by Richard McPartland
Employers, building owners, designers and developers throughout the world are showing that it pays to invest in greener offices that keep their occupants healthy and happy.
A World Green Building Council report - Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices - highlights the global momentum behind healthy and green office design and operation by way of 15 exemplar projects.
The report found that simple steps like improving air quality, increasing natural light and introducing greenery - those which typically have environmental benefits such as using less energy – can also have a dramatic impact on the bottom line by improving employee productivity and reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and medical costs.
- Saint-Gobain’s call centre staff at its new North American headquarters doubled their productivity after moving into the new building, with a 97% increase in sales-generated leads and 101% increase in leads per call. The building has a fitness centre, 1.3 miles of walking trails, more than 100 collaborative workspaces, and 92% of offices have outdoor views.
- Skanska cut sick days by two thirds at its office in Doncaster, UK, by making improvements to layout and noise, indoor air quality, and lighting. It helped the company save £28,000 in staff costs in 2015.
- Heerema Marine Contractors expect to realise a net present value of €42 million ($47 million) over 20 years in productivity, staff retention and reduced absenteeism, at its new office in Amsterdam, by improving air quality, increasing thermal comfort and maximising daylight.
How can you measure the health and eco credentials of your office space?
The UK-GBC report sets out an Offices Metrics Framework to assesses factors across three 'pillars'. These explore environmental credentials, take in occupants' experiences, and factor in relevant economic impacts.
- Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation – a well-ventilated office can double cognitive ability
- Thermal Comfort – staff performance can fall 6% if offices are too hot and 4% if they too cold
- Daylighting and Lighting– a study found workers in offices with windows got 46 minutes more sleep a night than workers without them
- Noise and Acoustics – noise distractions led to 66% drop in performance and concentration
- Interior Layout and Active Design – flexible working helps staff feel more in control of workload and encourages loyalty
- Biophilia and Views – processing time at one call centre improved by 7-12% when staff had a view of nature
- Look and Feel – visual appeal is a major factor in workplace satisfaction
- Location and Access to Amenities – a Dutch cycle to work scheme saved €27m in absenteeism
It is critical to not only measure the environmental features of the green building, but to measure the different physical features of the green building environment in order to determine how a green building affects its occupants.
Some of these physical features may be assessed directly, like light, acoustics, and pollutants, but some may require more subjective measures, like views or quality of amenities.
While directly or subjectively measuring the physical aspects of the building environment is important, arguably even more important is how the occupants feel and experience their workplace. After all, two people may experience 24° C and 65% relative humidity differently.
A perception survey is recommended to determine the experiential factors that are very important to the health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants of an office. Such a study considers many aspects of the occupant’s experience that are considered using a wide variety of questions, including thermal comfort, workplace satisfaction, and self-reported illness.
The first two pillars, environment and experience, affect how people work and how healthy they are in their work environment. Staff costs can typically account for 90% of the operating costs of a business, so anything affecting their productivity has a direct impact on the bottom line. Economic metrics are used to quantify that impact. These include:
- Staff turnover / Retention
- Medical Costs
- Medical Complaints
- Physical Complaints
For those looking at how to apply the framework, the UK-GBC has put together a how-to guide to assess indoor environmental quality.
Over 20 national Green Building Councils around the world are championing the cause of healthy green buildings, through certification and rating tools, research and stakeholder engagement to show how organisations all over the world are profiting from increasing the health and wellbeing of the people in their green buildings.
Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council, said: The results are clear – putting both health and wellbeing, and the environment, at the heart of buildings, is a no brainer for businesses’ employees and the bottom line.”
Beth Ambrose, Director within the Upstream Sustainability Services team at JLL, and Chair of the World-GBC Offices Working Group, said: “The business case for healthy buildings is being proven. All over the world, companies, both large and small, are redesigning their offices, changing working practices and trialing new technologies, to improve the wellbeing of their staff, tenants and customers.”