Designing healthy buildings for healthy occupants requires keen attention to active design principles, material health, daylight, nutrition, water quality, acoustic comfort, and environmental control. While many sustainable certification programs focus on materials, in-depth cleaning guidelines, or product lifespans, the Fitwel rating system focuses on the health of the occupants themselves. How can thoughtful design encourage healthier choices, lifestyles, and work environments?
A BIT OF HISTORY
In 1880, infectious diseases were nearly 5 times as prevalent as chronic diseases. Building code aimed to combat this primary public health concern and focused on air health and cleanliness, considerations that are now standard in any space. Chronic disease ballooned in the century that followed, overshadowing infectious disease by 8.5 times in 2005. [Source: The City of New York Summary of Vital Statistics 2005] Furthermore, physical inactivity was responsible for 11.1% of healthcare expenditures between 2006-2011, representing a significant cost for businesses and health alike. [Source: Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Pratt, M., Yang, Z. & Adams, E. K. Inadequate Physical Activity and Health Care Expenditures in the United States. Prog. Cardiovasc. Dis. 57, 315–323 (2015)]. The design industry is now re-considering how to use design to tackle the growing health epidemics of chronic disease, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Fitwel is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the result of a collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Center for Active Design. This partnership created the seven health impact categories that serve as the required strategies for Fitwel certification:
Increase physical activity
Promote Occupant Safety
Reduce Morbidity and Absenteeism
Support Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations
Instill feelings of Well-Being
Impact Community Health
Provide Healthy Food Options
MAKING IT HAPPEN
The decision to seek Fitwel certification is best served at the beginning of a project when identifying all project goals. This process requires constant partnership between the designer and the owner so that everyone is on the same page about the project’s priorities and possible achievements. It’s crucial for all parties to understand is that certification isn’t as simple as picking a couch made from a recycled material, buying it, installing it, and – ta-da! – being finished with the compliance. Rather, the organization has to buy into choices, policies, and ongoing operations for the life of the project, from initial design through final occupancy and beyond.
The Fitwel scoring system weights design strategies according to the strength of the evidence to support health impact claims. In this system, adherence to key recommendations not only maximizes your final Fitwel score, but also allows you to make the biggest influence on occupant well-being with confidence. Below, I’m sharing strategies that give the most bang for your Fitwel buck, in terms of points and health impact.