The Origins of Fitwel
Our local and global communities continue to battle with the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying moments of loss but also discovery. We have discovered many new ways of keeping ourselves and each other safe and healthy and certain actions that can cause widespread illness. During lockdowns and quarantine, our time spent indoors has increased substantially. The surfaces we touch, air we breathe, and time spent in contact with one another can drastically alter our rates of infection. Technology has allowed us to track and mitigate circumstances in which we are exposed to viruses like COVID-19.
What the Fitwel Viral Response Module (VRM) does is enhance our experience within its certified buildings and reduce the spread of viruses. Fitwel was launched in September of 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). With this knowledge, I have full confidence in the system to abide by research backed-initiatives. Currently, the Center for Active Design (CfAD) operates Fitwel. No to worry, since the CDC still provides research and evaluation services for Fitwel and its certification. The CfAD is a global not-for-profit with years of experience in enhancing the individual and community health through active building design and development. Fitwel continues to gain traction in the building design community, is based on thousands of studies, and attracts expert design and development partners.
Fitwel allows corporations and organizations a structure by which they can enhance their buildings’ operations and resilience to viral outbreaks. The certification process is designed to be relatively quick and simple to accomplish. Like all of the building certifications we have explored here on The Thread, Fitwel has an established point structure with requirements that apply to most building types. Corporations can pay the associated fees to begin their certification, then quickly certify the buildings they own and operate once they meet Fitwel standards. Larger corporations and organizations can implement Fitwel standards company-wide and further increase the speed of certification.
Corporations that operate business in multiple locations and facilities that have a large number of employees and customers to consider are currently prime candidates for Fitwel. They can gain certification within 12 weeks usually, then certify their additional locations within 16 weeks total. Fitwel certification costs are based on the size of the projects to be certified, and all certifications require a registration fee. Community and commercial sites are measured in acres, while workplace, multifamily residential, and retail buildings are based on square feet. If a building is in a design phase, it can still apply for a Fitwel Design Certification, then complete the Building Certification upon completion of construction.
The most well-known user of Fitwel is Salesforce. Many other companies with significant real estate holdings have received Fitwel certifications. The processes and requirements within the Fitwel program can and should be adopted by smaller businesses as well even if Fitwel certification isn’t a great fit. Even those working from home can implement Fitwel principles into their workstations and entire homes, especially if they share spaces with family members.
Fitwel and its publications offer a wealth of knowledge on viruses that back up their prescribed responses. With that in mind, Fitwel recognizes that there is still a lot to learn about COVID-19 and similar viruses especially in regards to their transmission. It is likely that COVID-19 transmits through touch.
High touch surfaces like door handles and light switches especially in shared spaces like kitchens and bathrooms can be covered in germs. Frequent cleaning of shared spaces and high touch surfaces is essential in reducing the spread of viruses.
Not surprisingly, disinfectants are generally the go-to for deep cleaning. For those with indoor air quality in mind, no disinfectants meet Green Seal standards. We discussed Green Seal products in our Product Transparency blog post. Green Seal cleaning products do not adversely impact indoor air quality and are considered the healthiest options available. There are ways to effectively clean and rid your surfaces of COVID-19 while maintaining healthy indoor air quality levels. Green Seal outlines their safe practices here.
Certified Fitwel buildings support the building owners’ commitment to the safety and health of its occupants. I know if I was a prospective employee or investor, the Fitwel certification would definitely be a positive differentiator for any company. Fitwel certified buildings can advertise their certification with signage and education materials. I have noticed that large, creative signage can be effective in guiding correct face mask wearing and hand washing. Other approaches include sink faucets with visible countdown timers that encourage even the speediest hand washer to spend the appropriate amount of time scrubbing their hand with soap and water. These visible, interactive approaches help building occupants stay cognisant of their involvement in keeping the building a safe, healthy place to work or live.
Monitoring the frequency of cleaning high touch areas, air changes, etc. can keep your Fitwel requirements on track. Visible, real-time monitor screens or email updates can give your building occupants a concrete understanding of the measures your building takes to keep them healthy. Illustrating the effectiveness of air filtration and humidity in maintaining a healthy indoor environment are educational and make otherwise invisible processes visible and accessible. This visibility encourages trust between building occupants and owners and establishes buy-in from occupants who have a role to play in maintaining healthy habits.
Beyond Cleanliness: Resources for Employees
Fitwel understands the changing needs of businesses and individual employees. Since Fitwel was established in a tumultuous time (September 2020), the evolving needs of employees in a pandemic are at the forefront of Fitwel’s requirements. We continue to hear new information, research, and recommendations from scientists and news sources on a daily basis. One of the many things I admire about Fitwel is its requirement for social support groups and business continuity plans. Full time employees can benefit greatly from social support groups and participate remotely or in-person. Business continuity plans allow owners and employees to avoid panic and have action steps in place for unforeseen events like global pandemics. Fitwel incorporates mental health support and resources into its requirements which corresponds with its paid sick leave requirements.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I am looking forward to seeing more corporations adopting the Fitwel Viral Response Module and its principles. The general peace of mind I gain by knowing a building is clean and safe to be in is invaluable. We as business owners and employees can continue to advocate for the cleanliness and operation standards that make our interior environments as safe and healthy as possible.