Fitwel® – championing a new design for healthy living

Fitwel (facility innovations toward wellness environment leadership) is a building ratings system designed to be used for both commercial interiors and housing. Its guidelines provide an operating model for healthier buildings. It’s not just for existing buildings, either – it can be used in the design of new buildings, too.

The thinking behind it? Supporting health and wellbeing.

Launched in 2017 by the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and General Services Administration, it has been rolled out universally since then. Fitwel Champions are committed to implementing the Fitwel Standard across their built environment portfolio.

Fitwel asks a question that is key as we enter the third decade of the 21st century: what is the role buildings can play in encouraging healthy behaviour, and consequently healthy lifestyles? Back in the 19th century, in the context of cholera and other infectious diseases, the relationship between the environment and public health started to be understood, leading to an increase in the construction of public parks and healthier (for the time) buildings. Nowadays, more and more of us are on board with the idea that we need to eat well, and exercise, but in what sort of environment? That is a question to which Fitwel can provide an answer.

All the required information is readily accessible and free, so a case can be made that it’s a genuine attempt to make an intervention in health and wellbeing. Also, certification is facilitated by Fitwel’s interactive, digital interface that gives you direct access to details about project performance and the impact upon health. You can register, benchmark, and submit either a single project or a portfolio for Fitwel certification.

What comprises the Fitwel standard?

There are a number of different scorecards, depending on whether you’re thinking about whole sites or individual buildings. For the former, it’s just two:

  • Community scorecard
  • Commercial scorecard

For buildings, there are significantly more:

  • Multi-tenant base building scorecard
  • Multi-tenant whole building scorecard
  • Single tenant building scorecard
  • Commercial interior space scorecard
  • Retail scorecard
  • Multifamily residential building scorecard

Further information, including downloadable scorecards, case studies, fact sheets and pamphlets, can be found here. The scorecards have over 55 strategies for design and operation that are intended to improve buildings through focussing on an extensive range of both health behaviours and risks. Each action has discrete point allocations, pertaining to the strength of the associated evidence, and the impact on the health of the occupants that can be demonstrated. Obviously, a strategy that has greater number of multi-faceted impacts will gain more points.

Fitwel sees health holistically, with no dominant category or area of focus, and because of this, all the strategies are voluntary, and do not have individual prerequisites. This means that there should be significantly fewer barriers to using the system. There are 7 categories that strategies can address:

  • Those pertaining to community health  
  • Those that reduce morbidity and absenteeism
  • Those that supports social equity for vulnerable populations
  • Those that instil feelings of wellbeing
  • Those that improve access to healthy foods
  • Those that promote occupant safety
  • Those that increase physical activity

Becoming a Fitwel Champion means that a company can offer its clients an additional way to attain Green Building Certification, and one that is recognised under the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). Furthermore, as each strategy is voluntary, there are also fewer initial barriers or costs prohibiting any project from attempting certification.

Mainer Associates are working with a number of clients to examine appropriate assessment methodologies in order to demonstrate sustainability in the built environment. Air quality and more generally, health and wellbeing are at the forefront of people’s minds – just as much as energy, or carbon emissions. Mainer have invested time and budget in to becoming Fitwel Champions, as our chosen methodology for assessing health and wellbeing in the built environment.