A positive environmental vision can be an integral part of every company’s plans to build a more profitable and sustainable business, and the largest economic opportunities come from environmental improvements in the workplace. There is a large body of evidence that green buildings increase business profits by boosting employee productivity.
Good for people and good for the planet
Green building benefits like fresh indoor air quality, enjoyable natural lighting and views, and balanced thermal comfort create workplaces that attract top industry talent and these three features have been shown to provide huge increases in employee health and productivity, all while saving energy and the environment (1-6). This is our definition of a green building: Good for people and good for the planet.
In a typical corporate office 90% of costs are for employees, 9% are for overhead, and only 0.9% of costs are for energy (1). Thus, focusing environmental sustainability initiatives and building retrofit projects on improving employee productivity can deliver 100 times the financial benefits compared to saving energy alone. Here are some of the most intriguing research findings from green building features that boost employee productivity in the indoor office environment.
Indoor Air Quality
Air quality improvements can quadruple measures of high-level cognitive function and decision-making skills giving a boost in productivity worth $6500 per employee per year at a modest cost of $100 per employee per year (5,7). These findings were from results of a double-blind study of an office environment where experimenters reduced commonly found chemicals in the air and doubled fresh air ventilation (7).
Natural Lighting and Views
Providing natural daylighting as well as views to nature reduces sick leave by 15%, increases speed of work completion by 6-7%, and increases amount of time employees spend at their desk by 15%. These productivity improvements have payback periods of less than 1 year (1,2,4).
Research suggests that typical summertime indoor office temperatures are excessively cold, and designing for optimal seasonal temperatures can boost employee productivity by 10% (6,8,9).
Going forward, businesses can design and build energy systems that improve the lives of people while saving energy and the environment. When businesses take care of their people, the employees take care of the customers, and customers take care of shareholders. Sustainability is no longer only about corporate reputation and corporate social responsibility reporting (CSR) or even reducing operating costs (10); now sustainability is about business growth. There is great opportunity in being a part of the movement that will completely change the infrastructure of our built environment into a cleaner, healthier, and brighter world.
Terrapin Green (2012). The Economics of Biophilia: Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense. 40pp.
Al Horr, Y., Arif, M., Kaushik, A., Mazroei, A., Katafygiotou, M., & Elsarrag, E. (2016). Occupant productivity and office indoor environment quality: A review of the literature. Building and environment, 105, 369-389.
MacNaughton, P., Satish, U., Laurent, J. G. C., Flanigan, S., Vallarino, J., Coull, B., ... & Allen, J. G. (2017). The impact of working in a green certified building on cognitive function and health. Building and environment, 114, 178-186.
Loftness, L., Srivastava, R., & Cochran, E. (2013). CMU Building Investment Decision Support for Energy Efficient Lighting Retrofits. In EEB Hub Annual Report Subtask 6.3, Carnegie Mellon University.
MacNaughton, P., Pegues, J., Satish, U., Santanam, S., Spengler, J., & Allen, J. (2015). Economic, environmental and health implications of enhanced ventilation in office buildings. International journal of environmental research and public health, 12(11), 14709-14722.
Seppanen, O., Fisk, W. J., & Faulkner, D. (2004). Control of temperature for health and productivity inoffices. ASHRAE transactions, 111(LBNL-55448).
Allen, J. G., MacNaughton, P., Satish, U., Santanam, S., Vallarino, J., & Spengler, J. D. (2015). Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Environmental health perspectives, 124(6), 805-812.
Lang, S. S. (2005). Warm offices linked to higher productivity. Human Ecology, 32(3), 23.
Hedge, A., & Gaygen, D. E. (2010). Indoor environment conditions and computer work in an office. Hvac&R Research, 16(2), 123-138.
Bonini, S., & Görner, S. (2011). McKinsey Global Survey results: The business of sustainability. McKinsey & Company 2011.