Increased interest in health and wellness due to the pandemic has led corporate owners and tenants to drive demand for Fitwel’s healthy building certification system and Viral Response Module.
Companies including UBS Asset Management, Salesforce and Anthem have been driving demand for Fitwel certification in anticipation of the largest return to the office in history.
“At the start of the pandemic, employees were thrust into a stressful environment where they were expected to maintain the same levels of productivity while trying to avoid illness and, in many cases, stuck in total solitude,” said Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design (CfAD), in a release.
“Now, as employees prepare to return, it’s critical to their emotional and physical well-being to know that their employers have done everything possible to mitigate the risk of them getting sick, while creating an environment that is conducive to managing stress and anxiety.
“The benefit to employers is a healthier, more productive and engaged workforce.”
Tenants drive demand for Fitwel certifications
Corporate tenants represented 73 per cent of Fitwel’s users in 2020, a 22 per cent increase from 2019, making this year’s group of certificate achievers Fitwel’s largest.
A CfAD survey conducted by BentallGreenOak and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative found 95 per cent of real estate investors identified tenants as the leading stakeholder group driving demand for healthy buildings.
Corporate tenants and real estate owners can use Fitwel’s ratings and certifications to inform their investor and ESG reporting. Owners are also using siting, design and operational strategies to address chronic health conditions and improve physical, social and mental health indicators.
“At Salesforce, trust is a crucial core value,” said Amanda von Almen, head of sustainable built environment at Salesforce, in a release. “As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, we wanted to prioritize our commitment to the health and safety of our employees, customers and the wider community.
“That is why we are implementing the Fitwel VRM certification across our global offices. Based on science from the Centers for Disease Control, this standard provides third-party assurance that our spaces are designed and operated in a way that creates a safer and healthier environment while mitigating the risk of employees getting sick.”
As SustainableBiz previously reported, BentallGreenOak also recently received Fitwel Viral Response Certification for 50 of its office and retail assets in Canada. It’s the largest portfolio of commercial real estate properties in Canada to achieve the certification.
455 Market Street, a San Francisco office managed by REPM, is one of five properties owned by the business to receive Fitwel’s VRM approval. The property was first awarded the Fitwel Certification for chronic health strategies in March 2019 and obtained VRM approval in May.
“Obtaining Fitwel certification provides reassurance for our buildings’ users and investors alike,” said Darren Rabenou, head of ESG investment strategies at UBS-AM REPM, in a release.
“Achieving the Fitwel entity- and property-level viral response certification makes our clients’ investments more desirable and equips our property management teams with actionable data.”
More global partners
QuadReal Property Group’s entire Canadian office portfolio, which totals 19.3 million square feet, has achieved Fitwel VRM approval. The certification follows QuadReal becoming one of the first companies to achieve VRM certification at the entity level just one month after the VRM was introduced.
Manulife Investment Management has also obtained Fitwel VRM certification with distinction at the entity level, which furthers its commitment to sustainability efforts across its real estate portfolio.
“We’re guided by our values and commitment to support the health and well-being of employees, customers and communities,” said Regan Smith, head of real estate sustainability at Manulife Investment Management. “In tackling the challenges associated with COVID-19, we recognize the important role real estate managers can play in providing safer and healthier spaces within our buildings.”
Manulife will continue to implement its policies and procedures for safe and healthy infrastructure across its 58.5 million-square-foot North American real estate portfolio.
Two of Manulife Investment Management’s signature properties — Manulife Place in Edmonton and The Michelson in Irvine, California — have already achieved Fitwel certification.
“We’re grateful for the commitment from global partners such as Manulife Investment Management for rising to the challenge to further address building occupant health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Frank in a release.
“Setting a global standard is more necessary now than ever before, and Manulife’s rapid adoption of the Fitwel VRM highlights its leadership in aligning practical policies with evidence-based best practices to promote health.”
Fitwel was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. General Services Administration.
CfAD created the VRM in September 2020 in coordination with public health experts and real estate companies, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious respiratory diseases. The module is in use across over 100 million square feet of real estate and enables building owners, companies and commercial tenants to mitigate the transmission of viral illnesses.
The company currently has more than 6,100 global users and is represented in more than 40 countries.
CfAD is a global not-for-profit organization — designated by the federal government to be Fitwel’s licensed operator — which maintains the Fitwel standard and conducts objective third-party assessments to certify projects.
The centre’s mission is to transform design and development to support health and quality of life.