Fitwel: The New Standard for Good Health and Good Business

What Fitwel — the low-cost (but high-impact) certification launching in 2017 — means for you.

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On Tuesday, October 11, the AIA|DC Design + Well-being Committee hosted a panel discussion featuring Fitwel (facility innovations toward wellness environment leadership). The theme of the night was the health of our buildings, one of the biggest topics in our industry today. Fitwel is a building certification program that takes a deeper dive into the design, methodology, and certification standards that are becoming increasingly more important as the workplace shifts towards enhancing the human experience.

A collaboration between the Center for Active Design, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and GSA, Fitwel aims to be the right choice for your people and your bottom line by positively impacting employee productivity and health through targeted improvements in the built environment. The system has been in development for over five years, and encourages over 60 strategies that range from an openly-visible stair to the policies surrounding healthy food purchasing programs.

Joanna Frank and Liz York, representing the CAD and CDC, spoke to a room packed with architects, designers, and planners about the collective mission in bringing Fitwel to the market.

“The point with Fitwel is for everyone to use it,” said Frank, “and a belief in ‘wellness for all’.”

Fitwel is a competitor to the already-released WELL Building Standard, but only adds to the unfolding conversation in a positive way. Both aim at shining more light on public health and the role buildings can play in encouraging healthy behaviors, which lead to healthy lifestyles. Neither is specifically aimed at architects and designers, but according to York, both “have the opportunity to be stewards of the built environment.”

It’s a call to action for the building industry, and each system is making its information accessible and free. At a time when chronic disease is prevalent with no show of decline, it highlights the sense of urgency to make this information readily available to everyone.

Frank and York reminded us that buildings do truly impact human health and they’ve been doing so since the 1800s, and arguably before. The 1800s marked a pivotal moment when buildings and our municipal system went through a massive overhaul to fight infectious diseases, such as cholera and tuberculosis, by allowing better access to fresh air and clean water.

Today, the tables are turned. In New York City, infectious disease accounted for only 9 percent of deaths in 2005. Chronic disease, on the other hand, accounted for 75 percent of deaths that same year. But regardless of the type of disease we’re fighting, much of what humans need remains the same, and changing the way we design buildings will go a long way in helping occupants to maintain their health.

Graphic courtesy of the Center for Active Design.

It’s also important to take note of GSA’s involvement in the standard. With over 374 million square feet of space and one million federal workers, their adoption of Fitwel as their path for facilities both new and old only strengthens the standard’s entrance to the market in 2017.

Here are five things everyone should know about Fitwel:

  1. It’s based on a points system
    Fitwel provides over 60 strategies for certification and each strategy has a set of points that go along with it. Levels are recognized via project stars — one star begins at 90 points, two stars at 108-125, and three stars at 126-144.
  1. No prerequisites — every point is voluntary
    By making each strategy voluntary, there are no initial barriers or costs prohibiting any project from attempting certification. As soon as you subscribe you’ll be provided with information about why the strategy is important with links to the health data that supported its inclusion. When certifying to the standard you’ll receive a feedback report with your ranking. The Center for Active Design takes it a step further, calling out opportunities for improvement and the information needed to help you get there.
  1. It relies on evidence-based data
    Each point is built upon scientific data that has been tested and reviewed. Strategies are weighted, giving more points to the strategies that have proven to positively impact people’s health and well-being in the most ways. Providing a lactation room gets your project the highest number at 5.66 points, with your building’s Walk Score in close second, and indoor air quality third.
  1. Access to online documentation and app integration
    Right now as Fitwel is still being tested, only a select group are being given access to begin an online Fitwel project portfolio. However, we did get a behind-the-scenes tour. The website catalogs all of your projects and you have the ability to compare them against one another. Everything is held in this portal — credit information, documentation, projects, and documentation credits.
  1. Fitwel offers an ambassador and champion program
    The ambassador program provides training and professional recognition. It is still very much in development, but it’s important to note that anyone can sign up on the Fitwel website to be an ambassador. You’ll have full access to the scorecard and you’ll receive updates on the release of Fitwel. 2017 is right around the corner. Champions are early adopters of Fitwel. Whether you’re an architecture or design firm, or a federal organization such as GSA, you can be a champion of Fitwel.

Fitwel is currently being rolled out to a select audience. If you want to get involved, contact the Center for Active Design to subscribe for updates and download the Fitwel scorecard at here. A comprehensive public launch will be in 2017. Costs are not finite but they strive to make them competitive for testing (accreditation), registration, and certification.

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