Viewers could be excused for thinking Robert De Niro was just a good guy in an ad promoting safe buildings amid the COVID pandemic, alongside Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Michael B. Jordan.
They would be wrong.
De Niro and the other A-List celebrities support something called the Well Health-Safety Seal, offered by the International Well Building Institute. The organization, a for-profit subsidiary of a ten-year-old real estate services company called Delos, is building on post-pandemic profit anxiety by popularizing its healthy building certification program.
“Feeling safe should be a right for everyone, not a privilege for some,” says De Niro in one place.
What the ad doesn’t tell viewers, however, is that the seal itself is sort of a privilege that must be purchased. Companies pay – sometimes a lot – to be judged on a range of categories. Some are directly linked to COVID (such as air quality), but others are less easy to measure and have little obvious connection to the pandemic (community “connectivity”).
And De Niro, along with Venus Williams, Wolfgang Puck, and even New Age guru Deepak Chopra, are well paid to endorse the Seal of the Well in a carefully planned and executed campaign.
“We rewarded them for their time,” IWBI President and CEO Rachel Hodgdon confirmed in an interview, explaining that the effort was modeled on a green schools campaign she ran there. has several years with the US Green Building Council. She declined to say how much it costs to harness all that star power, or how much the company spends to run the ads.
A spokeswoman said the spots had been running nationwide since late January on more than 30 networks, including Bravo, MTV, TBS, FX, Paramount, CNBC and CNN, but said the dollars spent “are confidential “.
The cost is certainly substantial. Data from ad tracking company iSpot.tv shows the institute spent nearly $ 500,000 to serve six ads.
“What I wanted to do with this campaign was do it in the style of a public service ad,” Tony Antolino, director of marketing at Delos, told Ad Age.
But the effort is serving Delos’ bottom line a lot.
Not to be confused with the evil company of the same name in the HBO series ‘Westworld’, Delos was founded in 2009 by former Goldman Sachs partner Paul Scialla with the aim of connecting real estate to the healthcare industry. and well-being.
The company has raised $ 237 million from investors, including Bill Gates, according to Forbes.
In interviews, Scialla describes himself as an “altruistic capitalist”. He told the Los Angeles Luxury Lifestyle publication Dreams that he saw “a unique opportunity to merge the world’s largest asset class – the $ 180 trillion of real estate – with the world’s fastest growing industry – welfare.
It took a long time to put together a star cast for a for-profit company.
“It wasn’t a quick process because each of these celebrities and influencers have a rigorous process through which they screen any opportunity,” said Hodgdon, who also asked director Spike Lee to ask the famous “ambassadors” questions. “.
“We went through a pretty intensive process educating the celebrities and the teams that work with them on why there was weight and legitimacy behind what we were proposing,” she said.
She recalled that Lady Gaga said in an interview, “Look, I really believe in what you all do. I said yes to that because I think it’s really important.
Having clean and healthy buildings is undoubtedly important to many. This is particularly the case for the International Well Building Institute, which uses its seal as a gateway to its broader building certification services.
“What has been exciting for us is that many of our clients who come under the Well Health-Safety Rating are now starting to step up their commitment to achieve full wellness certification, which is so important.” , Hodgdon said.
The price of the Health Seal starts at $ 2,730 and goes up to $ 12,600. Obtaining seals for multiple locations or franchises can cost up to $ 166,000. Start-up costs are cheaper if an owner already purchases the broader certification service. It starts at around $ 9,000 and goes up to just over $ 100,000. Additional testing services start at $ 6,500.
Delos launched the certification standard in 2014 after what the institute says was a rigorous peer review process. The program is modeled after the US Green Building Council’s LEED program and uses the Green Building Council to verify its work. Hodgdon worked there for a decade before joining the IWBI, with the founder of the Green Building Council, Rick Fedrizzi.
Certification covers 10 categories, including easily measurable items such as air and water quality, sound and temperature, and more difficult to pinpoint items such as mental health, community “connectivity” , movement and food – all backed up, Hodgdon said, by science and study.
It will probably take a long time to find out whether meeting all the standards in these categories will also lead to the occupants of a building becoming healthier and more satisfied. The company cites case studies – some by its own employees and customers – that suggest the holistic approach is paying off.
Independent experts – scientists, doctors, engineers, mental and physical health experts, and others – who helped assess the initial standard described the concepts as valid.
“They asked provocative questions. They were interested in what the experts had to say. I thought it was a very good process, ”said Ellen Tohn, assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University, who runs an environmental engineering company and is on the list of peer reviewers.
There is still no guarantee that it will actually work. Even the reputable LEED program often falls short of its hopes and hype.
“It seems pretty obvious: skepticism is in order,” said John Scofield, professor of physics at Oberlin College in Ohio, who has studied the LEED program extensively.
Scofield noted that there is very little empirical data that can be used to verify the effects of certification programs, as owners often deny access to researchers.
“Homeowners have little to gain from allowing someone to study the performance of their building. They’ve already got the green publicity and marketing that comes with the label, ”he said.
“In the end, all of these programs, no matter how well intentioned, turn into marketing and money.”
While Delos’ program appears to be the most ambitious attempt to create an independent building health arbiter, there are others, including some run by nonprofits.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor airPlus certification program is another option for builders less focused on the mind-body connection and more just on air quality.