Many companies and building owners and managers are skeptical about investing in green design of commercial space. It is a new concept to many; something not familiar from school. And many look at any change in terms of short-term business gains; environmental benefits are unimportant. For most businesses, personnel costs are its biggest expense. Can a “greener” office environment raise worker productivity and therefore make the firm more money? A report from the World Green Business Council (http://www.worldgbc.org/files/9714/3401/7431/WorldGBC_Health_Wellbeing__Productivity_Full_Report_Dbl_Med_Res_Feb_2015.pdf) provides widespread evidence that green office design does have a positive impact on worker productivity. And this is a key competitive business issue for most businesses.
This paper notes that for some businesses, up to 90% of their costs are involved in personnel (salaries, benefits, etc.). How can they get the most production out of this cost, whether it is better productivity and/or less absenteeism? The associated business cost of each employee with a high absentee rate and being underproductive can be $2,500 per year or more.
The report reviews peer-reviewed research and outlines a number of key areas where green features have been proven to improve occupant productivity or health:
1. Indoor Air Quality. Also known as IAQ, the concentration of solvents, particulates, and microorganisms that workers may be exposed to 40 or more hours per week has a major influence over productivity whether it be absenteeism or alertness and productivity while in the office. Studies show that improved ventilation can increase productivity by as much as 11%, making an investment in filters or better fresh air replenishment a great value. Of course, for retailers, IAQ is important to ensure that customers are relaxed and comfortable and, therefore, more willing to buy product.
2. Thermal Comfort. The thermal comfort that workers perceive affects productivity, as well. Productivity has been shown to drop 4% when workers are too cool and 6% when they are too warm. Studies have also shown that by giving office workers some control over the temperature of their workspace, some are more willing to accept a wider temperature range. However, do note that this is a difficult problem as different people in the same room may perceive the surroundings as too cold or as too warm at the same time, no matter what the thermostat is set for. What one wants to do is avoid the extremes which can distract a worker’s attention and potentially make him or her more vulnerable to infections. I came across a poorly functioning building where the office workers had to sit at their desks in their parkas or several sweaters. You can imagine the motivation to work hard and the productivity was poor. And these both were raised quickly when the HVAC was upgraded.
3. Lighting. All (indoor) workers work under artificial lights. The amount of light (lumens) is critical for a person to feel well (avoid eye strain) and to perform their jobs safely and properly. ASHRAE 90.1 and the IES publish information about minimum recommended concentrations of light per square foot (in lumens/sf) for different rooms with different functions (office, parking garage, class room, etc.). However, recent research shows that productivity is more complicated than just ensuring the right concentration of light in an area, as measured by a light meter. Research is showing that not all light is the same in terms of how they enter our eyes and stimulate the retina. The key is to maximize what scientists call visually effective lumens (VELs), based on the relative amounts of scotopic and phototopic light or S/P ratio. People appear to be more sensitive to cooler tone light (toward blue and green) rather than warmer tone light (toward yellow and red). As you change lighting to be more energy efficient, look for lights with a higher S/P ratio and those that are cooler in tone. It is worth investing in an experienced lighting professional to design the most productive light for your workers or to sell your product if you are in retail.
4. Daylighting. The report describes numerous studies stating that seeing natural light by having access to windows increases worker satisfaction and can even have health and mood benefits. This is certainly a positive contrast to earlier trends of windowless offices built with the thinking that a worker is more productive if he or she is not distracted with what goes on outside. Again, allowing sunlight in does improve productivity and mood. Similarly, the report states that workers with a view of nature from a window or those who have plants near their desks are more productive than those without a connection to nature. Some studies have shown workers can increase their time-on-task by up to 15% due to the presence of a window with a view.
5. Noise and Other Distractions. Workers exposed to distracting background noise suffer potentially large drops in productivity. Studies show an up to a 66% drop in productivity when workers are exposed to high background noise. This is particularly a growing issue as companies increase worker density to control real estate costs. The report cites research suggesting that installing physical design features affecting acoustics can be effective at reducing distractions and background noise in offices.
6. Access to Amenities. Though the report notes that not as many studies have been conducted on the matter, those that have consistently point to facility location and the presence of accessible amenities such as healthcare, shops, gyms, and particularly childcare centers as having a significant impact on occupant productivity. For example, the LEED point system for green buildings awards points for accessibility to mass transit and for having amenities, such as bike racks. One employer found that 68% of parents would have missed days of work if they were without access to an onsite childcare center.
CCES has the experts to help you improve your office, retail, or residential space to save you energy costs and improve the productivity and satisfaction of your workers. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.