Why It Pays to Invest in Green Offices

by | Nov 1, 2016

economic-impact-of-healthy-buildingsGreen workplaces don’t necessarily require a massive financial investment. Employers, building owners and developers can take simple steps like improving air quality and increasing natural lighting.

Not only do these provide environmental benefits such as reduced emissions and energy use, but they can also benefit the bottom line by improving employee productivity and reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and medical costs, according to a World Green Building Council report.

Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices suggests that it pays to invest in greener offices that keep workers healthy and happy.

“This report breaks new ground by demonstrating tangible action businesses are taking to improve their workspaces,” said Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council, in a statement. “The results are clear — putting both health and wellbeing, and the environment, at the heart of buildings, is a no brainer for businesses’ employees and the bottom line.”

The report includes case studies that highlight green office designs and the business benefits that employers say they have experienced as a result of these environmental and employee health initiatives.

One example is Saint-Gobain’s new North American headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, which earned LEED Platinum certification. The campus has a fitness center, 1.3 miles of walking trails for its 800 employees, more than 100 collaborative workspaces (some of these are outdoors) and 92 percent of offices have outdoor views. Since moving in to the new headquarters, call center staff have doubled their productivity, with a 97 percent increase in sales-generated leads and 101 percent increase in leads per call (see chart).

Another company highlighted in the report is Skanska, which, after rebuilding its Northern England Hub in Doncaster, UK, saw 3.5 times fewer building-related sick days than other UK offices. This saved the company £28,000 ($34,262) in staff costs in 2015. The facility earned a BREEAM-UK Outstanding green building rating. Improvements to layout and noise, indoor air quality, and a central light well bringing more daylight into the building saw staff satisfaction with their office jump from 58 percent to 78 percent.

Genentech’s Healthy Building Journey

While it’s not featured in the World Green Building Council report, Genentech last week opened a new sustainable building as it continues making its campus healthier for the environment and employees.

In May 2015, Genentech opened Building 35, which now uses 80 percent less energy, per person, than an older building on campus, half its size. This year, B35 earned the first LEED Gold certification on the corporate campus.

The new building, B34, is working to achieve WELL Building Standard certification, which focuses on the effects of the built environment on human health and well-being.

Building 34’s construction also used recycled materials and includes a greywater treatment system so that water can be reused for toilet flushing and the rooftop garden, thus reducing freshwater use.

It also utilizes fresh air and natural daylight, which improves workers’ health, happiness and productivity. Genentech says B34 is the campus’ first building to have manually operable windows that give employees control over their own comfort while reducing energy use and providing fresh healthy air. Additionally, it was designed around a central atrium and staircase that allows a large amount of natural light to enter the building and encourages activity.

“By creating an environment that supports health and wellbeing, we believe our employees will operate at their best,” Genentech’s Carla Boragno, vice president, site services, told Environmental Leader. “This is good for our business and ultimately good for our patients.”

Healthy Is The New Green

The World Green Building Council report follows several studies that 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.

A report published in February by Dodge Data & Analytics and United Technologies Corporation found building owners report seeing a median increase of 7 percent in the value of their green buildings compared to traditional buildings.

The next phase in green building seems to be healthier buildings.

A September report by the US Green Building Council and Dodge Data & Analytics looks at this trend towards better designed, healthier buildings that improve employee wellness. 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.

The latest World Green Building Council report identifies eight key factors in creating healthier and greener offices that can positively impact the bottom line:

  1. Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation: a well-ventilated office can double cognitive ability.
  2. Thermal Comfort: staff performance can fall 6 percent if offices are too hot and 4 percent if they too cold.
  3. Daylighting and Lighting: a study found workers in offices with windows got 46 minutes more sleep a night than workers without them.
  4. Noise and Acoustics: noise distractions led to 66 percent drop in performance and concentration.
  5. Interior Layout and Active Design: flexible working helps staff feel more in control of workload and encourages loyalty.
  6. Biophilia and Views: processing time at one call center improved by 7 percent to 12 percent when staff had a view of nature.
  7. Look and Feel: visual appeal is a major factor in workplace satisfaction.
  8. Location and Access to Amenities: a Dutch bicycle to work program saved $30 million in absenteeism.

As Dr. Whitney Austin Gray from the International WELL Building Institute writes in the report: “We know that 90 percent of a company’s operating costs are staff salaries, so any improvement in human productivity can have a big impact on the return of that investment.”

In other words, buildings that are better for the environment and for their human occupants can help companies save and make money. We expect to see more employers investing in green office space as this trend increases and its financial benefits become more apparent.

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