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A Healthy Debate: FITWEL vs WELL

April 2017

By Catriona Brady

With a new certification available to certify buildings in the Health and Wellbeing space, FITWEL is being branded ‘WELL-Lite’.  XCO2 investigate FITWEL, the latest Health and Wellbeing standard: is it the practical new WELL, or is there practically no point?

 

2016 wasn’t all bad news. Yes, it may remain permanently scarred in our collective psyches as the year of Brexit, Trump and a disturbing trend of celebrity deaths. But if there was one thing to be cheerful about (at XCO2 HQ, anyway) was the growth of Health and Wellbeing in the building sector.

‘Growth’ doesn’t do this rise in popularity adequate justice. Industry events, software developments and business streams have been arriving in earnest in the last 12 months to capitalise on the popularity of ‘human sustainability’. This idea is to actively design, furnish and tailor ones surroundings for the welfare of the building users, by improving the quality of air breathed, food consumed and exercise logged. The building owner ends up enjoying a happy marriage of financial and altruistic benefits, through the increased productivity and satisfaction of their staff. Everybody wins.

For the last year, fans of the healthy building looking for a framework to shape their design dreams would fall upon the WELL Building Standard as their go-to certification choice. Within its first year alone, the WELL Standard had nearly 80 projects registered or certified across five continents. And it has enjoyed a year of unchallenged, unparalleled acceptance as the only choice for Health and Wellbeing certification in the built environment (click for more information).

But now, there’s a new standard on the block.

FITWEL, still in beta, was launched in 2017 after five years of development and pilot studies. A broader unveiling later this year will unleash the shiny new features of this cutting-edge building standard onto the Health and Wellbeing market. Initial interest levels have been unprecedentedly high, and the month-long waiting list for an introductory call with their team suggests take-up of the ‘alternative healthy certification’ will be huge.

So what’s the difference between the industry-established certification stalwart, and their new competitor? And which option, if either, is right for you or your clients?

 

FITWEL vs WELL: A battle of the credit-counters

Scientific Rigour

Both standards are the result of years of impressive-sounding American research. The International WELL Building Institute spent seven years researching the WELL Building Standard, and the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention have devoted five years to their background investigations of FITWEL. The scientific basis for the WELL Building Standard has been generally well received across the industry. Other than the occasional strange academic reference (a Northern Irish food-budgeting and recipe guide for students sits slightly out of kilter with an all-American medical-based standard1), WELL is undeniably well-researched, with the only common complaint leaning towards ‘too scientific’.
FITWEL appears to be equally well grounded, but goes the other way in how targets are presented. The Beta Workplace Scorecard is far simpler, with less scientific jargon and minimal medical mumbo. The credit contexts have been just as thoroughly examined, but are worded in a less technical manner which makes the standard more approachable and appealing. But how this will be received by an industry that is now fluent in the language of wellbeing remains to be seen. Now that we’ve learnt how to say ‘biophilia’ and ‘olfactory’ we’re unlikely to stop anytime soon…

WELL – 4/5 FITWEL – 4/5

 

Categories and credits

FITWEL has followed the WELL principle of core categories, but with a much looser approach. The 7 Health Impact Categories include result-oriented concepts such as ‘Impacts Community Health’ and ‘Reduces Morbidity and Absenteeism’, rather than the more specific and cause-focused categories of ‘Air’, ‘Water’ and ‘Mind’ as utilised in the WELL standard. FITWEL is pursuing the same outcome as WELL, but without dictating such specific inputs.

This less stringent, more flexible approach is also reflected in the credits themselves. Whilst some of the headline strategies of WELL, such as the openly visible staircase to encourage physical activity, have been recreated in FITWEL, the majority of credits are awarded to encourage more practical, low-key changes. Credits in FITWEL include sensible in-office utilities, such as higher fees charged for parking, on-site fruit and vegetable planting and dedicated ‘lactation rooms’.
The more technical aspects of WELL have been avoided: FITWEL encourages daylight but doesn’t have you measuring lumens; asks for an Indoor Air Quality Plan but not to buy hospital-level carbon filters. This is undeniably a much more user friendly approach – but is it going far enough to create the notable change in user health that offers the well-documented economic benefits? Advocates of circadian lighting will perhaps argue that it isn’t.

WELL – 4/5 FITWEL – 3/5

 

Practicality

FITWEL is undeniably a more practical, low-impact and user-friendly building certification. An app that allows you to certify with your smartphone (in development), uncomplicated online portal, and substantially smaller price tag makes FITWEL seem the younger, cooler and more techno-savvy sibling of the paper-heavy WELL standard.
There are no pre-requisite credits for FITWEL, but a rather elaborate credit weighting system to encourage targeting of the most valuable strategies (point of interest: the aforementioned ‘lactation rooms’ are the highest weighted credit in the FITWEL scorecard).
However, there have been reports from early adopters that a FITWEL certification can be easily achieved for relatively normal buildings with minimal changes and inconvenience. Not that we are proponents of intentional disruption, but with no challenge comes no added value, and likely no benefits to the wellbeing of the building user. Can a certification system that doesn’t require any effort be deemed a comprehensive (or even beneficial) process?

With early adopters of the standard already branding it as ‘WELL Lite’, FITWEL seems destined to be categorised as the easy option to Health and Wellbeing certification. This is no bad thing, and if anything encourages a universal take-up of FITWEL advocated principles. WELL has been widely critiqued as being both too expensive and too difficult, and FITWEL offers an appealing alternative of small steps in the right direction. Perhaps this more manageable alternative could lead to the spiralling popularity of health and wellbeing strategies to buildings worldwide.
But accreditation for the sake of a name and a badge, rather than to inspire long-term change, leaves us with a funny taste in our mouth. Like WELL, FITWEL remains in development and will undoubtedly release updates like its predecessor. We hope these iterations push the standard to offer suitably challenging targets to all future users and ensure real progress in the field of health and wellbeing. But also maintain that inviting, open to all, user-friendly approach. Somehow.

WELL – 3/5 FITWEL – 4/5

 

So there we have it – it’s a tie. Both ratings have achieved the very respectable 11/15 and can proudly share the winners’ glory.

Joint winners perfectly describes the status of these two standards. They are not the same, and they will not realistically compete with each other – FITWEL is a much simpler, mass-market approach to health and wellbeing than the exceptionally comprehensive WELL Building Standard.

Both standards can undeniably learn from each other, and the impact of competition in the market can only have positive effects. FITWEL could stand to include some of WELLs credit precision and more ambitious targets, and equally WELL could be revolutionised by including some more user-friendly technologies.

Ultimately, the development of two extremely popular and effective health and wellbeing building standards can only be cause for celebration across the industry. 2017 is looking better already.

 

Want to know more about FITWEL, WELL or our Health and Wellbeing consulting services? Contact XCO2 at mail@xco2.com

1 – Reference 71;p173,

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