Health and Wellness: New Standards Address Age-Old Concerns
WELL and Fitwel are focused on engendering health and wellness in building occupants through design and operations strategies.
Through careful integrated design, building owners and facility managers can have it all –— resource efficiency and wellness. This has been proven to some extent with LEED certification, which focuses on site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality. However, some organizations saw that something was missing and that LEED does not go far enough to improve occupant health. This led to a new rating system and standard called WELL, introduced by Delos and now delivered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) developed another rating system, Fitwel. The Center for Active Design (CfAD) was selected by the federal government to be the licensed operator of Fitwel and leads development and use within both the private and public sectors.
Many large organizations are now embracing the WELL and Fitwel standards. The largest is GSA, which is using Fitwel to benchmark its facilities. Each rating system approaches certification in different ways. WELL, the more stringent (and expensive to implement) standard, requires post-occupancy testing of systems, such as air and water quality, to verify compliance. Fitwel, while stringent, has a more streamlined and less expensive approach to certification and is not as comprehensive.
WELL focuses on an all-encompassing approach to health and wellness in design, occupant behavior, and building operations with prerequisites in the following areas:
· Air quality
· Water quality
· Light (electric and daylight)
· Thermal comfort
Fitwel is generally more activity-focused and includes credits relating to building location and access, outdoor spaces, entrances/ground floor, stairwells, indoor environment, workspaces, shared spaces, water, food, and emergency procedures with health impacts in the following categories:
· Impacts community health
· Reduces morbidity and absenteeism
· Supports social equity for vulnerable populations
· Instills feelings of wellbeing
· Provides healthy food options
· Promotes occupant safety
· Increases physical activity
GSA has created many tools over the years to help both themselves and the public to design, build, and maintain resource-efficient and healthy buildings. A useful and accessible website is the Sustainable Facilities Tool. A “Health and Wellness Guidance Crosswalk” shows the relationships between popular rating systems, government guidelines, and ASHRAE Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings.
Approaching a project through an integrative and collaborative design lens helps facility managers, designers, and users incorporate wellness features while making those features as cost effective as possible. New projects can relatively easily be designed to include good air quality, design for activity (e.g., appealing staircases between floors), biophilia (to promote connection with nature), various workplace configurations, etc. Most important is to include as many stakeholders as possible early in the design process, including users, facilities and maintenance, design team, and owner, among others. Unfortunately, facilities, maintenance, and users often get left out of the design process, causing missed opportunities once a space is occupied.
The design of a healthy space doesn’t end with turning over the keys and saying, “good luck.” For wellness-focused building measures to be understood and valued, it is important to discuss them with building occupants. Not only does this recognize and care for their needs, it also helps them make best use of the measures provided. In the book, The Healthy Workplace Nudge, the authors point out that you can’t coerce people into being healthy; however, you can create the conditions for people to take on activities and have an opportunity to develop habits that will enhance their health and well-being. Once employees are aware of healthier food choices and once only those healthier choices are provided (such as maximum 8 oz. soda cups), behavior changes. Companies have traditionally seen fairly low participation in fitness programs, but designing spaces with fitness in mind gives employees small environmental nudges that make it easy to receive benefits.
By now, with more than 2,000 WELL and/or Fitwell-certified and -registered projects, many companies have integrated health and wellness into their new building and space design. Keara Fanning, JLL’s midwest sustainability practice lead, says that JLL has had health-related initiatives in place for many years. WELL propelled the movement by making it tangible. “An outward-facing label really helps, especially for people who are not familiar,” she says. Several of JLL’s offices are now WELL certified and JLL is also working with clients, such as Hyatt Hotels and Interface, on new corporate headquarters.