32-ounce sodas. It’s the Michelin-star chef who puts too much butter and salt into dishes and it’s the big food companies that advertise cheap processed foods. Two thirds of Americans are over-weight and one third are obese. Related health care costs are at an all-time high. One way to fight this epidemic is to create healthier environments. Smart leaders around the world are working hard to do just that.
Enter the International WELL Building Institute, or WELL
WELL is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness. It combines best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research, using the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and wellbeing. WELL certifies buildings based on the level of overall healthy environment that they support.
The focus is human health and sustainability. WELL has partnered with GBCI, which also administers the LEED building certification. WELL focuses on the people in the building while LEED focuses on the building systems. A WELL certified building is noted as having the best possible work environment for its occupants. These buildings typically attract and retain high caliber workers. From an HR standpoint, healthy environments translate to low absenteeism and low injury rates. WELL certified buildings are a huge advantage to the local community due to all its sustainability features.
The WELL Standard = Seven Categories of Health
The WELL standard focuses on seven categories of health; namely nutrition, air, water, light, comfort, mind and fitness. There are building facility characteristics and operational criteria that focus on optimal performance of these categories.
With respect to nourishment, there is a focus on healthy menu items and motivating people to make smart food choices. This is accomplished through education, messaging/advertising, food positioning/merchandising, portion control and menu design. Some WELL strategies are accomplished through building design and equipment selection; while other criteria are accomplished through operational policies and procedures.
WELL Café – Form and Function
Let’s examine WELL criteria for the dining room and kitchen areas. Imagine you are a customer entering a WELL café. This is what you could experience.
- The main entrance is in a convenient location, and you see interior elements that celebrate delight, sense of place, culture and spirit. You first notice lots of vegetables and fruits as you approach the menu or food stations. Nearby, you might see a hydroponic garden.
- Nutritional information is posted. Nutritional beverages such as sparkling water, fruit-infused waters, and plain filtered mountain spring water, are prominently displayed front and center with good visibility. Typically fountain soda is either not offered, or if offered, the cup sizes are smaller. There is no advertising for processed or high sugar foods, for example soda signs.
- There are options for smaller portions at lower prices. Most foods are organic and labeled as humanely raised. There is a wide selection of foods offered for folks who have special diet requirements, such as vegan. The menu has a lot of vegetable-centric entrees and there is most likely a very large salad bar selection.
- As you approach the dining room there is a lot of daylighting and views to the outdoors. Indoor plants are in the dining room. There is a dedicated area for mindful eating, away from the TV area.
- Large digital screens are mounted to the wall that show indoor air quality measurements including temperature, humidity levels, particulate matter, C02 levels and outdoor ozone levels. Other screens and iPads present nutritional information and food source information for all the menu items.
Each of these elements contributes toward points toward WELL certification, platinum being the highest level.
The Chef Experience
Now imagine you are a chef going to work in a WELL kitchen!
- If you rode your bike to work, there is a dedicated bike storage area and shower facilities within 650 feet of your kitchen.
- The kitchen is relatively quiet as the facility is designed for a maximum noise criterion of 40 decibels.
- Some of the work tables are adjustable and can be raised/lowered for the type of work you are doing. The Chef’s office includes a sit/stand manager’s desk.
- There are a lot of windows in the kitchen. Chefs notice the kitchen is well lit, without a lot of glare from the stainless-steel surfaces.
- Thermal comfort is optimal – no more hot, steamy kitchens! And there is a large digital screen on the kitchen wall that shows indoor environmental qualities including current decibel levels, temperature, humidity, water quality standards and air quality standards with respect to particulate matter generated from cooking exhaust hoods. The cooking exhaust hood has demand control ventilation modulating with the cooking equipment load.
- The kitchen smells fresh! All heating and cooling equipment has large digital displays showing the temperatures. The janitor’s closet has a self-closing door with dedicated ventilation to remove orders. And there is dedicated separate storage for raw meats.
- All the pots and pans are stainless steel, ceramic, aluminum or cast iron with no Teflon coatings.
Your shift is almost over – you are feeling healthy and the company has great health insurance benefits for you and your family. You look forward to coming to work on Monday to participate in a charity golf tournament.
All the above are examples of criteria that lead to WELL certification. Many of the criteria are company policy driven to ensure employees can maintain a healthy, mindful lifestyle. Employees and customers love the company culture of transparency that WELL encourages.
The WELL Journey
As you prepare for your WELL journey, a foodservice consultant can be a valuable team member to assist with WELL certification, from both the design and management consulting side of operations. Foodservice consultants are key decision makers during early stages of design to ensure projects are teed up for WELL success!
By: Kip Serfozo, FCSI, LEED AP, WELL AP
Design Studio Manager | Atlanta