WELL vs Fitwel: The Battle for Workplace Wellness

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WELL vs Fitwel: The Battle for Workplace Wellness

In stok’s Healthy Buildings series, we’ve talked about the need to pivot towards new language when it comes to indoor environments. In an endeavor to infect all indoor environments with “Healthy Building Syndrome,” certifications and rating systems are an invaluable tool.

So let’s take a look at two frameworks focused on health and wellness: WELL and Fitwel. Despite the banter about competition, we’re not-so-secretly thrilled to have two systems to use when designing solutions that improve the health and wellness of building occupants.


We’ll start with the history:

WELL was developed by Delos, a wellness real estate and technology firm, and is managed and administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation. The WELL Building Standard is third-party certified by the Green Business Certification Incorporation (GBCI), which administers the LEED certification program and the LEED professional credentialing program. It’s a system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

Fitwel was developed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), and the General Services Administration (the government agency that runs federal office buildings). It is operated by the Center for Active Design, a non-profit entity. It’s aimed at helping employers evaluate all the design factors that go into creating a healthy workplace, from proximity to public transit, bike parking, indoor air quality, healthy food access, and stairwell design.


On to the scope, stringency, and ease of use:

WELL sets performance requirements in seven concepts relevant to occupant health in the built environment – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.

The scientific rigor of WELL is unquestionable, and although it can be cumbersome, it results in positive human health impacts, which also yields a great ROI on human capital investment through increased worker productivity and decreased number of sick days.

Complex documentation must be gathered for WELL, including annotated project documents, drawings, and letters of assurance from the project team.  Performance Verification is required, and includes a site visit from a highly experienced professional called a WELL Assessor, where visual inspections and performance tests to evaluate air and water quality, noise, light and temperature levels, and other environmental parameters may be performed. Upon completion of Performance Verification, the project receives a WELL report that provides a feature-by-feature assessment of WELL requirements. Because the WELL standard highly values ongoing performance of the building throughout its lifetime, a project must re-certify their building every 3 years to ensure it is still performing as originally designed. WELL is designed primarily for commercial office space, and has different requirements for new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors, and core and shell projects.

Fitwel measures health within 12 areas of design and operations: Location, Building Access, Outdoor Spaces, Entrances and Ground Floor, Stairwells, Indoor Environment, Workspaces, Shared Spaces, Water Supply, Cafeterias and Prepared Food Retail, Vending Machines and Snack Bars, and Emergency Procedures.

Although there are more categories in Fitwel than in WELL, the system allows for more flexible and less rigorous compliance paths.  For example, it encourages daylighting, but doesn’t require the measurement of lumens. This flexibility makes Fitwel more accessible than WELL in many ways, but it could also result in a space that doesn’t reach the same performance outcomes as a WELL Certified Building.

To pursue Fitwel, a user can register a building, complete the Fitwel Scorecard using an online portal, and gain a numerical score for a project immediately. This score provides benchmarks allowing users to make improvements. Certification is optional, and can be pursued at any point by uploading documentation for review. Similar to the WELL standard, Fitwell is designed  mainly for commercial office buildings, and has different requirements for multi-tenant buildings, single-tenant buildings and commercial interiors spaces.


And finally, the cost:

WELL has registration fees that range from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on the size/type of project. Additional certification fees are assessed on a PSF basis, and range from $0.42/sq ft – $0.58/sq ft for new and existing buildings or interiors. The rigor and complexity of WELL typically requires the engagement of an external consultant.

Fitwel has project registration and certification fees with a total maximum cost of $7,000. The system is designed to be simple enough for those who own or occupy buildings to achieve certification without engaging a consultant.


The conclusion?

Fitwel is an accessible, affordable, and highly practical starting point for benchmarking and optimizing a space for occupant health. By contrast, WELL offers more rigor at a higher pricepoint, yet ultimately allows for a higher level of performance and competitive differentiation for buildings that pursue it.

By subscribing to either system, building owners and corporate users can gain a competitive advantage in the race for buildings that result in healthy and productive people.


Want more? Reach out for more on stok’s research on the impact of healthier indoor environments.