Sustainable Buildings = Healthier Occupants = Organizational Savings

Sustainability Mindset blog header with closeup of moss at right and text New Post

Investing in people could be one of the most inexpensive ways to invest in our businesses.

Imagine strolling around a local park or hiking in a wooded forest on a sunny afternoon and feel the joy and peace that nature brings you. As humans, we possess an innate desire to seek connections with nature and other forms of life, a phenomenon known as biophilia. But because in modern society people spend 90% of their time indoors, the indoor environment plays a critical role in our health and wellness. Many buildings provide substandard conditions for optimal health, with more than 50% of global office workers having no access to daylight. It seems logical for people who live and work in sustainable buildings to be healthier, happier and more productive. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of sustainable buildings to health and wellness.

The Business Case for Green Buildings

A report published by the World Green Building Council in 2014 shows that the benefits of green buildings go beyond economics and the environment. Green buildings increase productivity and creativity, and reduce the stress of people who live or work in them. Report highlights include:

  • Performance improvement: Better indoor air quality—low concentrations of carbon dioxide and pollutants, as well as high ventilation rates—can lead to performance improvements of up to 8%.
  • Cognitive improvement: Workers in green, well-ventilated offices record a 101% increase in cognitive scores (brain function).
  • Sleep gains: Employees in offices with windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night.
  • Productivity increases: Even modest degrees of personal control over thermal comfort can return single-digit improvements in productivity.

Additionally, qualitative elements such as connection to nature, noise level, interior layout, active design, look and feel, and location and access to amenities contribute to the health and wellbeing of occupants. These elements are part of the consideration of Living Building Challenge, a rigorous sustainable building certification program, developed by the International Living Future Institute to promote the creation of a regenerative built environment. 

Info graphic showing quantifiable business results in response to green buildings

Investing in People Could Be One of the Most Inexpensive Ways to Invest in Our Businesses

alt=To quantify these benefits in economic terms, here’s a simple example:

  • 25,000 square feet (SF) of office space (200 SF/person) = 125 employees
  • $90,000 average salary = $450/SF annual human capital costs
  • 8% increase in productivity = $900,000 or $36/SF annually in savings

Savings from a single-digit productivity increase is substantial compared to savings on rental or energy costs. Human capital costs, as a rule, comprise 90% of an organization’s operating expenses. Investing in sustainable workplaces—investing in the quality of life for every employee—could be one of the most inexpensive ways to invest in our businesses.

Steps for Developers, Investors, Landlords and Business Owners 

With obvious benefits of greener and healthier buildings, what could we do to capitalize on this knowledge?

  • Develop and invest in sustainable real estate. As more businesses become aware of the benefits to employees and to the bottom line, more will be willing to pay higher rent. 
  • Upgrade existing buildings to integrate sustainable features to achieve higher revenue.
  • Choose a sustainable building during your next move.

Sustainable buildings make healthier and happier employees. This could be the least expensive and most effective investment in your organization you can make.

Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices, The next chapter for green building. World Green Building Council. 2014. 

The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of the Costs and Benefits for Developers, Investors and Occupants. World Green Building Council. 2013.

Living Building Challenge. International Living Future Institute. 

The impact of green buildings on cognitive function. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Study links workplace daylight exposure to sleep, activity and quality of life. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2013.

This article was written by NAIOP Washington State and Sustainability Committee member Lanzi Li, Heartland.

Share this post: