The term “sustainability” has become a catch all for green building, wellness, and resilience. Greenbuild hosted approximately 20 sessions about wellness and the WELL Building Standard, which is a testament to the broadening definition of sustainability, and the role of wellness in our work. I’ve explored five wellness frameworks that are alternatives to the WELL Building Standard.

Architects, developers, CHROs, and corporate executives are recognizing that wellness frameworks play a critical role in building design, business operations, and social responsibility. The WELL Building Standard has become the top third-party validation for organizations pursuing a certifiably well space, but it’s not the only option. There are alternative wellness frameworks to WELL Building Standard, just as there are alternatives to LEED.

The key is to choose the wellness framework that is best suited to your organization, its values, and its short- and long-term goals. The business case for wellness in the workplace focuses on increases in productivity across your talent pool and potential decreases in insurance premiums.

If you are interested in wellness, you should consider using a wellness framework to align your wellness strategy to your business outcomes. Here are a few alternatives to WELL Building Certification to consider:

Wellness framework: fitwel


Created by the Center for Active Design (CAD) & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with CAD acting as the third-party verifier, fitwel is a new building certification program, online tool, and certification process that is focused on space usage and operations. fitwel includes a web-based scorecard that anyone can access.

Still in the pilot phase, and five years in the making, fitwel is expected to fully launch in 2017. fitwel has piloted with 89 buildings owned by the General Services Administration and New York City, and currently considers 7 categories and 60+ health and wellness benchmarks. Developed by experts in public health and design, each criteria is linked by scientific evidence to at least one of seven health impact categories.

fitwel is being offered as a lower cost and business-friendly alternative, and Perkins + Will has committed to getting all of their North American offices fitwel certified.

Wellness framework: Active Design Guidelines

The Center for Active Design

The Center for Active Design provides guidelines for architects and urban designers that include strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces based on recent academic research. The guidelines include urban design strategies for creating spaces that encourage walking, bicycling, and active transportation; building design strategies that promote active living where people work and play; and discussions of the synergies between active design with sustainable and universal design initiatives like LEED and PlaNYC. In addition to the guidelines, the Center for Active Design provides free Urban and Building design checklists that may be a helpful starting point for anyone interested in wellness and active design.

Wellness framework: Airplus

Indoor Airplus

A program of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Airplus is similar to ENERGY STAR, and applies to new construction homes. Indoor Airplus is a voluntary partnership and labeling program that helps new home builders improve the quality of indoor air by requiring construction practices and product specifications that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and contaminants.  This government-backed label and third-party verification can be completed within the ENERGY STAR inspection process by a RESNET-certified Home Energy Rater.

Wellness frameworks: EB Tool

The Built Environment Assessment Tool

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made The Built Environment Assessment Tool (BE Tool) available. The tool measures the core features and qualities of the built environment that affect health, especially walking, biking, and other types of physical activity.

The core features assessed in the BE Tool include:

  • Built environment infrastructure—such as road types, curb cuts and ramps, intersections and crosswalks, traffic control, and public transportation.
  • Walkability—for example, access to safe, attractive sidewalks and paths with inviting features.
  • Bikeability—such as the presence of bike lane or bike path features.
  • Recreational sites and structures.
  • Food environment—such as access to grocery stores, convenience stores, and farmers markets.

With this tool, users can add questions or modules if more detail about an aspect of the built environment is desired, such as nutrition environment or pedestrian environment.

Wellness frameworks: ACE Checlist

Active Community Environments (ACE) Checklist

Designed to be used in Washington State, The free ACE Checklist enables communities to self-assess policies, plans, and funding with respect to built environment features across their communities. The ACE Checklist helps communities determine the strengths and weaknesses of built environment features as they relate to supporting physically active lifestyles. Some of the areas it targets are planning policies, regulations, funding, bicycle and pedestrian safety, physical activity resources, schools, work sites, and public transportation.

This list isn’t exhaustive – if anything it shows that there are a variety of options out there, each with their own advantages, depending on your business situation. The good news is that it’s easier than ever for architects, developers, and building owners to access information that helps them to create spaces that promote healthy tenants and employees.

There are important considerations when considering an approach to wellness. Questions to ask may include: Does it elevate the brand? Will wellness help our business to attract the best talent? Does wellness round out our existing programs?

If you want to learn about some of our favorite projects that included wellness features, download the case studies here.

Deborah Hanamura

Deborah Hanamura is Director, Marketing and Communications. 

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