Alarming statistics has shown that polluted air is the leading environmental cause of premature mortality in the United States of America today. It therefore explains why ensuring quality air whether indoors or outdoors is vital to good health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) indoor air pollution is the cause of around 4.3 million deaths. "The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes," said Maria Neira, director of WHO's department for public health, environmental and social determinants of health. "Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe", she said.
In modern times, the quality of outdoor air is rapidly declining worldwide due to pollution from human activities. This fact and other factors such as poor ventilation, indoor combustion emissions, and leaks are contributing significantly to deteriorating indoor air quality. The outcome is an unpleasing mix of health symptoms that has led to reduction in work productivity and the phenomenon known as sick building syndrome (SBS).
Poor indoor air quality can lead to a host of health symptoms
According to some sources, more than 120 million workers spend an average of 8.1 hours per day indoors. The impact of workers’ health as well as business productivity and eventual success makes it easy for everyone to understand why the wellbeing of occupants in indoor spaces is getting the much-needed attention lately.
Team working indoors
Due to this there has been increased efforts including certifications and standards that are being designed with the goal of making buildings support and promote health and the wellbeing of its occupants. It has also been emphasized by Center for Disease Control (CDC) that health promotion programs aim to improve the quality of indoor air and environment will improve productivity and wellbeing of employees.
Two of such frameworks that seek to improve health and wellbeing of users of indoor spaces by promoting better indoor air quality and other health beneficial objectives are the WELL and FITWEL certifications.
So what are they?
WELL and Indoor Air Quality
The WELL Building Standard, from the International Well Buildings Institute (IWBI), was developed by Delos in 2004. It is a third party certification provided by the Green Business Certification Incorporation (GBCI). It aims to measure, certify, and monitor the features of a building that are likely to impact the health and overall wellbeing of building occupants.
The WELL standard encompasses seven health and wellness Well Building Standard. They are: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind.
These seven concepts have 100 features. Each feature has different parts based on a particular building type. For example new buildings have different parts of a feature compared to an older building, which in turn is different from interiors of a building.
Well strategies to improve air quality in a built environment include limiting pollutant and contaminant concentrations and leveraging the expertise of organizations in the industry to provide evidence based guidelines that will help enhance indoor air quality in buildings.
Here is how it works:
Users are expected to submit a range of documents that include annotated project documents, drawings, and letters of assurance from the project team.
Secondly, Performance Verification is carried out and this involves a site visit by the Well Assessor. The purpose of the visit is to inspect and perform tests to see if the air and water quality, noise, light and temperature levels, and other environmental parameters meet the required standards.
The certification and verification process consists of preconditions as well as optimizations. The preconditions are the foundation of the Well building standard. In order to achieve the certification, all preconditions must be met. Optimizations are not mandatory features but can be leveraged to achieve higher levels like Gold and Platinum.
Upon completion of Performance Verification, a Well report is issued to the project. The report provides a thorough assessment of each individual feature of the building in relation to Well’s requirements.
Silver, Gold, and Platinum are the 3 levels of Well certification scoring. To qualify for certification, third-party verification has to confirm that a building achieved the Well Building Standard.
FITWEL and Indoor Air Quality
Fitwel is a health and wellness standard for buildings that was jointly developed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the General Services Administration while the Center for Active Design is charged with its operations.
The aim of Fitwel is to help employers evaluate all the elements that go into the design of a building in an effort to create a healthy workplace.
Some of the strategies encouraged by Fitwel will limit harmful airborne pollutants from buildings, reduce workers exposure to these pollutants, and will also ensure its quick elimination. When implemented correctly, there is no doubt that it will improve IAQ of buildings.
Fitwel is a point based system and provides over 60 strategies for certification and each strategy has a set of points that go along with it. Levels are recognized via project stars — one star begins at 90 points, two stars at 108-125, and three stars at 126-144.
The following 12 areas are measured using the Fitwel scorecard:
- Location - buildings that are present in locations that are more pedestrian get more credit. The idea here is encourage walking, cycling, and the use of public transport- all are activities that are beneficial to health. This way, staff can cut cost, reduce pollution caused by automobile emission, and remain fit in the process. This is a win-win for everyone - the community, as well as the environment.
- Building Access- the emphasis here is based on multi-modal access to buildings that makes it possible for regular physical activity.
- Outdoor spaces- whether a building has an outdoor space either within the premises or located nearby is also considered. Having outdoor spaces like a walking trail or a no- smoking area will positively impact the physical and mental health of users of such building.
- Entrances and ground floors- the two considerations here is improving air quality via optimized ground floors and improving the access to health enhancing facilities like gyms .
- Vending machines and snack bars- provisions of healthy food alternatives are encouraged in buildings since eating healthy can stop, prevent, and reverse health risks.
- Health supportive workspaces- practices such as allowing natural light and great window views will help improve workers sense of pride while decreasing negative trends like absenteeism and lateness.
- Shared spaces- when building design incorporates onsite spaces like a gym or a lactation room, it can improve workers health since it allows for beneficial activities like exercising and socialization.
Other parameters include:
- Water supply- when fresh water supply is readily available, it makes it less likely for users of the building to consume unhealthy alternatives.
- Stairwells- by increasing the provision of stairwells and encouraging its use through visible markings and strategic positioning, it presents an opportunity for people who use the building to incorporate physical activity to their daily routines.
- Cafeterias and food retail- setting standards for food and beverage vendors will ensure healthy meals are readily available onsite.
- Emergency procedures- by providing tools and creating a culture of emergency preparedness in a building such as improving coordination and timeliness of emergency response, as well as increasing safety during emergency situations will go a long way in improving survivability during emergencies.
- Indoor environment- by promoting healthy indoor environment, it can improve indoor air quality. Strategies include, limiting harmful air pollutants and reducing exposure to them.
One of the biggest draw of the Fitwel certification is its simplicity. First off you’ll have to register your property on FITWEL’s Digital Scorecard. Upon registration, you’ll be expected to complete the scorecard, which will serve as a reference from which the building performance will be measured. The last step involves a verification process where users are required to submit documents via the online portal for review. Only after, will the building get a Fitwel rating and certification.
Indoor air pollution is higher than what is obtainable outside according to the EPA. And the significant amount of time we spend indoors increases the health risk associated with poor indoor air quality. This is the problem that certifications like WELL and Fitwel set to solve. Both Well and Fitwel can be used as a powerful tool for advancing the health and well-being of occupants by leveraging their framework that focuses on improving human health in buildings.