FITWEL, a cost effective, high impact, health promoting building certification, may be the best thing since sliced bread.
The well being of building occupants is increasingly being described as the number one driver of sustainability. In the in the U.S. alone there are more than 120 million employees who spend an average of 8.1 hours at work within a building each day. And that staff costs typically account for 90% of business operating costs, the health and wellbeing of those employees and the resultant increased productivity of the building occupants makes this emergent field very real.
The aims for a sustainable buildings have shifted in the U.S. from green buildings that were “high performance” because they had a low carbon footprint to, now, occupant well being and the resultant increased productivity. This dramatic shift is even found in the federal government’s recently updated Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings, which now include considerations around protecting occupant health, wellness, and productivity.
FITWEL Certification articulates a vision for the future where every building is enhanced to support the well being of its occupants, and surrounding communities. It is a new and emergent building certification that positively impacts occupant health and productivity through workplace design and operations. FITWEL’s development was led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the General Services Administration. Today, still in beta, the Center for Active Design, a nonprofit established by then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013, is the operator of FITWEL.
The FITWEL service marks (word and logos) are owned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a recent article in Fast Company describes,
There is no expensive third-party certification, like the existing Well Building Standard or the well-known LEED Green Building certification, and it tries to avoid creating extra paperwork or costs. Building managers submit their questionnaire answers, with photographic evidence where applicable, to receive a FITWEL rating.
Despite its government roots, it is the market and not some mandate from government that is driving the meteoric interest in FITWEL. 49% of building owners are willing to pay more for buildings demonstrated to have a positive impact on health. There is significant and growing interest in real estate that responds to health factors. Companies that use FITWEL respond to the growing market demand for healthier workplaces.
The scale of potential impact can not be overstated. There are more than 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S., with 120 million employees who spend an average of 8.1 hours at work each day. By applying incremental changes over time, these buildings can be optimized to promote occupant health. FITWEL has a goal of impacting individual health within all buildings, regardless of budget, size, year built, or location.
Research by the CDC has shown that health promotion through programs, policies and environmental changes can improve employee health and productivity, with potential savings in healthcare costs. The FITWEL scorecard was developed by the CDC over a five year process completed in 2015. The GSA led the pilot test of the certification on a randomly selected portion of its portfolio of buildings. These buildings included rural, suburban and urban locations, as well as a diverse mix of uses including, courthouses, laboratories, and office buildings. FITWEL strategies are supported by over 3,000 research studies reviewed by the CDC and was piloted nationwide by the GSA prior to its launch.
FITWEL was tested by facility managers across the country on 89 existing buildings to ensure the system is practical and widely applicable. FITWEL is cost effective, with no pre-requisites and a user friendly web-based interface.
The FITWEL certification process is simple. First register a building on FITWEL’s Digital Scorecard. Once a building is registered, users can complete the scorecard and garner an immediate benchmark for the building. When the building is ready to be certified, users are asked to upload verification documents and submit for review. After a review is completed, a FITWEL rating is designated for the building.
Each strategy within the scorecard is linked by scientific evidence to at least one of FITWEL’s seven Health Impact Categories: impacts community health, instills feelings of well-being, increases physical activity, reduces morbidity and absenteeism, provides healthy food options, supports social quality for vulnerable populations, and promotes occupant safety.
The FITWEL Scorecard measures health within 12 overarching sections that impact the design and operations of a site and building interior. The sections are:
Location, where credit is given for locating in neighborhoods that are more pedestrian and bike friendly to foster improved health outcomes.
Building Access supporting multi-modal access to buildings, increases opportunities for engaging in regular physical activity (like carpools and bikes).
Outdoor spaces providing onsite or nearby outdoor spaces assists in supporting mental and physical health.
Entrances and ground floors can be optimized to promote improved air quality and access to health promoting amenities. Indoor environment providing healthier food and beverage options can reverse the negative health impacts of traditional vending machines (and can include strategies for pricing incentives for healthy snacks).
Vending machines and snack bars providing healthier food and beverage options can reverse the negative health impacts of traditional vending machines.
Health supportive workspaces can assist in reducing absenteeism, while also instilling feelings of well-being (sample strategies include daylight, views, and operable shading at workspaces)
Onsite shared spaces can promote health outside of the individual workspace, by providing areas for physical activity and mental rejuvenation (this could include provision for a lactation and exercise room).
Providing access to fresh water reduces consumption of less healthy alternatives.
Stairwells present a convenient way for building occupants to add physical activity to their day.
Cafeterias and food retail can have a positive impact by elevating healthy food and beverage options onsite.
Emergency preparedness can improve coordination and timeliness of emergency response, increasing safety during emergency situations (think an Automated External Defibrillator).
Each strategy within FITWEL has a unique point value, based on the strength of evidence and its associated impact on one, or more, of the Health Impact Categories. Those strategies with stronger, multi-faceted impacts receive more points.
All registered buildings will receive an automatic FITWEL score within the digital tool as a means to benchmark the building overtime. A FITWEL rating of 1, 2, or 3 stars may be obtained once the building is submitted for certification.
The Center for Active Design will roll out FITWEL to initial selected partners this year and have a broader launch in mid 2017.
If LEED is going the way of the floppy disk, as is an increasingly consensus opinion, thought leaders in the environmental industrial complex commend that FITWEL may be the future of building sustainability.