Zoë Glander, environmental and sustainability manager at Overbury, delves into two established wellbeing accreditations for office environments that have considerably influenced workplace refurbishments, office fit outs and employee wellbeing.

Zoë Glander

Environmental & Sustainability Manager

13th Jun 2023

4 minutes read time

The profound influence our office environment exerts on our health, wellbeing and productivity is now well understood. The emergence of remote working trends, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, higher staffing costs and more informed employees have elevated employee wellbeing to a top priority for business leaders.

Office acoustics, air and water quality, thermal comfort and biophilia remain significant factors in creating a healthy workspace, while encouraging less sedentary working habits, improving nutrition and managing stress contribute immensely to workplace wellness. Thus, when contemplating a wellbeing and sustainability certification for your office, WELL Building Standard and Fitwel continue to be the comprehensive standards to consider, with their sole focus on wellbeing.

These standards provide guidelines and certification for the establishment and upkeep of buildings that endorse wellness. Over the years, they have found wide acceptance, with thousands of projects globally adopting a new, people-oriented approach to building design and fit out.

WELL and Fitwel share the common objective of promoting wellbeing in the built environment but differ in their practical applications. WELL is more comprehensive but also more expensive and technically demanding. Fitwel, on the other hand, is more cost-effective and flexible but lacks some technical detail and independent verification.

WELL is an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and wellbeing. It scrutinises occupant wellness by focusing on seven 'concepts' — air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind — and grants certification to those that meet its strict wellness benchmarks. It continues to uphold its high standards and as a result, WELL-certified offices are still not ubiquitous in the UK or globally.

In the context of post-pandemic, the WELL Health-Safety Rating has emerged as an important standard. This rating is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all new and existing building and space types, focusing on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and into the future. It underscores the essential role buildings play in supporting people’s health and wellness and helps organisations prepare their spaces for a post-COVID reality. Overbury’s offices in Manchester were the first Well Health-Safety certified in Europe.

WELL has continued to evolve, strengthening its ties with existing green building standards, including LEED and BREEAM. This facilitates the journey for clients already pursuing an environmental certification to additionally aim for a WELL certification. Certain aspects of WELL remain technically complex, and working with a WELL-accredited professional is advisable to fully leverage the guidelines and achieve the highest accreditation.

Like WELL, Fitwel originated in the US before being released internationally. Fitwel certification appraises the health and wellness attributes of a building and provides a blueprint for landlords and property managers to prioritise and execute health-centric improvements. It assesses buildings against seven 'health impact' categories: community health, morbidity and absenteeism, social equity for vulnerable populations, feelings of wellbeing, healthy food options, occupant safety and physical activity.

Fitwel markets itself as an accessible and cost-efficient accreditation accessible via a user-friendly web portal. It uses less technical jargon than WELL, with the intent of making wellbeing more universally attainable. As of 2023, numerous projects globally have either been Fitwel certified or are under review and the growth trajectory continues upwards as it expands its offerings, including a mobile app.

Cultivating a culture of wellbeing in the workplace is an ongoing endeavour that extends beyond the physical attributes of office design; it intricately intertwines with the values, behaviours, and collective ethos of your organisation, shaping a healthier and more productive future for your employees.