Can the WELL Standard unlock the health potential within our ‘Third Skin’?

The NHS Sustainability Campaign recently conducted a webinar on the WELL standard for buildings. In a follow up from the webinar we invited Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate, to write a piece on how WELL can unlock further health potential.


I like to think that the buildings in which we live and work are like our ‘third skin’. Our first skin being the skin on our bodies, the second being the clothes on our body and the third being the skin of our buildings. This is even more important as we spend, on average – 90% of our time in buildings, so it is absolutely essential to consider the health of these spaces as they directly contribute to our health as humans. It is a direct relationship.


The question is: if the health of our spaces is that important, then should it not be designed it to our buildings and built into our architecture right form the start? But in the myriad of information, project charts and regulations, what is there out there to act as a guidance to industry professionals? This is where the WELL Building Standard comes in.


The Standard is already established in the US since it’s launch in 2014 with great sucess, but is an emerging concept in the UK and is the first standard to be solely focussed on human health and wellbeing of occupants.


But wellbeing and health of occupants is not just a social responsibility – it has an economic implication for companies that have people working in building. Employees are often a large proportion of overhead costs to a company and therefore, their productivity and wellbeing has a direct effect on the bottom line. In fact the NHS Choices website states that illness causes UK businesses £550 per employee, per year. That’s a sick total of £30Bn a year!

The WELL Standard encompasses seven main areas of building perfomance: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It is an evidence-based method to measure, monitor and certify the performance of building features that impact health and wellbeing.

This gives designers, architects and professionals a unique framework from which to make decisions about management and energy systems, layout, aspect and materials from which we build. At Adaptavate, we see these material choices as being key to providing a healthy space, whilst reducing ongoing energy costs and achieving WELL Standard.

Adaptavate provide bio-composite building materials that are a ‘drop-in’ solution, that helps to improve the health of the people the internal environment. We are currently developing a bio-composite alternative to plasterboard (Breathaboard) and an internal plaster (Breathaplasta) that ‘breathe’ with the people in the building. This fabric first approach means that the material choices that are made at the design stage can help to create a healthier space well into it’s occupancy phase, whilst reducing the direct energy needed to maintain the Relative Humidity at the required level.

Different textures can also be achieved with Breathaplasta, resulting in a more tactile, low VOC surface finish. Natural finishes and textures are thought to have a calming and grounding effect on people, further contributing to the overall wellbeing of people in that space. Materials like Breathaboard and Breathaplasta that help to maintain a healthy environment could play a significant part for designers and practitioners aiming for WELL Standard without raising complexity or costs of projects.

The WELL Standard could be seen as another criteria that needs to be followed, adding additional complexity to what is already a complicated and regulated industry. However, with the right materials, system and design choices in the early stages of projects, along with industry collaboration, I am confident that the WELL Standard could have global influence on radically improving the health of the space within our ‘third skin.’