Developers have for years built buildings with environmental efficiency in mind.
The structures typically have superior energy usage, environmentally friendly rainwater management and eco-friendly building materials. The buildings and their owners got awarded for this behavior, too, in the form of LEED certification: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
In that spirit, HAPO Credit Union’s building at 13909 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. has achieved something similar, but different.
In December, the Vancouver branch of the Richland-based credit union achieved WELL certification, which emphasizes employee health and wellness.
The credit union, part of a nine-city HAPO network, opened in March 2018 and was designed with the WELL certification in mind, local branch manager Dawn Magnotta said.
“We wanted to be cutting edge,” she says. “It’s hard to miss this branch when you’re on Mill Plain — it’s a showstopper.”
The WELL certification program launched in 2014. The HAPO branch in east Vancouver is one of more than 100 buildings that have joined the program, and it’s the first credit union to receive the certification. The International WELL Building Institute, based in New York, calls itself a leader in “the global movement to transform our buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive.”
The idea to pursue the WELL standard came from Momentum, the Seattle-based design firm that HAPO hired to make the Vancouver project more distinctive.
“The WELL building standard represents the next level of wellness-oriented design and construction,” said Jim Haack, president of Momentum. “HAPO is very focused on supporting their staff and members, and we’re excited to have partnered with them on this elevated investment in the communities HAPO serves.”
Some of the WELL program’s criteria overlap with LEED certification, but WELL evaluates buildings with a stronger emphasis on employee comfort and includes additional criteria that pertain to how the building and company are operated.
At the Vancouver branch, high ceilings with upper windows allow large amounts of natural light into the 9,830-square-foot building’s two main customer service areas. And the inner offices and workstations also feature skylights. The building’s own lights adjust automatically throughout the day both in color and intensity, with the goal of improving circadian rhythms.
“You notice a difference, especially in the wintertime,” Magnotta says. “I don’t feel as sluggish.”
The building’s desks are motorized to adjust between standing and sitting, which Magnotta says is a major source of comfort for the bank’s 13 employees. But the customer-use desks adjust as well, she says, and a surprising number of customers also choose to stand when the option is available.
The building’s air and water systems are both triple-filtered with specialized systems. The HVAC system pulls in fresh air for the filtration process, which made the branch a popular location during last summer’s hazy, smoke-filled fire season, Magnotta says.
The standard involves dozens of specifications and design choices in the building’s architecture, including the incorporation of “nature-inspired” elements such as rock features, exposed wood and wall textures that are intended to improve people’s state of mind. The exterior also includes an outdoor seating area for employees, an electric car charging station for customers and a large number of plants.
The certification standards raised the project’s price tag, Magnotta says, but HAPO viewed it as a positive cost and benefit trade-off. And she says the branch has done well in its first year.
“It’s more expensive, but you’re paying for the technology you’re receiving,” she says.
In addition to the building design, the certification includes a number of steps that the company needs to take to encourage comfort and wellness among employees. The branch participates in a program to provide fresh fruit at the site, and employees are provided with gym subsidies and onsite fitness classes as part of an activity-incentive program. The building is also limited to a specific list of approved cleaning products.
Due to the inclusion of those programs, the building will need to be re-certified each year in order to maintain its WELL designation, Magnotta says.
The Vancouver branch is intended to serve as a testing platform for future locations, and Magnotta says new HAPO branches will likely pursue the same WELL standard. The credit union is also working on adapting its existing branches to meet the certification as well, or to come as close as possible.
Some of the architectural aspects can’t be retrofitted into existing buildings, and some of the features such as the triple-filtration HVAC system would be difficult to upgrade. But other features — like the automatic lights and adjustable desks — can be installed anywhere, she says. And things like the fruit delivery and wellness stipend can also be implemented anywhere.
Anthony Macuk: 360-735-4547; firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/anthonymacuk