How Sustainable Office Buildings are Improving Employee Health
The health and wellness of employees extend beyond creating greener, more sustainable business practices. Many of the recent advances in green building are also keeping employees healthier than ever before. Sustainable office buildings seem to be the wave of the future.
A sustainable office building tends to have more green space and materials that put off fewer emissions. More companies are going for a green building approach, with about 38 percent of offices across 30 major markets in the United States now being LEED- or ENERGY STAR-certified. Expect to see more buildings become green certified in coming years.
A greener building plan considers several factors, including the benefit of the environment as a whole, the sustainability of the structure for the local environment and the employees who work inside of it. Keeping employees happy and healthy saves a business money in the long run, because they are less likely to leave, are more productive and take fewer sick days.
Some of the ways sustainable buildings improve employee health include:
1. Improve Air Quality
Air quality impacts the health of employees in unexpected ways. If any employees suffer from asthma or breathing disorders, air quality becomes even more important to maintaining their overall health. Some of the simple ways businesses improve air quality are by adding filters, air purifiers and live plants that clean the area and add oxygen to the building.
Poor air quality causes headaches, eye irritation, lack of focus and fatigue. Getting fresh air inside is a simple way to get toxins out and improve the overall air quality in a building.
2. Encourage Productivity
Studies show that greener buildings create more productive employees. In one study, researchers looked at 10 buildings with high productivity rates in five major U.S. cities. They wanted to find out if the atmosphere at work impacted the overall well-being of employees — even when they were outside of work — and how this resulted in productivity increases.
Researchers discovered that people working in a green-certified building had a 26 percent increase in cognition and 30 percent fewer sick days. Some participants even indicated they were sleeping better after the office went green. If a green office creates more productive workers, then going green pays for itself over time.
3. Block Ultraviolet Rays
Ultraviolet rays cause damage to furnishings and photos. Too much sun exposure may lead to skin cancer one day as well. Fortunately, there are ways to block the sun’s rays and keep everyone in the building and their belongings safer. In addition, the company saves money on energy expenses as it costs less to cool the building. Office furniture will last longer if protected from the sun’s harsh rays.
Architectural film is a straightforward way to keep out about 86 percent of the sun’s heat and reduce both heating and cooling costs. It’s important to use the film strategically. For example, if you want to take advantage of south-facing windows by allowing in some natural heating and light, then you would only place the film on windows that are not south facing.
On the other hand, if those south-facing windows reside in a spot where employees try to work during the peak of the sun’s rays, then the film might be a welcome addition in that location. Figure out your building’s unique layout and factor in the needs of employees to determine the best windows for the film.
4. Participate in Building a Better World
Employees who work in green-certified buildings may seek those companies intentionally. When employees dedicate themselves to reducing their carbon footprint, they often look for a business that also makes an environmental commitment. A green business allows the employee the satisfaction of working for a company that aligns with their personal values.
An employee who feels they make an impact on the world, even in a small way such as helping with recycling at work, is happier in their career and is more likely to stay rather than leaving to work for a competitor. The cost of turnover is high for most businesses. It costs more to find and train a new employee than to retain one, so even a small change such as sharing environmental values impacts a company’s profits.
5. Keep Employees Healthier
One aspect of a sustainable building includes taking advantage of natural lighting to reduce the need for energy expenditure. Studies show that employees who receive enough natural light take 6.5 fewer sick days every year than those without healthy levels of lighting.
Something as simple as adding more light impacts the health and well-being of employees. Create areas in the building where employees gather and get a bit of fresh air and natural light.
6. Commune With Nature
Since research shows that getting fresh air and natural light keeps employees healthier, many green buildings add a rooftop garden. A garden area, rooftop or otherwise, gives employees a place to get away from the stress of the workday and take in some sun and fresh air.
Utilize a rooftop garden to grow organic vegetables and share healthy food with employees who might otherwise not buy organic produce of their own. Businesses might cook a lunch using the fresh veggies or send bundles home with employees when the yield is more than is usable at work.
Adding a rooftop garden also adds an element to a building that is unique. Not every business features a small garden area. Taking time away from a stressful environment to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet next to an outdoor pond or on a rooftop may be just what an employee needs to de-stress and face the rest of the workday.
7. Use Sustainable Building Materials
The materials used to build an office should be sustainable. A truly green building typically uses a mix of eco-friendly materials and repurposed elements, such as old doors and fixtures. If the health of employees is at the forefront of building plans, items should be low-emission and made from all-natural materials. Manmade materials release toxins in some cases, which impacts the health of employees and building visitors.
Green construction grew from a mere 296 LEED certifications in 2006 to more than 65,000 in 2017. The green building market is now an $81 billion industry, including both commercial and residential projects.
Green buildings use less material and minimize waste from the building process. LEED projects keep about 80 million tons of waste out of landfills. As a company expands, remodels or builds, businesses should see growth as an opportunity to make environmentally friendly choices.
Sustainability in the Future
Younger generations are willing to pay more for green products and seek companies that share their desire to protect the environment. Expect the green building industry to grow by leaps and bounds as people look to lower energy usage and create healthier, safer environments for workers.
Employees who feel they are part of something bigger are more likely to remain committed to long-term green efforts. Companies may even attract customers who share their sustainability values when they hear of the measures being taken to keep the business green. Implementing even small changes is a positive thing that saves a business money in the long run and keeps employees happier and healthier.
Holly Welles explores sustainability in both commercial and residential real estate. You can subscribe for weekly updates from her homeowner’s blog, The Estate Update, or find her on Twitter for her takes on industry news
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