Introduction to the Fitwel Rating System

GBES hosted a webinar called an Introduction to the Fitwel Rating System on October 12th, 2017. It features an expert guest, Giselle Seabag, Vice President of Programs at Center for Active Design. Prior to the knowledge share, I only briefly glanced at the Fitwel scorecard and read a blog about it. I’ll admit, I didn’t really ‘get it.’ Fitwel held a lot of mystery for me. Where did it come from, and why now? After listening to Giselle, I saw the heart of the rating system and heard its unique story.


Architecture + Public Health

The presentation starts with a mini history lesson. It’s a fascinating story about why the CDC would create a certification for human behavior inside buildings. Depending on your disposition, you could  view the story from two different filters. First, as an Architectural History of Public Health. Alternately, as the History of Disease from the Built Environment. This is my grossly paraphrased version.


Public Infrastructure Cures Infectious Disease

In the 1800s, public infrastructure drastically reduced rampant infectious disease. In that century, sanitation was low, pollution was high, and chronic disease was uncommon. By improving the structure and process of the built environment, public health improved. The gradual transformation encompassed delivery of drinking water, public transportation, zoning, and eventually building codes. In summary, American cities improved public health through Public Architecture.


Private Infrastructure Cures Chronic Disease

Fast forward to today. Life expectancy is decreasing for children born in this most recent generation compared to their parents. Infectious disease is no longer the biggest priority in public health. The ratio is flipped. Chronic disease is rampant because we spend most of our time being sedentary indoors. Because of that inequity, I see the current challenge is for private infrastructure to help heal chronic disease through our workplaces.


Enter Fitwel

The Fitwel rating system was created to influence deep and broad health outcomes as a direct result of interventions in the built environment. Based on decades of public health research by the CDC, the rating system was created by a group of scientists. The designers of Fitwel organized 63 public health prevention strategies into 12 sections of building scale.


Low Barriers to Entry

Fortunate for the users, the Fitwel creators intend for the rating system to be as accessible as public tap water. So they designed it with no prerequisites and only $6500 in fees. Most strategies can be documented by photo or video and do not require a third party consultant. Moreover, achieving high impacts are not always expensive.


Easy Identification of High Impacts

Similar to LEED, points are weighted towards strategies with the greatest public health impacts. My mind immediately wanted to know, ‘What is the highest earning individual strategy?’ The answer is a dedicated lactation room; worth 5.66 points. For comparison, providing a dedicated exercise room is only worth 2 points.


Synergies with Sustainability

I instantly recognized the importance of women-centric strategies as having a similar rank recognition in Paul Hawken’s latest book Drawdown.

In it, he prioritizes 100 solutions to global warming based on greatest impact of greenhouse gas avoidance or reduction. Most of us will be surprised to learn that the Women and Girls Sector appears twice in the top ten!


  • #6 Educating Girls
  • #7 Family Planning

Read my first blog on Drawdown.


Data Driven Design

The other strong linkage between the Fitwel rating system and the book, Drawdown, is that they are both products of big data. As a professional who has worked in the sustainability industry almost my whole career, it feels like we’ve arrived at a new stage of transformation. Finally after years of hoping that design interventions drive ecological and biological balance, we now have large piles of data that confirm exactly what interventions are most effective for our desired outcomes.

*The Fitwel service marks (word and logos) are owned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the United States. Participation by the Center for Active Design and/or any other organization does not imply endorsement by HHS.