Fitwel Steps Into the Mainstream

As health and wellness strategies continue to grow in importance and priority for facility managers, understanding tools like Fitwel is crucial to ensuring whole-building success.

By Greg Zimmerman, Senior Contributing Editor  

Health and wellness strategies took a different tenor and more direct immediacy during the pandemic. Strategies like workout facilities in commercial buildings took a backseat to ventilation rates and better cleaning practices.  

Now, the focus is shifting again. These days, the priority is holistic solutions to create spaces that don’t just keep occupants healthy (ie protect them from airborne viruses) but also improve their wellness and productivity. That is where full-building rating systems with a complete suite of health and wellness strategies enter the conversation. 

The parallels between how sustainability came of age – as a collection of individuals strategies, then codified by rating systems like LEED – is now being mirrored in how health and wellness is transforming the market as well.  

And there’s another parallel: Both sets of strategies are showing increasing return on investment for facility managers that employ them in their buildings. Building owners are increasingly expected to employ health and wellness strategies to keep their buildings competitive for potential tenants. According to data from a Fitwel survey, 86 percent of building owners are either highly motivated or medium motivated to employ health and wellness strategies for market differentiation. And 63 percent of building owners are highly motivated to use health and wellness as a means of tenant satisfaction.  

The Fitwel Standard is one of the two main (the other is the WELL Building Standard) health and wellness rating systems in the market. We recently spoke with Zachary Flora, vice president of market growth at the Center for Active Design, which administers Fitwel. For facility managers operating existing buildings, what are the financial benefits of using Fitwel? Are there additional costs? How can those costs be justified on a return on investment basis? 

Zachary Flora: Healthier buildings perform better in terms of tenant satisfaction, stability, and the likelihood that tenants will recommend a property, or net promoter score (NPS). A recent report analyzing data from 60 of QuadReal Property Group’s Fitwel assessed and certified properties, Health Drives Value in Real Estate, begins to establish that healthy building strategies not only improve human health, they drive occupant satisfaction and financial outcomes as well.  

The report, based on research by the Center for Active Design and QuadReal, analyzes data from Fitwel scorecards, property financial metrics from various asset classes in QuadReal’s portfolio, and tenant and resident surveys and found that Fitwel’s health promoting strategies were associated with a positive occupant experience, a higher NPS, and increased rent per square foot. While there is a fee to have an asset or portfolio become Fitwel-certified, the overall health impact, and financial benefits far offset the initial cost.   

Many Fitwel strategies are low-cost and high impact. Changes to operational policies, the addition of signage in certain areas, and updating offerings to focus on health all can be done at a relatively low cost, and can greatly move the needle in terms of occupant decision making and satisfaction while also contributing to financial benefits.  

A recent MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab survey found a 4.4 to 7 percent increase in rent premiums for buildings with health certifications, further highlighting the impact on financial outcomes.  This survey controlled for other factors such as age of building, green certifications, and other factors. Our own data backs this up as well. 

FN: How has the pandemic changed the prioritization of health and wellness strategies in commercial buildings? 

Zachary Flora: What stood ten years ago when we launched in terms of building health still stands today, but Covid-19 turned health into a risk for businesses. Risk management and mitigation are essential to the real estate sectors, and developers and investors are waking up to the understanding that they must use human health as a baseline for business decisions. From 2020 to 2021, Fitwel saw a 405 percent increase in total occupants impacted. That’s a 405 percent increase in the number of individual human beings who are benefiting from the positive health impacts that Fitwel certification supports. In other words, that’s also a 405 percent increase in the number of people demanding healthy spaces. 

In 2020, Fitwel unveiled its Viral Response Module (VRM), aligned with the White House’s National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan, which provides certification of policies and practices informed by the latest public health research on mitigating the spread of infectious diseases. Due to Covid-19, indoor air quality within a building has become a market differentiator. Building strategies such as increased ventilation, hand washing signage, enhanced cleaning protocols, maintaining optimal humidity and filtered indoor air are all effective ways to optimize buildings for Covid-19 prevention.  

Commercial buildings now see health as a risk for their business and not a nice to have. Companies in the past may have checked a box saying they have a fitness center or offer a yoga class once per month. But today, these buildings are looking for ways to measure how their properties are promoting health and want to have an outlined path to improvement and a way to track that progress. 

FN: Can you describe some of the key differences between Fitwel and WELL?  

Zachary Flora: The Fitwel Standard and the WELL Building Standard are both sets of strategies designed to promote human health and wellbeing through the built environment, but there are three key differentiators in my view. 

Originally developed by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and generated by over 6,000 peer reviewed research studies, Fitwel has translated the global public health evidence base into practical design and operational strategies for buildings and communities to optimize health, with a greater emphasis on the health and wellbeing of the people impacted by the built environment. Fitwel’s strategies are constantly evolving per the latest, most up-to-date research. This development and partnership with the CDC is unique to Fitwel. 

Additionally, Fitwel is designed to be applicable to occupied and existing buildings, as well as new construction. It’s easy to implement strategies to make retrofitting buildings and incorporating healthy building strategies a seamless experience. Fitwel does not have prerequisites, enabling each commercial building to chart their own path to certification based on factors such as occupant profile, tenant demands, location, budget, etc. Due to the lack of prerequisites and the application to both existing and new assets, buildings do not need to invest large sums of money to achieve certification. Rather, they can choose strategies that are most appropriate for their needs and situation. 

Finally, Fitwel is more than just a certification; it is also an intuitive, online platform that provides facility teams all of the resources they need to achieve certification. Our platform streamlines the assessment process by providing projects anticipated scores. It provides teams insightful reports, including a gap analysis tool to help facilities teams understand how to improve their score and a marketing report providing talking points to share with tenants about how the building is impacting their health.  

FN: Why should facility managers consider becoming a Fitwel Ambassador? What advantages can this bring to helping improve the health and wellness of their building occupants? 

Zachary Flora: Fitwel Ambassadors are ensuring the industry is meeting the demand for healthy buildings, and the business case for health-promoting real estate has never been higher. Global ESG assets are on track to exceed $53 million by 2025. The Fitwel Ambassador program offers individuals a way to demonstrate their industry leadership, expand their knowledge of the latest research and resources available, and become experts on the Fitwel Standard and platform. 

Being an Ambassador enables people to play a more active role in transforming buildings into healthy environments for building occupants. This community of 3,700+ industry professionals across 50 countries are truly leading Fitwel’s movement in building health for all. 

Facility managers are a core community in that movement. They are ensuring buildings are operated, managed, and maintained to promote health and help to communicate those efforts to tenants, employees, and residents of their properties. The Ambassador program ensures facility managers have the tools, knowledge, and resources to be able to do just that. 

Greg Zimmerman is senior contributor editor for the facility group, which including and Building Operating Management magazine. He has more than 18 years’ experience writing about facility issues. 

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  posted on 12/1/2022   Article Use Policy

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