Going “green” has certainly become a bit of buzzword recently. More and more research is going towards discovering the benefits of green space, green roofs, and green design. But can working in a green building make you a healthier and more productive worker?
According to the World Green Building Council (2013), research clearly shows that green design attributes of buildings and indoor environments can improve worker productivity, as well as occupant health and well-being. This is significant to businesses and employers, because close to 90% of total workplace costs are spent on worker costs such as salaries and benefits; compared to less than 10% on rent and less that 1% on energy (WGBC, 2014). That means that even marginal improvements to worker health and productivity can lead to greater financial benefits for businesses than more efficient resource use in building operations (WGBC, 2013).
But what are considered green design attributes? Perhaps the most obvious is improved indoor air quality and ventilation. A meta-analysis looking at the impacts of the built environment on productivity, health, and wellbeing found fifteen studies that linked increased outside air rates, dedicated delivery of fresh air to the workstation, and reduced levels of indoor pollutants to up to 11% increases to individual productivity in the workplace (Loftness et al., 2003). Low levels of fresh air and high levels of indoor pollutants, typical of grey infrastructure, have also been linked to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS); in which building occupants experience health effects and symptoms which lessen after leaving the building. Symptoms include headaches, eye/nose/throat irritation, dry cough, dizziness and nausea, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating (WGBC, 2013). One study demonstrated better indoor ventilation may decrease SBS symptoms by 70-85% (Apte et al., 2000).
Several studies have similarly linked daylighting and better quality lighting with up to 23% increases in individual productivity (Loftness et al., 2003). Research has also shown that windows with a view of nature can increase workplace productivity by up to 15% (Loftness et al., 2003). One study demonstrated that views of nature increased scores on mental function and memory tests by 10-25% (Heschong, 2006). The research shows that green design attributes such as improving indoor air quality and ventilation, thermal comfort, daylighting and lighting, noise/acoustics, and views of nature can all improve worker health, reduce stress and overall number of sick days, and increase individual productivity in the workplace.
Despite this evidence, resistance to incorporating improved indoor environmental quality into financial decision-making remains. This resistance may stem from the fact that worker health and productivity in the modern workplace can be difficult to measure, and has yet to be systematically translated into financial metrics. As more work is done on the costs and benefits of green design, businesses should seriously consider investing in better indoor environments in order to gain returns on their greatest assets – their employees.
Apte M., Fisk W., Daisey J. (2000). Associations Between Indoor CO2 Concentrations and Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms in US Office Buildings: An Analysis of the 1994-1996 BASE Study Data. Indoor Air.
Heschong, L. (2006). Windows and office worker performance: the SMUD call center and desktop studies. In D. Clements-Croome (ed). Creating the Productive Workplace, 2nd ed. London and New York: Taylor & Francis, pp. 277-309
Loftness V., Hartkopf V., Gurtekin B. (2003). Linking Energy to Health and Productivity in the Built Environment: Evaluating the Cost-Benefits of High Performance Building and Community Design for Sustainability, Health and Productivity. USGBC Green Build Conference, 2003.
World Green Building Council (WGBC). (2013). The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of the Costs and Benefits for Developers, Investors and Occupants. Available at: www.worldgbc.org
World Green Building Council (WGBC). (2014). Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices: The next chapter for green building. Available at: www.worldgbc.org