Like many other markets, residential and commercial development often change to meet the demands of the investors and end-users. There has been a long-standing push for buildings to be more energy-efficient and sustainably built. The construction techniques of the past are being reconsidered and reinvented in the hopes of creating a bright, prosperous future that takes less of a toll on the planet on which we so desperately depend. More recently, this push has evolved beyond improving the quantifiable impact on the planet and has extended its reach to the well-being of the occupants themselves. More and more developers are looking to build environments that are not only healthier for the planet but encourage occupants to be healthy as well. While LEED® standards have been around for decades, standards such as WELL and the lesser-known Fitwel have been available for less than five years.
Fitwel is a relatively new system for rating buildings, which guides designers and developers in creating spaces that promote occupant wellness. Created by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Government Services Administration (GSA), and operated by the Center for Active Design (CfAD), Fitwel awards up to 144 possible points for employing any number of strategies outlined in their scorecard. The points available for each strategy are determined by how much of an impact the strategy can have on occupants’ wellness, and how much evidence there is to prove that the strategy in question is linked to this impact on wellness. Fitwel scoring can apply to new construction as well as renovations and covers many considerations that span a larger scope than designed elements alone. Before design has even begun, a project’s Fitwel rating can be boosted simply by being located within walking distance of public transit stops/stations. On a slightly smaller scale, stairwells can be treated to be more readily accessible and/or appealing to occupants. Small operations like community vegetable gardens or regularly hosted markets can contribute to a building’s Fitwel score. Even common-sense decisions like having water fountains in common spaces designated for physical activity will earn points. Starting at 90 points, individual projects will be awarded a one , two, or three-star rating, after careful review of documentation proving that strategies have been employed. While there are currently no tax breaks associated with designing buildings with occupants’ health and wellness in mind, I doubt this will be the case for much longer. LEED®-certified projects receive plenty of benefits on top of the positive reputation associated with the brand, and with growing support for initiatives that improve human health, it’s just a matter of how long it takes for this trend to be more widely recognized outside of urban development.
A few months ago, after having seen a change in my email signatures, one of our clients called my desk and asked, “what exactly is a Fitwel Ambassador?” A Fitwel Ambassador is an individual (or an agent of a business), who has been trained in the process of registering projects for Fitwel certification from start to finish. This starts with assessing the set parameters of a project, suggesting and employing Fitwel strategies to earn points, and then compiling and submitting documentation on the Fitwel online portal to be reviewed for confirmation. Having undergone the necessary training, I am a Fitwel Ambassador. With many new projects coming through the pipeline in the near future, I hope to be able to work with our clients to register their projects.
Brendan Horman is a Certified Interior Designer at SR/A. He resides in Maryland with his girlfriend Alex.