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  • Writer's pictureVerdacity

Certification vs. Certification: WELL and Fitwel face off in the arena of COVID-specific ratings

While everyone from federal agencies to professional design organizations have offered guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic, two green building certification systems (Fitwel and WELL) are offering buildings the opportunity to get recognition for their efforts.

Fitwel, the "World's Leading Certification System Committed to Building Health for All," is the brainchild of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA). Launched in 2017, Fitwel is now managed by the Center for Active Design (CfAD), an international non-profit focused on health and well-being in buildings and communities, established after the publication of Active Design Guidelines in 2010. These guidelines translated public health research and data into best practices for development and design of buildings and communities, and CfAD was formed to promote the use and inclusion of active design and to continue the translation of research into productive, beneficial practices.

The Fitwel certification process has six steps, including project registration in the online portal, documentation upload, and review. Once documentation is uploaded, the certification process takes up to sixteen weeks. For Fitwel Champions and Ambassadors, this is an expedited twelve-week process. (Have we mentioned the Verdacity team includes 5 Fitwel Ambassadors?) If all goes according to plan, the process ends with one-, two-, or three-star rating, and certification.

The research behind this module takes into account the various ways that viruses are spread, and by requiring projects to achieve specific strategies the module is able to capture the different methods to mitigate viral transmission—from improvements in air quality, to educational health promotion signage, to communication plans.

CfAD's recently launched resource series "Research to Action: Building Health for All in the Face of COVID-19" aims to help real estate professionals and designers address the challenges presented by the pandemic. The five-chapter series covers mitigation of viral transmission, trust in the workplace, mental health in residential settings, and health disparities in the built environment.

Even more recently, Fitwel's Viral Response Module was announced. Industry and academic professionals, combined with CfAD's "Research to Action" guidance, is informing this module which will include best practices and policies for preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The module does include prerequisites. Annual certification fees for the Fitwel Viral Response Module are $4,500 with reduced Introductory Pricing of $3,500 for registering by November 1, 2020.

The WELL Building Standard might be thought of as a sister certification to LEED. While LEED, established in 1998, focuses on a building's environmental impact, WELL, which has been around for less than a decade, is specifically catered to occupant health. Both systems consist of prerequisites and credits and, based on the number of credits achieved, can certify a project with a Silver, Gold, or Platinum level achievement.

The newly developed WELL v2 system is also heavily evidence-based, informed not only by feedback on WELL v1, but also by scientific and medical research, environmental and behavioral health literature, and prevailing building design and management practices.

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) recently established a "Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management," which recognizes the implementation of additional health and safety measures related to COVID-19 and is applicable to all facility types.

The genesis of the rating was feedback from the IWBI Task Force on COVID-19, a group of nearly 600 public health experts, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists and real estate professionals established in late March 2020 to inform IWBI’s response to the pandemic.

To achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating, 15 out of 21 design features must be implemented. This is an all-or-nothing system, as there are neither incremental points awarded nor varying levels of achievement. Relevant for both new construction and existing buildings, the certification lasts for one year before renewal (with demonstration of continued compliance) is needed. The Rating also includes up to three Alternative Adherence Path features (think "alternative compliance") per project. The cost for the WELL Health-Safety Rating is $4,200 on its own, but this fee is waived for projects registered for WELL Certification. Meaning? You get the best deal by adding the Health-Safety Rating if you have a project that is already pursuing WELL Certification (or re-certification).

As businesses develop and enhance plans to safely operate their properties, Fitwel's Viral Response Module and WELL's Health-Safety Rating may set the industry standard for optimizing buildings in response to COVID-19.


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