Green buildings deliver better thinking and better health, study finds

Employees working in certified 'green' buildings are likely to have better cognitive abilities, fewer 'sick building' symptoms and higher sleep quality scores than those working in non-certified buildings, according to a new study conducted in the US.

The study, carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health and the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University, investigated the health effects of working in in a green building environment with enhanced ventilation, compared with a conventional building environment.

Researchers studied 109 workers at 10 different buildings in five cities across the US, and found that those working in green-certified buildings had 26% higher cognitive function test scores than those in similarly high-performing buildings that were not green-certified.

Moreover, green-certified building workers had 73% higher crisis-response scores; 44% higher applied activity levels – which reflects ability to gear decision-making towards overall goals; and 38% higher focused activity level scores – which reflects the capacity to pay attention to tasks at hand.

‘Wake-up call’

There was also an indication that the benefits of green buildings may extend beyond the workday: the employees in working green buildings also reported 30% fewer symptoms of ‘sick building syndrome’ – a condition typically marked by headaches and respiratory problems, attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in an office working environment, such as poor ventilation – and had a 6% higher sleep quality compared with those working in high-performing buildings that were not green-certified.

The study has been hailed as a “wake-up call for anyone involved in the procurement or provision of buildings” by the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC).

UK-GBC campaign and policy director John Alker said: “Not only does this report emphasise that a building’s design impacts the health and wellbeing of the people using it, it supports the business case for pursuing a green building, which can help deliver those productivity outcomes. Better for people, better for the planet – and better for the bottom line.

“Major employers in particular should take note – do you know what impact your own workplace has on your own workforce?”

Supply chain collaboration

In related news, the UK-GBC last week announced the formation of a new strategic partnership with the Supply Chain Sustainability School (SSCS) – a virtual learning environment which represents a common approach to addressing sustainability within built environment supply chains.

Together, the UK-GBC and SSCS hope to increase the number of organisations making a formal commitment to engaging with their supply chains to deliver a more sustainable built environment; and improve the sustainability skills of as people working across the construction industry.

They will do this by collaborating and sharing information that enables them to better evaluate their respective and collective impact; and jointly hosting and promoting a shared calendar of events aimed at bringing the respective membership communities together around sustainability topics of mutual shared interest.

UK-GBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said: “There is already some fantastic innovation going on in the construction sector, much of which aims to improve sustainability as well as ensuring quality. Offsite construction methods have a big role to play in this so I’m delighted that UK-GBC has entered into a strategic partnership with the SSCS, who are championing that potential, and seeking to deliver training to the whole supply chain.”

Last week, World Green Building Council chief executive Terri Wills penned an exclusive article for edie, arguing that “it is time to change our perspectives on the buildings we use every day, and start seeing them as an integral part of the solution to global warming”.

edie’s green buildings month

The month of October sees edie shift the editorial spotlight from energy efficiency to green buildings. From new-builds to retrofits; construction design to building controls, this month of exclusive content will highlight the array of options available to improve the performance of buildings.

Stay tuned for green building-focused news stories, in-depth features and a special Sustainable Business Covered podcast episode which will investigate the latest techniques, the best management systems and the different steps UK businesses can take to increase the efficiency of their building stock and drive environmental performance.

Luke Nicholls

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