Is the business case for healthy buildings turning a new corner?
Certainly we have already passed the liability-ridden, sick building awareness stage. Building owners appreciate the lawsuits and costs that such things as Legionella, slippery floors, air pollutants and poorly lit parking lots can spawn. We have also passed the stage where supporters of green buildings are ridiculed as treehuggers; the business value of efficient and resilient buildings is generally accepted. Will there soon be broad acceptance by business of the idea that a “well” office building – one with lots of daylight, comfort and natural features – increases the productivity of occupants and thus profits?
Although research supporting the idea appears regularly, it remains tricky to quantify. The productivity of, say, manufacturing workers with sharply defined tasks seems measurable with confidence. But measuring the productivity of office workers engaged in tasks like planning and problem solving is difficult; trying to correlate their productivity with a building’s characteristics greatly increases the difficulty.
The correlation between productivity and the office building has been approached with a variety of measures, including task completion (e.g. reading speed and comprehension), impact of temperature and noise, air quality, sick days, medical claims, stress levels, alertness, sleep patterns and staff turnover. One survey by CBRE and the University of San Diego suggested that occupants of LEED or ENERGY STAR-certified buildings were 4.8% more productive. A study by Michigan State University found that groups that had moved to LEED buildings were less likely to miss work, resulting in 39 more hours worked per year per individual.
In a report published last fall, the World Green Building Council showcased projects that had taken comparatively modest steps – improving air quality, increasing natural light and introducing greenery – to enhance productivity, absenteeism, staff turnover, and health costs. To make the business case, the researchers estimated the value of the savings for each well office building over 20 years.
There is more to be done before the link between building wellness and productivity is widely accepted but I think the industry is heading in that direction. This issue of BUILDINGS gives you simple ideas on exactly these wellness topics, ones that won’t incur the expense of gutting your building and starting over. You can begin your office’s wellness initiative on page 20.