Since healthy workplace design accreditation system Fitwel’s soft launch last week, it has attracted more than 50 applications from employers to serve as beta testers or “champions” in the program.

Fitwel, a building certification standard created with the vision for a healthier future where every building is enhanced to support the wellbeing of its occupants, was piloted last year by the U.S. Center for Disease Control. The pilot project included 90 federally controlled buildings in 34 states, analyzing how a workplace’s architecture and physical design affects employee health. Those results, interestingly enough, fell into a bell curve.

Read: U.S. employers focus on supporting staff well-being through workplace culture: survey

“A lot of the buildings were right in the middle and were at either one star [the first level of Fitwel certification] or just shy of one star,” says Joanna Frank, executive director of the Center for Active Design in New York City, which is implementing Fitwel.

“So there were a few things that they could have done to get there. And that’s kind of the point… Every business should be able to use [Fitwel] and see where they currently stand and then use it to direct future investment around their occupant health of their employees.”

While healthy design strategies are weighted differently, employers don’t have to tick off any particular strategy in order to be certified. “I’m sitting here in the middle of Union Square in Manhattan,” Frank says. “I can’t have a cafeteria in my building, nor do I need one. So it’s important, we believe, that everybody is given a roadmap as to what they can do next.”

Read: 6 tips for engaging employees in their health

The heaviest weighted strategies include having a breastfeeding room because both mother and child can benefit, interconnected staircases that are easy to access, high food standards, and good commuting options.

Businesses that just aren’t accessible by foot or bicycle should focus on what to do when employees get to work, Frank says, such as walking trails on company grounds, outdoor meeting spaces and outdoor exercise areas.

While Fitwel is an American initiative, several “champion” applications have been from international companies, and Frank anticipates the program expanding rapidly.

“…There are many things that will translate, especially to Canada, because you already have Walk Score [an app that provides walkability scores] and so on,” she says. “A lot of the measures we use are already available. But there will be some standards that will need to be converted. If it’s a [Center for Disease Control] food standard, then obviously that would need to be converted to something that is applicable to a Canadian audience.”

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Employers can access Fitwel’s strategies for free, but will have to pay a small fee for certification, which is achieved through a web-based scorecard. “We really want it to be something the facilities managers can do for themselves or [human resources] executives or someone within the company,” Frank says. “We don’t want it to be complicated to the point of needing to go hire an architect or an engineer or third party consultants.”

Ultimately, Fitwel aims to have accredited employers paying lower premiums for their employees’ health insurance. While Frank hasn’t started to discuss the idea with the insurance industry — Fitwel’s hard launch is still a year away — “that would be a great end result.”

Read: 5 steps to promoting nutrition in the workplace

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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