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Best Practices Sustainability Reporting

Questions and answers about the Fitwel certification system

  • March 28, 2018
  • Chris Ogletree
Questions and answers about the Fitwel certification system

Questions and answers about the Fitwel certification system

Fitwel is a green building certification that focuses on improving, enhancing, and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of tenants and residents in office buildings and multifamily residential buildings. Created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the General Services Administration, the Fitwel certification system has “a vision for a healthier future where every building is enhanced to support the wellbeing of its occupants, and support healthy communities”.

During a recent webinar hosted by Goby’s Fitwel Ambassadors, Allie Goldstein and Erin Vicelja, and Director of Consulting, Jason Franken, we compiled a list of questions that people frequently have about the Fitwel certification system. Below is a list of questions about Fitwel and their answers.

Q1. What does it cost to become Fitwel-certified? Are they one-time payments, or are there recurring fees?

There is one-time initial certification fee of $6,000 per building that you wish to earn a Fitwel certification for, and an annual $500 subscription fee to register for and retain access to the Fitwel portal.

Q2. Besides the registration cost and annual fee, are there any other mandatory fees, or at least commonly occurring costs, associated with Fitwel?

The only truly mandatory costs that are associated with Fitwel are the certification and annual renewal fees. None of the Fitwel strategies are cost-restrictive for any portfolio, so the amount of money you need to spend getting certified depends mostly on how much you’re willing to spend.

For example, you could spend a large amount of money in order to build a new gym, outdoor spaces, and other amenities that require a larger financial investment and increase your score by a good amount. On the other hand, you could also tackle the less-costly strategies, such as placing appropriate signage around stairwells and providing plants in offices and common spaces to provide green views. These strategies are easy to implement and cost-effective for trying to stay within your budget.

Q3. Are Fitwel-certified buildings publicly listed somewhere?

There is currently no public database listing all Fitwel-certified properties.

Q4. How does the certification process differ between new construction and existing buildings?

Fitwel scoring is primarily geared towards existing buildings. The categories and strategies revolve around the spaces and amenities that you currently provide for tenants and residents. New buildings can use the Fitwel certification and scoring guidelines as a design framework during the planning phase of construction. Keeping the Fitwel criteria in mind as you design and construct your building will definitely help you achieve a 3-star rating once you submit for a certification. The focus on existing buildings is also complementary to the WELL certification, which is much more difficult for existing buildings to achieve as opposed to new construction.

Q5. I manage a single campus that contains 3 office buildings; do I need to pay the Fitwel fee for all three buildings, or is there just one fee for the campus?

The annual Fitwel fee of $500 is charged on a per-building basis, so even if there are 3 buildings on one campus, you’d have to pay the fee for each of them.

Q6. How do WELL and Fitwel certifications differ? Do you recommend submitting to earn both, or just focusing on one?

While both the Fitwel and WELL certification programs have a similar focus, which is maximizing the health and well-being of buildings occupants and tenants, they also have different approaches and focus on different aspects within your building. Fitwel is focused more on the community inside and outside of the building, and offers a more straightforward way of attaining that information. WELL takes a deeper dive into individual spaces, measuring things like air quality and water quality.

If it’s feasible to achieve both certifications, then you should consider it. WELL and Fitwel also overlap with other health and well-being benchmarking systems, like GRESB’s Health & Well-Being Module, where having both WELL and Fitwel certifications can benefit your performance.

Q7. How does LEED compare with WELL and Fitwel?

There are a few overlapping categories between LEED, WELL, and Fitwel, since the USGBC certifies the third-party for LEED and WELL. Fitwel does overlap in a lot of categories, including water, air quality, outdoor spaces. For Fitwel, categories like air quality and outdoor spaces are very important, but not necessarily the functionality of water flow, etc. It more focuses on access to water, purity of water, etc. WELL and LEED are more focused on the environmental impact of the strategies, such as how your water supply affects the environment. WELL generally focuses on the individual occupant, whereas Fitwel focuses on the public health of the community as a whole.

Q8. Are there cutoffs or annual deadlines for submitting to Fitwel certification?

There are no rolling deadlines for Fitwel throughout the year; the submittal cycle is wide open, and you are able to apply for a certification at any time you feel ready.

Q9. My building doesn’t provide any food options; how can I maximize the points available to me in the scoring categories related to that?

Some Fitwel strategies have additional methods of compliance that can still earn some or all of the available points; these are called Alternative Compliance and Not Applicable. For buildings that don’t provide on-site cafeterias or prepared food, there is an Alternative Compliance score that can be achieved if there is a food court, restaurant, etc. that’s located within a safe walkable distance of your property. Another example of Alternative Compliance is in the stairwells category. Single-story buildings rarely have stairwells, and are instead able to earn points for these strategies by promoting the importance and benefits of physical activity to tenants and residents. Strategies that relate to on-site parking provided by a building are Not Applicable for buildings that don’t have parking lots or garages, but they are still able to earn some points for these strategies.

Q10. Can any applicable building be certified, regardless of age? What are some challenges for older or historic properties?

Older properties tend not to have been originally built with the health and wellness of tenants in mind, and are lacking typically modern amenities like on-site fitness centers and applicable stairwells. These also tend to be properties where it’s not realistically feasible to change the design of the building enough to meet every Fitwel criteria.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t submit for a certification. A large portion of the Fitwel strategies and categories are related to the design and structure of a building, but even if an older building may have a slightly more challenging time, age is not a disqualifier. In addition, many historic buildings tend to be located in core, modern, and popular urban areas, so there’s are many opportunities to earn points through Alternative Compliance in many strategies.

Q11. Is there evidence that having a Fitwel certification has an impact on prospective leasing decisions and/or rent levels?

There have been a lot of studies in recent years about green building certifications and their influence as a factor in leasing decisions. While there aren’t any about the impact of the Fitwel system itself, there is a proven correlation between earning certifications, such as LEED and WELL, and higher rent rates, increased occupancy, and improved tenant and resident satisfaction. With that in mind, it’s fairly safe to draw a similar conclusion about Fitwel, given that its strategies and criteria overlap with both the LEED and WELL frameworks.

Chris Ogletree

Chris joined Goby as Inbound Marketing Coordinator in 2016, taking over generation and development of client-facing content, such as email campaigns, website administration, and marketing collateral. He has been an integral part in Goby's rebranding project and website redesign.

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