Navigating life during a global pandemic has put a new spotlight on the importance of human health and well-being. Where and how we work has certainly been at the forefront of many discussions and initiatives, including the mass adoption of telecommuting.
The mounting office vacancies across the country, however, left property owners scrambling to find new ways to attract tenants. As a result, landlords are finally beginning to realize the value of commercial building health certifications such as WELL and Fitwel. While these programs are at least a decade old, the demand for certifications under them has skyrocketed over the last couple of years.
Furthermore, experts predict that the demand for healthy buildings will continue to grow in the next few years. Let’s review the two leading health certification programs available to commercial property owners today.
The WELL Building Standard’s purpose is to certify real estate that prioritizes human health and well-being. The current version 2 of the standard consists of 10 core concepts that have a huge impact on our physical and mental health - air quality, water management, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, acoustical comfort, building materials, mental health support, and community integration. There is an eleventh concept, innovation, which was added to address any novel strategies that do not fall within the other WELL concepts.
The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) introduced the original WELL Building Standard in 2014. Since then the IWBI has certified over 1.5 billion square feet of space in 80+ countries.
Most recently, IWBI introduced the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This certification addresses the specific health, safety, and well-being challenges posed by the pandemic, while it is also meant to make occupants feel safer and more confident while inside the building. The WELL Health-Safety Rating consists of 22 strategies, including maintaining spaces clean and sanitized, offering essential health benefits and services, communicating health and safety efforts, assessing air and water quality, and other operational and maintenance-oriented protocols.
Fitwel is another certification system focused on building health and well-being. Originally developed by the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and U.S. GSA (General Services Administration) in 2011, the program was piloted in government buildings in New York City. Fitwel’s operations were eventually taken over by The Center for Active Design (CfAD), a non-profit organization now working on expanding the program globally.
Fitwel offers two certifications - Design Certification awarded prior to occupancy and Built Certification awarded post occupancy. New construction projects can earn both, while existing properties are only eligible to receive the latter. Commercial real estate owners can certify a single project or an entire portfolio.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Fitwel launched the Fitwel Viral Response Module (VRM) in September 2020. A testament to its rapidly growing popularity, the VRM certification has been awarded to 100 million square feet of commercial real estate space over the span of a single year. The program continues to integrate the latest research in viral transmission inside buildings and has already released an updated version of the Viral Response Module for 2021-2022.
Health Certifications Benefits
While some property owners may still consider health certifications an unnecessary expense, these programs can deliver real benefits to them, as well as the organizations and individuals occupying the building:
Buildings bearing the certifications indicate to their occupants and visitors that the design, development, and operation of the property prioritize health and well-being.
By following the standards required to earn a certification, property owners can actually help improve the health and well-being of building occupants and the nearby community.
Companies pursuing certification, whether for a single property or an entire portfolio, demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, which can boost their public image.
Health certifications can help owners market their properties and attract new tenants.
Health certifications have added yet another criterion that organizations should consider when planning their real estate strategy. Nevertheless, navigating the current commercial real estate market while keeping in mind the health and well-being of employees has only made the leasing process more complex. The good news is you don’t have to go at it alone. Our experienced tenant reps at iOptimize Realty® can help you find health-certified properties in any market and secure the best lease terms, all at no cost to you as the tenant.
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