06 Sep Greener buildings, better performance
The directors at your company are considering upping their green credentials, especially those related to the building you inhabit. As an environmental manager, your job is to give things a push in the right direction by revealing just how good a green office is for its staff; and how its eco-benefits are sure to overflow into improved company output. It really is a win-win situation.
According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, office staff who are housed in well-ventilated offices seem to manifest significantly higher cognitive functioning – especially when it comes to responding to an emergency or drawing up a game plan.
For six days during this study, which was carried out by the Harvard TH Chan School for Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, participants went about their normal duties while being exposed to a range of simulated building conditions. These consisted of: (1) high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC); (2) green conditions with low VOCs; (3) green conditions with enhanced ventilation (green+); and (4) artificially elevated levels of C02. At the end of each day, cognitive testing was carried out.
Results showed that cognitive scores for participants in the green+ environments were, on average, double those of participants in the conventional environments and that the largest improvements were shown in the areas of crisis response, strategy and information usage. In addition, when researchers looked at the effect of CO2, cognitive scores were poorer in seven of the nine functions tested.
Greener buildings for improved productivity
It is interesting to look at the definition of productivity in an office environment. The Business Dictionary defines it as the degree of competence of a person in the workplace, which is crucial in determining whether that person’s cost to the company is accurate. With this in mind, the World Green Buildings Trends of Dodge Data and Analytics lists the benefits of green building as: an increase in asset value of up to 7%; an annual operational cost savings of up to 14%; and at least a 20% increase in staff productivity. When it comes to inhabitant productivity, an enhanced internal environment has been shown to raise the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants – thereby raising productivity sufficiently to cover any premium paid for a higher quality green space.
There is also the potential for greener companies to attract more highly educated young graduates, who are likely to have a heightened awareness of sustainability and health (including the drawbacks of “sick building syndrome”), and who may choose a job with a green office building in mind. Such key employees will also be easier to retain, in this preferential environment, thereby avoiding the turnover that typically costs South African companies hundreds of thousands of Rands in recruitment fees and training costs each year.
In the international arena, the World Green Building Council agrees that green building has an impact “beyond economics and the environment”. Their research, carried out under the “Better Places for People” banner, is detailed and ongoing – focusing on creating office spaces that allow for a “happier, healthier and more productive” existence. According to Christoph De Chavonnes Vrugt, social impact consultant at Terramanzi,
“While the studies mentioned above should be enough to advocate for a shift to green building interventions for your company’s office spaces, there exists many other studies and reports that further exhibit the benefits of a green building environment on the people that exist and function within those spaces. In general, people are happier when they are healthier, and happy people are more likely to be more productive and to remain loyal to their companies.”