Feature Article

Programming Buildings for Health: WELL, Fitwel, and Beyond

Move over, avocados and kale. Green buildings are the new science-backed frontier of healthy living.

Perkins+Will has become a Fitwel Champion and is certifying all its North American offices, including this one in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo courtesy Perkins+Will
Hospital lighting can cause stress. It can also reduce it. Home location can encourage inactivity and poor diet, or it can provide exercise opportunities and access to fresh veggies. A newly renovated office can contribute to asthma or supply better air than we breathe outdoors. From phthalates to fresh air to fitness rooms, we have plenty of hints about how our buildings can influence our well-being.

But very few people have the expertise and time to evaluate scads and scads of scientific evidence relating to buildings and health. And even if we could, it still wouldn’t be easy to prioritize so much information to create wellness-promoting spaces. Let’s say did, though. How could we be sure to get all the health stuff right without forgetting other green building priorities in the process? This is getting complicated. And probably expensive.

Enter certification programs.

Rating systems for health

From old standbys like LEED and the Living Building Challenge to newer and narrower programs like the WELL Building Standard and Fitwel, rating systems are designed to simplify and incentivize health-related priorities.

Whole-building rating systems tend to emphasize wellness features that are also related to energy, water, and waste: done right, daylighting boosts well-being and saves energy. Other times, they provide checks and balances to health-promoting systems that threaten to compromise other sustainability goals: you don’t want to kill your energy performance with enhanced ventilation, so incentivizing both can lead to better outcomes for both health and environmental impact.

Health-only programs can mesh well with whole-building systems: active design ties closely with a location in a walkable neighborhood, for example. But they tend not to provide checks and balances, which is why WELL and Fitwel are both designed to align with whole-building rating systems—and why you will hear their proponents suggesting dual certification with LEED or LBC.

WELL, Fitwel, and beyond

In this special series on green buildings and human health, we take an in-depth look at:

Up next: Why everybody’s talking about WELL 

Published March 8, 2017