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Another certification scheme? Fitwel is the new kid on the block.

Fitwel has been created from a desire for a wellbeing standard that could be applied to any property of any age and condition, not just the Grade-A city monoliths.

Written by: Georgia Elliot-Smith, Director, Element 4

26/11/2019 3 min read

In 1990, BREEAM became the world’s first certification standard for the creation of more environmentally friendly buildings. It wasn’t until 2000 that the US Green Building Council followed suit, releasing its own version, LEED.

In 2014, riding the wave of our modern obsession with wellness, the WELL Building Standard burst onto the scene as the first standard, focused entirely on the health of occupants.

Where WELL made a startling difference was by presenting the most recent research on how profoundly human physiology and psychology is affected by the built environment, offering a set of design and operation criteria to address this. Based on the ideals of improving health, increasing user satisfaction and ultimately achieving the employers’ holy grail of boosted productivity. Who doesn’t want that?

Then reality hit. For early adopters, an enormous task unfolded. Consultants and internal project managers embarked on an Everest-steep learning curve. The 100+ credits were heavily scientific and based on the US market. Some of the criteria simply couldn’t be achieved with existing UK materials and technology.

What became startlingly clear was that WELL was only for those with deep pockets and long attention spans. It required an astonishing level of commitment, investigation and additional consultancy support beyond that of a common-or-garden BREEAM certification. In addition, 80% of UK property was constructed before 1980. Trying to achieve a WELL certification on those properties would be an expensive lesson in futility.

To their enormous credit, the International WELL Building Institute spent a lot of time engaging with experienced practitioners like myself and, in response to our feedback, released Version 2 in 2018, addressing many of the teething problems, watering down or removing some of the more outrageous time-sinks and money-pits.

By the end of 2017, a new kid, named Fitwel, appeared on the block. Increased awareness and desire for healthier buildings generated by WELL’s prolific PR had created a desire for a wellbeing standard that could be applied to any property of any age and condition, not just the slick and shiny Grade-A city monoliths.

Fitwel fits that brief beautifully, which is down to its origins with the US government’s estates department, the General Services Administration. Devised for application to any property, regardless of its age, condition, location or demographic, property owners are now able to focus on what’s possible within their immediate budget, and make progress towards more stretching initiatives over time.


Terrible daylight, but plenty of cycle parking? No problem. Got the budget to install drinking fountains, but not showers? Don’t stress. Fitwel is for everyone – but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy.

It has two striking differences from WELL. First – and I believe most importantly – is the cost. Compared to BREEAM, LEED and WELL, Fitwel is refreshingly good value both in its certification fees and the consultancy support required.

The second major differentiator is its complexity – Fitwel makes for easy reading. Consisting of 70 strategies to improve health and wellbeing in a property, each has a different points value, totalling 144 for the whole scorecard. Certification is by reaching points thresholds – which strategies you adopt to get those points is up to you and this is what makes it so great for older properties. Terrible daylight, but plenty of cycle parking? No problem. Got the budget to install drinking fountains, but not showers? Don’t stress. Fitwel is for everyone – but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy.

There a strong focus on emergency preparedness, which can be the most immediate health risk of all. For example, central London buildings might want to consider terrorist attacks or armed intruders. Out-of-town locations may have different concerns.

The standard is also easy to adapt to varying budgets and desired sophistication. Strategy 4.7 proposes an amenities display, informing occupants of local health and leisure opportunities – whether you choose to install an all-whistles-and-bells touchscreen display or a simple corkboard is immaterial. There is also a strong focus on community integration, reducing the ffect of unwelcoming commercial deserts, devoid of public art, leisure and other amenities.

For office occupiers (aren’t we all?) it provides a structured, holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Those of us who have sat through company wellbeing forums will know that a committed couch-potato is hardly going to leap at the opportunity of slipping into Lycra – cycle-to-work schemes are taken up by those who already cycle and, if I’m struggling with mental health, the last place I’ll choose to read about it is on the company intranet. Anyone who wants to address health and wellbeing in a structured manner, have meaningful conversations with their tenants and better engage their staff would do very well to take a look at Fitwel.

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