Green offices move a company beyond simply cutting costs by saving energy, water and carbon to creating optimum conditions for wellbeing and health.
How to do that – and have measurable effects – is a holy grail for businesses. Many studies show significant effects on the productivity of staff with the implementation of green policies.
But it is a complex task to assign and gauge effects with any degree of accuracy or certainty. However, the exhaustive World Green Building Council study, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, demonstrates how and provides the tools.
The study clearly shows effects of green office design on the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff.
As most employers understand that a healthy, happy workforce is a vital component of a productive, successful business in the long-term and that staff costs generally account for about 90% of a business’ operating costs, any impact on productivity should be a big concern.
The report says that factors ranging from air quality and lighting, to views of nature and interior layout have impacts on not only employees’ health and job satisfaction but also performance.
It highlights a number of key findings:
Indoor air quality: A comprehensive body of research suggests that better indoor air quality (low concentrations of CO2 and pollutants and high ventilation rates) can lead to productivity improvements of 8-11%.
Thermal comfort: Research demonstrates that thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction and modest degrees of personal control over thermal comfort can return single digit improvements in productivity.
Lighting and views of nature: Several studies have estimated productivity gains as a result of proximity to windows, with experts now thinking that views from windows are probably the more significant factor, particularly where the view offers a connection to nature.
Biophilia: The rise of biophilia, the suggestion that we have an instinctive bond to nature, is a growing theme in the research. A growing scientific understanding of biophilic design, and the positive impact of green space and nature on (particularly) mental health, has implications for those involved in office design and fit-out, developers and urban planners alike
Noise and acoustics: Research suggests that being productive in the modern knowledge-based office is practically impossible when noise provides an unwanted distraction. This can be a major cause of dissatisfaction amongst occupants.
Interior layout: The way the interior of an office is configured (including workstation density and configuration of work space, breakout space and social space) has been found to have an impact on concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity.
Active design and exercise: Health can be improved through exercise, and so active design within a building, and access to services and amenities such as gyms, bicycle storage and green space can help to encourage healthier lifestyles of building occupants.
It strongly emphasises that small differences in office environments can have a large effect and, crucially that what might be viewed as modest improvements in employee health or productivity can have a really big financial implication for the company.
The study admits that green building professionals and advocates have not focused more fully on the needs of building occupants with most green building rating tools measuring environmental impacts first and only later the socioeconomic measures.
Measuring the effect of changes is essential but in general is seen as a complex, if not impossible operation with too many variables.
The study clears away these obstacles with an operational toolkit that a company can harness to measure health wellbeing and productivity, using this to help guide strategic financial decisions.
The toolkit focuses on finding low-hanging fruit – data already held by businesses – and says that many organisations have a “treasure trove” of information.
It says: “With a little sifting [this] could yield immediate improvement strategies for their two biggest expenses – people and places, and the relationship between the two.”
The toolkit makes use of commonly held information, gleaning this from facilities managers, for example, who would hold much data about the office building, its physical features and perhaps outcome metrics like physical complaints.
And HR departments would often hold data on staff attitudes as well as absenteeism, medical costs, retention and so on. Along with these two, the head of finance would have detailed revenue and related financial metrics.
The toolkit groups these metrics in the following way:
Financial metrics: Absenteeism, staff turnover, revenue breakdown (by department or per building), medical costs and complaints, and physical complaints.
Perceptual metrics: Studies which test a range of self-reported attitudes into health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace can contain a wealth of information for improving office performance.
Physical metrics: Direct measures of the physical office environment, such as temperature, are key to measuring the effect on the health, wellbeing and productivity of workers. Exciting developments in this area such as portable and wearable technology are likely to substantially expand our understanding.
The report advises: “The sweet spot in this agenda is where the circles on buildings (FM), people (HR) and finance (CFO) overlap, and yet so few businesses take advantage of this rich space. This represents a huge missed opportunity.”
Wealth of insights
Analysis of these metrics should provide a wealth of insights, particularly on the most beneficial lighting, air quality and thermal comfort in offices.
What is also certain is that innovation in products and systems will be an essential part of the optimum office development, increasing wellbeing, health, productivity and energy efficiency.
The study makes a clear call for the real estate sector to embrace more fully grid decarbonisation and community-scale buildings that are low and zero carbon.
Overall, the Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices study emphasises the need to go beyond narrow focus “green” policy to a more inclusive and effective focus on the Sustainable Building.
It says: “The goal should be buildings that maximise benefits for people and leave the planet better off as well. Low carbon, resource efficient, healthy and productive – really what we are talking about is higher quality buildings.”
The report was sponsored by JLL, Lend Lease and Skanska. Download a copy of the full study: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices