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A new definition of sustainability in the built environment

Integrating occupant wellbeing with resource efficiency

In recent years our firm has seen a shift where the green building industry is moving toward “human-centered design”, i.e. integrating occupant health and wellness with energy efficiency in buildings.

Rating systems such as WELL™ and FITWEL® focus on improving occupant comfort, health, and productivity through operational and design strategies. These rating systems have been developed to work in tandem with LEED® – where LEED focuses primarily on the physical building and resource use, and WELL and FITWEL focus on the health and wellness of the occupants once they are in the building.

Through the credit categories that each of the three rating systems focus on, it is evident that LEED is more focused on the design of a building in terms of resource efficiency (energy, water, materials), while WELL and FITWEL focus on the experience that an occupant has when they’re present in a building.

Location & Transportation Air (Quality) Location
Water Efficiency Water (Quality) Building Access
Energy & Atmosphere Nourishment Outdoor Spaces
Materials & Resources Light Entrances & Ground Floor
Indoor Environmental Quality Movement Stairwells
 Innovation Thermal Comfort Indoor Environments
 Regional Priority  Sound Workspaces
Materials Shared Spaces
 Mind Water Supply
Community Food Services
Vending Machines & Snack Bars
Emergency Procedures

LEED does not completely disregard occupant wellbeing, the rating system has specific credits that focus on materials and indoor environmental quality that represent potential design impacts on the wellbeing of the occupants. However, LEED does not go into detail on the experience of an individual when they’re present and working inside a building. WELL and FITWEL have additional categories that try to cover that gap by providing guidance on additional occupant wellbeing features such as the food that is provided on site, human resource policies regarding healthcare and fitness, among many others.

The following are some strategies that WELL and FITWEL utilize for improving the indoor conditions for their occupants:

  • Encouraging occupants to walk more through the design of circulation in the building
  • Promoting stairs instead of the elevators through point-of-decision education and design of stairs
  • Improving food habits by providing healthier alternatives
  • Encouraging more physical activity through fitness centers and dynamic workstations
  • Increased daylight penetration and improved views from windows
  • Facilitating access to biophilic design elements and exterior open space
  • Providing a variety of spaces within the building – breakout areas, flexible furniture, fitness centers, mother’s room, kitchen, and dining spaces, etc.

Studies have reported that only about 33% of employees in the US have indicated being engaged at work1, while 75% have indicated that stress is their largest health risk2. Per the EPA, individuals spend about 90% of their time inside a building3. These statistics make it imperative to focus on the health and wellbeing of occupants, along with the energy efficiency of these buildings.

A recent study on the Effects of Wellness Conscious Buildings on the Well-being and Comfort of Workers (Nakamura, et al., 2019)4 concluded that improving the physical environment and comfort of building occupants led to a higher satisfaction level. The article also concluded that providing different types of spaces within a building where the occupant can work and refresh are key factors to improved health and comfort for the occupant.

Owing to these wellness trends, it is no surprise that employers are increasingly understanding the importance of promoting health and wellness in the form of physical, mental, and social wellbeing of their employees. This may likely be the reason that almost half of all U.S. worksites offer some type of a wellness program5. Since occupants spend 90% of their time inside a building, it has increasingly become common practice for top companies to attract and retain talent by showcasing physical workplaces and company culture, policies, and perks emblematic of health and wellness.

So, in essence, it seems that the industry is moving toward an integration of energy efficiency and health and wellness of its occupants through pursuing rating systems like LEED and WELL or FITWEL simultaneously to get best of both the worlds.


1. Gallup. State of the American Workplace; 2017.

2. Willis Towers Watson. Employee Health and Business Success; 2016.

3. Healthy air for all people through LEED v4.1; 2019.

4. Nakamura, S., Tanabe, S.-I., Fujisawa, J., Takai, E., Tsushima, S., Ogata, M., … Ukiana, T.-O. (2019). Effects of Wellness Conscious Buildings on the Well-being and Comfort of Workers. E3S Web of Conferences111, 02047. doi: 10.1051/e3sconf/201911102047

5. CDC. CDC: Half of Workplaces Offer Health/Wellness Programs; 2019.