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Going Green Means Going WELL

Lead Photo: Studio+ designed this LEED-certified neighborhood school at Babcock Ranch.


Soon, WELL may be the new LEED.

Since its origins in the late 1990s, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification has been the gold standard in sustainable building design. The certification is awarded on four levels—certified, silver, gold and the much-coveted platinum—each of which is achieved based on the total number of points a project earns. Points are assigned for a range of green building criteria across several categories, such as whether it provides bicycle facilities, if it’s achieved a reduced parking footprint or offers space for green vehicles, if it has a commitment to rainwater management and reducing light pollution, if it limits indoor and outdoor water use and if the building’s design promotes indoor air quality and uses daylight. The categories are diverse, but their overall intent is to demonstrate a commitment to green building practices.

Across Southwest Florida, some notable LEED-certified buildings include the recently completed Collaboratory near downtown Fort Myers, which boasts a LEED gold certification; the Florida Gulf Coast University campus, which has committed to achieve a silver LEED certification or higher on all new construction buildings (nine buildings are currently on the list); and the Naples headquarters for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which has earned a gold certification.

The freestanding NCH emergency department in Bonita Springs is a LEED-certified building.

LEED certification is never far from the minds of local architects and builders. Studio+, an architecture and design firm headquartered in Fort Myers that focuses on sustainability, is behind some of the most notable buildings in Southwest Florida, including the new headquarters for FineMark National Bank and Trust off College Parkway in Fort Myers, the Amavida Senior Living Center in south Fort Myers, the freestanding NCH emergency department in Bonita Springs and the neighborhood school at Babcock Ranch.

Chris Ressler, a principal at Studio+, has seen the benefits LEED certification has brought to this area. “When LEED was first picking up in Florida, it was a huge improvement over the current building codes,” he says. Over the last 15 years, he said, building codes have been updated to standardize green practices. Things that were cutting-edge when LEED first came into existence—such as power outlets on occupancy sensors so that an unused office space shuts down at night, or daylight harvesting to offset electric lights and reduce energy consumption—are now considered minimum requirements.

Though Studio+ approaches all of its projects with LEED certification in mind, Ressler has found that some projects are opting to skip the certification process. The reason? Cost. The application and certification process can be pricey. Still, this means green building practices including using low-VOC paints and installing LED lights come standard with every design.

Chris Ressler, a principal at Studio+, has seen the benefits LEED certification has brought to the area.

“We spend 90 percent of our days indoors,” says Ressler. “We have an obligation to make spaces that promote well-being.”

In fact, the idea of well-being is increasingly at the forefront of builders’ designs. And because the components of LEED certification are no longer minimum requirements, but have instead become industry standards, designers and architects are beginning to turn to a new certification: WELL. The WELL Building Standard focuses on human health and wellness, not simply sustainable design. It goes beyond green construction to take into account whether buildings have options for healthy food and fitness opportunities.

In 2016, Tampa became the first city in the world to introduce a WELL-certified district. The 40-acre development along Tampa’s downtown waterfront will be completed in three phases over 10 years and comes with a $1 billion price tag. Other WELL initiatives are underway in Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville and Gainesville. Though the certification has not yet reached Southwest Florida, Ressler has seen an increased focus on wellness in the Studio+ projects. “Almost every corporate building now has some sort of wellness component built in,” he says. “Buildings are healthier than they’ve ever been. Now we’re asking, ‘How do we encourage well-being?’”

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