Written by Nadine Rachid
Senior Vice President of Standard and Product Development, the Center for Active Design (CfAD)

When we decide to take the stairs or enjoy a walk through a community garden, we’re most likely not thinking about the impact those seemingly minor decisions have on all aspects of our health. However, all buildings and neighborhoods impact the health of their occupants – whether we realize it or not. COVID-19 caused a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we view the link between the built environment and health. For businesses, health is now recognized for what it always has been: as risk. Given Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, providing health-promoting environments (e.g., amenities and design) is no longer a nice to have; it is a business imperative. 

The demand for healthy environments is coming from both individuals, for instance, among employees returning to the office post-COVID, as well as investors who recognize the bottom-line value associated with healthy buildings and require quantifiable impact reporting. 

As a result, third-party healthy building certifications are increasingly being relied upon to offer a clear standard and way to measure healthy practices. Fitwel is a people-centric healthy building certification platform operated by the Center for Active Design. The Fitwel Standard, originally created by the CDC, translates the global public health evidence base into practical, implementable design and operational strategies. Fitwel helps businesses understand and measure how buildings impact the health and well-being of tenants, employees and owners, offering a roadmap for continuous and incremental improvements.

As the SVP of Standard and Product Development at CfAD, my team and I are constantly looking at ways (strategies) to enhance buildings and spaces to promote the health and wellbeing of people within and the surrounding communities. Our approach requires a delicate balance; all of our strategies are rooted in research and at the same time must be designed to be implementable for a range of asset classes, regardless of location, budget or age. At Fitwel, we believe that every building can be a healthy building, and we strive to ensure both equity and continuous improvement is central to our work. 

There is more to healthy buildings than keeping occupants happy. A study conducted by CfAD in collaboration with BentallGreenOak (BGO) and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), called A New Investor Consensus: The Rising Demand for Healthy Buildings quantities for the first time the extent to which real estate is focusing on health and wellness in ESG investment strategies. It also showed that COVID-19 increased the value of health in investment decision-making, and found that the majority of respondents plan to improve their wellness-related asset management strategies in the upcoming year. 

We look at the people perspective of the built environment in all that we do and we continue to see clients adopting the same approach, having recognized the risk and opportunity associated around health. Once on our platform, we encourage users to benchmark their projects to see where they are relative to the Fitwel Standard, and identify the areas they can improve. The next step is to implement those improvements (Fitwel strategies) and pursue certification to codify their accomplishments and commitment to health. At the end of the day, this can be a major market differentiator – and a true win for people, the planet, and prosperity.