For many architects, tenants, developers, and building owners, COVID-19 has required a rapid onboarding to the wellness dimension of sustainability. Whether you know the difference between WELL and Fitwel, have experience implementing corporate wellness programs, or understand the value proposition for natural ventilation, wellness, health, and safety are more important than ever.

While WELL and Fitwel are established wellness-specific certification programs, there is significant interest in two newly released certifications by their respective organizations, IWBI and Center for Active Design.  Both organizations convened their own groups of industry and health experts in Spring 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to memorialize new certification paths focused on promoting health through building operations and maintenance.  These two new certifications complement the original WELL and Fitwel certifications similar to the way LEED for existing building projects and Arc compliment LEED new construction projects.

While not a new certification, USGBC released four new LEED Pilot Credits that emphasize healthy spaces and assist with building re-entry. The new pilot credits outline operational best practices that align with public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, HVAC, and plumbing operations.  These pilot credits are available to any project currently pursuing LEED certification.  The balance of this post will focus on the two newly released certification systems released by IWBI and the Center for Active Design.

Safely reopening our economy and building stock during a global pandemic requires systems that focus on best practices in building operations and minimal design changes.  As buildings owners and managers attempt to make health and safety visible during this tumultuous time, having third-party verified rating systems focused on health and wellness can provide guidance and also build confidence for tenants and occupants.

It’s been two+ weeks since we shared the news about these new certifications and given the pace of change and increased understanding within the space, it’s time for an update.


IWBI – WELL Health Safety Rating

The WELL Health Safety Rating is intended to inform new guidelines for prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery, and provide enhancements to WELL Building Standard v2. Key elements include:

  • The system includes 21 wellness features across 5 core areas, with a minimum of 15 features required to achieve the rating. The core areas include: Cleaning and Sanitation Procedures; Emergency Preparedness Programs; Health Service Resources; Air and Water Quality Management; and Stakeholder Engagement and Communication. Innovation is an additional area where projects can potentially earn acknowledgment for their efforts.  There are no prerequisites or preconditions, so projects can choose to pursue whichever 15 features align best with their project.
  • Primary verification methods for Health Safety Rating compliance include policies, letters of assurance, operations schedules, photos, testing results, and maintenance reports.
  • The certification is time-bound, so one year after certification, projects need to resubmit key performance documents and affirm continued compliance to renew.
  • Certification fees for most projects pursuing the WELL Health Safety Rating are $4,200, where those already registered or that have earned WELL certification usually pay discounted fees of $2,500.
  • The Health Safety Rating is designed to adjust and refine requirements as new evidence comes to light.
  • The features making up the Health Safety Rating are a subset of operations and maintenance optimizations within the more comprehensive WELL rating system. This allows projects to use Health Safety as an entry point to WELL Certification should projects meet the required preconditions. Health Safety Rated projects that choose to pursue WELL certification in the future will benefit from a 50% reduction in WELL registration fees.


Fitwel – Viral Response Module

The Center for Active Design announced the creation of the Fitwel Viral Response Module in July 2020.  This new certification is based on a range of strategies that helps limit viral transmission within buildings as outlined within Fitwel’s recently published series “Research in Action: Building Health for All in the Face of COVID-19“. The Module is grounded in scientific evidence and takes a holistic approach to maximizing health within the built environment.

  • The Viral Response Module will be released publicly in September 2020, with educational sessions previewing the standard planned for August
  • While detailed requirements are not yet available, the Viral Response Module includes required prerequisites and has three categories:
    • Enhanced Indoor Environments – IAQ policies and testing, cleaning/sanitation, water management plans, maintenance procedures, etc.
    • Encouraging behavioral changes – sanitation stations, PPE provisions, health education, commuting support, hand hygiene, etc.
    • Building Occupant Trust – plans and procedures that maximize trust within the building including continuity, communication, outbreak preparedness, sick leave, stakeholder engagement, and the like.
  • Companies can pursue certification by entity or at the asset level.
    • Entity-level certification is for a collection of assets that maintain consistent policies and procedures.,
    • Asset-level certification is available to organizations interested in third-party verification that entity-level policies are implemented at a particular asset.
  • Standard certification fees for the module include a $500 registration fee and a $4,500 certification fee per entity with an additional $200 per asset seeking certification. Reduced introductory pricing is available prior to November 1, 2020.
  • The Viral Response Module is an annual certification that will require renewal.
  • Projects pursuing Fitwel certification using the established Building Scorecard methodology can choose to additionally pursue the Viral Response Module certification via simultaneous submission.


Next Steps

These third-party certifications are intended to validate COVID-readiness and will be an important aspect of the building operations and communications strategies. It will be equally important to make the buildings safe, and to make the occupants feel safe while they are in your buildings. The three things that any building operator should do to align to these certifications right now are:

  1. Review and update policies that impact occupant health and safety (or create them if your policies are incomplete
  2. Create a plan to communicate your re-open readiness including details about science-based strategies on-site
  3. Align the immediate need for third-party validation of COVID-19 Readiness to future certification strategies.

More information is emerging every day, and if you would like to talk to our consulting team, contact us.


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