By Kelsey Alexander
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)
Most people spend their days working 9 to 5, and one 2015 report showed that full time employees in the United States work an average of 47 hours per week.1 Since Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors2, a healthy work environment is important for healthy employees. According to the CDC, employees that were absent from work due to sickness or injury cost the United States economy $2 billion in 2016.3 To encourage building owners and property managers to focus on this issue, the CDC created Fitwel, a building rating system that works to promote healthier buildings.
Launched for public use in 2017, Fitwel is a building rating system designed for commercial interiors and multi-tenant and single-tenant buildings. It was created by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA), and is run by the Center for Active Design (CfAD). Fitwel guides businesses on how to operate healthier buildings, and it costs $500 to register a building with an additional $6,000 for certification. To earn Fitwel certification, a building must earn 90 out of 144 possible points. The point allocations are based on the impact on human health, and strategies with larger impacts are worth a higher point value. There are twelve sections for Commercial Interior Spaces, and business owners may wonder what credits they can pursue. Some credits are easier to obtain than others, and some credits are more difficult to implement but are worth the challenge.
For building access, businesses can earn points by conducting an annual occupant commuter survey to support carpool and vanpool programs, showing a reduction in single occupancy vehicles. They can also earn points by providing secure and covered bicycle parking within 100 feet of the main building. If parking is provided, businesses can assign a minimum of 5% priority parking spaces, which will encourage people to carpool so that they can park in these priority spaces. Businesses can also charge fair market value for parking, which encourages employees to either take public transportation or carpool, and it earns the business 2 points- the most in the category.
In the outdoor spaces section, one important credit would be an Integrated Pest Management Plan. Establishing an IPM plan supports healthy indoor air quality while also creating a pest-free environment and is worth 2.66 points. Fitwel also gives 2.66 points for context-appropriate lighting pathways and parking areas which increase visibility and reduces opportunity for crime.
Outdoors spaces offers several challenging credits that would be very rewarding in the long run. Providing a restorative garden or an on-site fruit and vegetable garden can help businesses earn points and helps employees’ mental and physical health by providing convenient access to healthy food. Businesses can also capture this strategy by providing an outdoor space amenity such as benches, tables, or small gardens that could improve health by increasing physical activity levels. Another strategy that could be difficult to implement is adopting a smoke-free policy for all outdoor spaces, which is worth 1.33 points. This strategy would be more difficult for projects that already have an assigned smoking area outdoors, and businesses should carefully consider their employees and the campus before pursuing this strategy.
Entrances and Ground Floor
Entrances and ground floor is a good section for businesses to earn points. Building owners can earn points by providing permanent signage at all entrances publicizing a smoke-free building. They can also earn 2.33 points by providing lighting at each building entrance and earn 1 point by putting up a permanent display in a publicly accessible area that shows amenities within walking distance to the building. Another easily attainable strategy is placing an entryway system to capture dirt.
Taking the stairs is an easy way for employees to improve their health. Studies have shown that climbing stairs can reduce cardio risk by more than 30% and burns more calories per minute than jogging.4 Businesses with at least one accessible stairwell can earn 4.33 points, and they can earn extra points by putting up permanent signs by the elevators that promote stair usage.
In the indoor environment section, Fitwel puts a large emphasis on an asbestos free workplace because asbestos exposure can cause a wide range of serious and fatal health conditions.5 Buildings that certify that all asbestos have been properly eliminated can earn 4.66 points. Office buildings can also implement an Indoor Air Quality Policy for the workplace for 4.66 points and implement a Green Purchasing Policy. One credit that may be more difficult for business owners is adopting a smoke free building policy, but it helps reduce second-hand smoke which goes a long way in disease prevention. If possible, building owners can also provide separate ventilation in all areas with chemical use or storage for 2 points.
Building owners can earn points in the workspace section by providing operable shading in workspace windows. By providing active work stations, businesses can also earn 1.67 points. It may be more difficult to provide natural daylighting and views of nature from most workspaces, but businesses can earn a lot of points through those strategies.
For shared spaces, businesses can earn several points by establishing a regular cleaning schedule for workplace bathrooms. They can also easily earn points by providing permanent education signs that promote hand-washing in all bathrooms. Providing a common break area for lunch and a quiet room that employees can use in private is worth several points. Adopting a regular cleaning schedule for refrigerators and freezers in break areas can be easily implemented and earns the project several points. Providing a dedicated lactation room may be slightly more challenging but creating a lactation room with a fridge and sink can increase productivity and is worth 5.66 points. Buildings without fitness centers may have more of a challenge providing a multi-purpose room for activities, a dedicated exercise room, or a dedicated fitness facility for employees. The wellness room and the fitness facility, however, are worth 2.33 points and a dedicated exercise room is worth 2 points.
Businesses seeking Fitwel certification can earn points in the water supply section by providing at least one ADA compliant water supply on every floor and by providing one water bottle refilling station on each floor. ADA compliant water is worth 3 points and water stations are worth 1.33 points.
Cafeterias and Prepared Food Retail
For the Fitwel section concerning food, business owners can earn 5 points by requiring a healthy food and beverage standard at least as rigorous as Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities in all food service agreements. They can also easily earn points by providing access to free water in cafeterias and prepared food retail areas. It may be more difficult to encourage healthy food choices through pricing incentives, but price incentives can increase the consumption of healthy food and improve employee well-being and earn the business 4 points.
Vending Machines and Snack Bars
Business that require a healthy food and beverage standard at least as rigorous as the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities in the building’s vending machines can earn 2 points and providing access to free water visible near vending machines can earn 1.67 points. Again, pricing incentives may be more challenging but are worth 2 points.
In Fitwel’s final strategy, a business can easily earn points by creating a database of building emergency equipment and supplies. They can also install an Automated External Defibrillator on each floor with a regular testing schedule for 2.66 points. Businesses can also earn points by maintaining a schedule for a sufficient number of certified first responders to be present during work hours. For an employee to be considered a certified first responder, employees would only need to be CPR or First Aid certified. One strategy that may be a challenge is for a business to provide an emergency address notification system, but it improves employee safety and is worth 4.33 points.
Becoming Fitwel certified can be a difficult process, but it is worth it in the end. Fitwel will create a healthier work environment, which leads to healthier and happier employees. If you are thinking about implementing Fitwel into your building, consider some of these implementation ideas to help get your building to 90 points.
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