Kitchen design by WWYW certified professionals Jessica Garcia, Atlanta, Georgia, and Chef Charlotte Puckette, Paris, France. The kitchen in this Crestline, California, home demonstrates many elements that make up the Healthy Living System including natural daylight; no VOC paints and stains; low VOC adhesives; food science technology; proper air flow and venting; water purification; open floor plan promoting family connectivity; Earth-friendly materials and colors; connection with nature.
Thirteen years ago, interior designer Jillian Pritchard Cooke was working on the first LEED-for-home house in Atlanta. For the uninitiated, LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building designation supported by the U.S. Green Building Council. The house was owned by Rutherford and Laura Seydel, an environmentalist (and Ted Turner’s daughter). Pritchard Cooke was engaged with designing the home, called Eco Manor, from an environmental and sustainable approach. She had been working hard and felt stressed and tired. She soon discovered that she had a rare tissue cancer, which her doctors thought might have an environmental cause rather than anything genetic. “As an interior designer, I had been putting myself in harm’s way,” Pritchard Cooke says. “For years I had been walking into homes where toxins are at a high level.”
Pritchard Cooke, now 60, underwent radiation and chemotherapy. She has spent the years since her diagnosis changing not only her home environment—for example, getting rid of products that had toxic materials in them—but in creating Wellness Within Your Walls, an organization that educates and certifies trade professionals, manufacturers and consumers. She is cancer free.
Indoor air quality is consistently ranked by the EPA as a major environmental risk to public health. With the recent push to tighten homes and buildings for improved energy efficiency, there’s increased risk of what Pritchard Cooke calls “tight box syndrome,” in which toxins become trapped inside due to poor ventilation.
Pritchard Cooke and her organization want to meet people–building industry professionals and consumers–where they are in their wellness journeys by helping them find ways to improve their products and their personal spaces. Ultimately, she wants to “promote health and wellness and leave a legacy of increasing life expectancy,” she says.
WWYW’s first efforts began with manufacturers and building professionals. Turns out that promoting wellness is a good business strategy. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness economy was worth $42 trillion in 2017. While “wellness” is a big umbrella when it comes to its definition, about $134 billion of that figure represents wellness real estate—environments that intentionally incorporate health-focused elements in their design.
Jillian Pritchard Cooke, founder and CEO of Wellness Within Your Walls
Builders are not known for their nimbleness when it comes to change. However, Pritchard Cooke says that when they take WWYW courses, she tells them to “sit in the class as consumers and not builders or developers who are merely seeking to raise their profit margins. They’ll get the concepts on a personal level and tell us that perhaps they or a family member suffered from cancer. We watch a transformation take place.”
The program is designed as four individual courses, each about an hour long: the introduction includes an overview of WWYW and information on toxins in building materials nad home furnishings and how to avoid or remove them; course two identifies toxins in both natural and human-made products and offers alternative choices; course three is about sustainability and innovation; and course four investigates how to make responsible choices. The program comes with a workbook and a certification test. The designation is good for two years.
Since WWYW certifies people, places, products and programs, each entity has its own course and certification fees ranging from $495 for an individual to $1,000 for a product. Pritchard Cooke also does private consulting. “The classes are designed to be taught individually, and we frequently teach course one—Introduction to Wellness Within Your Walls—as a single class to give a general understanding of the role of toxins in our living environments, which typically leads to the desire to dig deeper and get certified. To get certified you must take the four-course series,” Pritchard Cooke says.
The product certification just launched in February 2019, with the first certification going to Kährs, a flooring company in Sweden, which has made healthy and sustainable products a priority. Once a company commits to the process, it must be transparent and have documented data, specifications and any information necessary for third-party testing. “You must know the supply chain of all of the components in your product and what each component is made of,” Pritchard Cooke says. “All your documentation is reviewed by our green chemistry team.”
Healthy for All
WWYW has been strategic with its launch. It has seven WWYW Case Study Homes—six in the United States and one in the UK. After the homes were completed, WWYW gathered data on what was working in the homes to help create healthier outcomes for the occupant and what was not working and was potentially harmful to the occupant. “We then worked with our team to create a check list that the builder, architect and designers can build to,” Pritchard Cooke says.
The check list covers air flow and filtration, water consumption and contamination, natural light exposure, insulation, water barriers and EMF (electro-magnetic field) exposures, to name a few. WWYW also incorporates transition points into the check list that flow from the builder to the occupant. These include healthy behavioral strategies that should be followed, including the correct commissioning of the building equipment and appliances as well as understanding toxin detection and remedies.
WWYW has also targeted 10 pilot homes/communities around the United States; the first is in Crestline, Calif., a 3,700 square foot single family home. It will be the first WWYW Certified Home in the nation. The second is being built in Nashville, Tenn., also a single-family residence. “That should be certified in October,” Pritchard Cooke says, adding, “The pilot we are most excited about is the redevelopment of Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. This community will have transition, affordable, work force and market rate residences. Wellness Within Your Walls has worked hard to make sure healthier housing is available to all socio-economic groups.”
Flying (Almost) Solo
Pritchard Cooke believes that until recently no organization that she would consider a competitor was looking at residential construction. “Given code constraints and commercial requirements, we’ve always felt that this segment of the market could have the greatest impact—we can really move the needle for health and wellness through the residential sector.” And if the organization can educate the consumer about the toxins inherent to the shelter industry, Pritchard Cooke believes she can create “increased awareness about health and wellness in living environments, and logically drive a demand for things that provide a healthy home.”
There are other, similar organizations that also see the potential. Delos, through its International WELL Building Institute, is expanding from its commercial focus to the smart home residential market. But Pritchard Cooke doesn’t see Delos as a threat. “We think this reaches a small segment of the hyper-tech public and not the ‘every man/woman.’ We believe in the technology that [Delos is] promoting; however, we feel that they have not addressed the whole and all its parts. That’s where WWYW comes in by applying the Healthy Living System™.”
This, she explains, is “the outer membrane that makes having a healthy home obtainable. It’s not enough to have the best mechanical systems or toxin-detecting technology. WWYW is helping builders, architects and manufactures take a more holistic approach to the health and wellness in residential real estate.”