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Certified Green Buildings Linked To Healthier, Happier, More Productive Employees

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Job hunting must-haves: PTO, check. Benefits, check. Green building, check?

When it comes to employee retention, the building itself can play a huge role in enticing people to stay. Workers who spend their days in certified green buildings — such as LEED-certified buildings — are happier, healthier and more productive than employees in traditional buildings, according to a recent survey from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Nexus Design Center in Salt Lake City is LEED Platinum.
The Nexus Design Center in Salt Lake City is LEED Platinum certified.

The USGBC created the LEED ratings system as a framework to gauge healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. 

Another recent report shows that as green building grows in popularity, the savings associated with the movement continue to be a strong advantage for owners. Most LEED participants cite occupant health and happiness as one benefit, with lower operating costs as another.

Green building globally is expected to grow over the next three years and that activity is driven by client demand and environmental regulations,” USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam said. “Developers, investors and architects need to be considering how buildings and spaces are impacting the health of the people in them.

When it comes to job retention, more than 90% of workers in LEED-certified green buildings said they were satisfied with their jobs. For job seekers, LEED wins out as well: 79% of respondents stated they would take a job in a LEED-certified workplace over a non-LEED space.

Lendlease in Chicago is a LEED Silver building.
Lendlease in Chicago is a LEED Silver building.

If happiness is not enough of a motivator for LEED-certified projects, money just might be.

About two-thirds of surveyed respondents expected to see building operating costs decrease by at least 6% within the next 12 months. More than 80% cited expectations of this same rate of return within the next five years.

As the results of lowered operating costs and occupant health become more tangible, the value of the green buildings themselves increases. Owners, architects and contractors are starting to recognize that building green results in higher asset values, USGBC Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Advocacy Taryn Holowka said.

LEED buildings report almost 20% lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings, and Holowka said green building retrofit projects typically decrease operational costs by almost 10% in one year.

LEED-certified buildings consume 25% less energy and 11% less water, Holowka said.

“Overall, the efficiencies and improved quality of life for tenants is a very impressive prospect for a developer to bring to a building owner,” she said.

Certified Green Buildings Linked To Healthier, Happier, More Productive Employees
Arup's Boston office

Arup is a firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists. In 2016, it opened a Boston office that met several green building certification standards — LEED Platinum, WELL Gold and Fitwel three-star.

“One of the most dramatic impacts in our new office has been on air quality,” said Arup Associate and Sustainability Specialist Rebecca Hatchadorian, who works in the Boston office.

The company’s focus on low-emitting materials, material selection, source control, construction practices and air-quality testing in Boston made a significant improvement in positive employee feedback, with a staff survey showing 76% of employees were more satisfied with the air quality in their new building.

Sound, Light And Temperature Take Priority

“We are seeing developers increasingly embrace employee happiness as a factor driving design decisions,” said Arup Senior Consultant of Sustainability and Energy Seth Strongin, who works in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

At Arup’s new LEED office in Downtown Los Angeles, the firm plans to utilize air and sound quality components, individualized temperature controls and light shelves to diminish glare. Arup plans to move into the space in early 2019.

Sound quality in the workplace is important, Strongin said. The open-office trend has been widely criticized, with noise pollution high on the list of employee complaints.

“The open office work space model has become nearly ubiquitous,” Strongin said. “While it presents many benefits, this open concept can lead to noisy work environments that negatively affect productivity and privacy. Acoustic panels and other treatments can help mitigate those impacts.”

Arup also worked with architects to differentiate quiet zones from collaborative work areas.

Certified Green Buildings Linked To Healthier, Happier, More Productive Employees
Arup's Boston office

Too much glare or not enough sunlight can certainly have an impact on an employee’s mood, the survey showed. About 85% of the survey’s respondents said their access to quality outdoor views and natural sunlight increased overall productivity and happiness.

With an increased focus on natural lighting at the new Los Angeles office, Arup installed light shelves, which provide a reflective surface that sends light deeper into the space, while offering perimeter shading. The features increase the light within a space and minimize overexposure.

Being too hot or too cold in the workplace also can have a real-world effect on building occupants.

“Our partners are expressing more interest in designing spaces for temperature variability,” Strongin said. Thermal conditioning systems allow users to request heating or cooling, and systems using artificial intelligence learn user behaviors for specific areas within the workplace.

HDR director of sustainable development Colin Rohlfing
HDR Director of Sustainable Development Colin Rohlfing

LEED-certified buildings created with a holistic approach of both seen and unseen benefits can improve the employee experience and save developers money. HDR Director of Sustainable Development Colin Rohlfing brings a focus to human and environmental health into his work with design teams.

Both air quality and comfort are unseen features that can impact a portion of the user experience, he said.

“To work in a space that is acoustically pleasing, yet freezing cold, will still result in overall dissatisfaction and decreased productivity,” Rohlfing said. Alternatively, he said a space that is visually pleasing but with distracting sounds also makes for an uncomfortable work environment. It is important to pay attention to the entirety of the experience.

A holistic comfort strategy can reduce operational costs for the building while also increasing happiness and productivity for its users, Rohlfing said. “This holistic envelope strategy, if done properly, should have the biggest bang for the owner’s buck in a design.”

Making A Difference

The 428 building in St. Paul, MN, recently earned LEED Silver and WELL Gold certifications. I’ve attached a project sheet for it as well. The images show the building’s roof top, which houses patios and an annex of occupiable space intended for collaborative working, with floor-to-ceiling glass, that provides a biophilic connection to nature for those utilizing the space.

 

Photo credit for the project images is as follows:

Photo courtesy of HDR © 2018 Kirk Monpas
The 428 building in St. Paul, Minn., recently earned LEED Silver and WELL Gold certifications.

The USGBC survey also revealed that most office workers prefer to work for companies that are value-oriented, focused on sustainability and do their part to make a positive difference in the world.

Green building goes beyond environmental and economic benefits, it’s about creating spaces that improve health and well-being, increase worker productivity and create a sense of community,” USGBC’s Ramanujam said. Our spaces should support our needs. Developers and companies that are thinking in these terms will help improve lives across every community around the world.

The survey was conducted by Porter Novelli on behalf of USGBC and included 1,001 office workers in the U.S.