The Next Phase in Green Building Is Healthier Buildings

by | Sep 21, 2016

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green buildingThe financial benefits of green building have been well established. Studies have repeatedly shown green building certification such as LEED and BREEAM lead to lower operating costs, such as reduced utility bills and lower total lifecycle costs.

Another business benefit: building owners report seeing a median increase of 7 percent in the value of their green buildings compared to traditional buildings.

So it’s not that surprising that green building is outpacing overall construction growth in the US.

But as green building increasingly becomes the norm, driven both by market demand and environmental regulations, some savvy developers and owners and looking to the next phase of green building: healthier buildings that improve employee wellness.

These buildings are better for the environment. They incorporate features like daylighting, which decreases electricity use, and zero volatile organic compound paints and glues, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They’re also better for their human inhabitants. Daylighting — using natural light and direct sunlight — improves workers’ health, happiness and productivity. And zero-VOC products means building occupants aren’t exposed to these chemicals that can irritate eyes and cause central nervous system damage.

A new report by the US Green Building Council and Dodge Data & Analytics looks at this trend towards better designed, healthier buildings that improve employee wellness. It finds healthier buildings drive business benefits for building owners, developers, managers and investors.

The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings 2016 finds that the design and construction industry in the US is moving toward wider adoption of building practices that prioritize the physical, mental and social well-being of tenants and occupants.

Constructing healthier buildings for occupants is of interest to about two-thirds of US building owners, according to the report, which also found that 79 percent believe such buildings will lead to improved employee satisfaction and engagement as evidenced by owners’ ability to increase leasing rates (73 percent) and realize higher asset values (62 percent).

USGBC chief operating officer Mahesh Ramanujam says programs like USGBC’s LEED green building rating system and the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard are better for inhabitants, the environment and also developers and owners’ bottom lines.

“The green building sector is quickly outpacing traditional construction growth in the US as building developers, owners, designers and managers recognize the value and benefits that green buildings have on the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit,” Ramanujam told Environmental Leader. “Green buildings, especially ones that are LEED-certified, are healthier, more resource efficient, save money and increase employee retention. In fact, a 2015 USGBC study found that between 2015 and 2018, LEED-certified buildings in the US are estimated to have $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.2 million in maintenance savings and $54.2 million in waste savings.”

Stephen A. Jones, Dodge Data & Analytics senior director of Industry Insights, says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“In a similar way several years ago, companies engaged in green construction because of the demonstrable business and financial benefits they were able to achieve,” Jones said in a statement. “The findings of this report demonstrate that the focus on buildings that enhance the health and well-being of their occupants is likely to follow a similar trajectory, boosted by those who have committed to sustainability in their organizations.”

The report surveyed US owners, architects, interior designers and contractors, and found that 67 percent of US building owners are interested in creating healthier buildings for people. Additionally, 64 percent of all respondents believe enhanced air quality will be the leading healthy feature deployed in buildings during the next five years. Interior designers and architects are currently leading the industry toward healthier building strategies, the report says.

The top five healthy building features in use are better lighting/daylighting exposure, products that enhance thermal comfort, spaces that enhance social interaction, enhanced air quality and products that enhance acoustical comfort.

The USGBC projects use of these features will grow considerably, along with pioneering approaches such as the use of biophilic design — this aims to connect nature and man-made environments — and the creation of spaces that enhance tenant mood and provide opportunities for physical activity.

The healthy building report follows news from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) that it will soon launch net zero building certification and training.

Net zero building generate clean energy and produce no net emissions.

Constructed objects account for 25 percent to 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. At last December’s COP21 in Paris, WorldGBC and its 74 green building councils with their 27,000 member companies committed to reduce CO2 emissions from the buildings sector by 84 gigatonnes by 2050, through net zero buildings and renovations.

The WorldGBC project has a goal that 100 percent of buildings be net zero by 2050.

As these buildings continue to show benefits including being healthier for the environment, healthier for human inhabitants and saving — and making — money for developers, facility owners and managers, we expect to see more construction industry leaders getting behind this next phase of green building.

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