Question: Brian asks: I have heard that LEED certified offices improve worker productivity and health. How do they know this? Are there any studies or surveys that support this?


Hi Brian, thanks for your question.

Many studies have shown that poor indoor air quality and comfort conditions can have negative effects on occupant health and happiness.

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that levels of indoor pollutants indoor can be up to 100 times greater than outdoor levels. Similarly, the World Health Organization reports that most of an individual’s exposure to many air pollutants comes through inhalation of indoor air. Many of these pollutants can cause health problems for occupants who suffer from asthma and/or allergies, thus contributing to extra sick days from school and work.

Sick building syndrome and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease are examples of illnesses that confirm the relationship of indoor air quality to the occupant health. Sick building syndrome is a term used to describe situations where building occupants experience negative health effects, such as fever and muscle aches, from time spent in the building.

henning-183Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal, infectious disease that normally occurs after inhaling an aerosols or fine airborne particles that contain Legionella bacteria.

Over the past twenty years, research and experience has improved our understanding of what is involved in attaining high IEQ and indoor air quality. In fact, proper manufacturing and construction practices can prevent many IEQ problems.

LEED and Indoor Air Quality

Since LEED considers occupant health and productivity a component of green building, it awards Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) credits to building projects that boost indoor air quality and comfort conditions through various design and construction strategies. These strategies include ventilation, monitoring and managing indoor pollutants, planning and managing indoor air quality during construction and prior to occupancy, and providing controllability of thermal and lighting systems to occupants.

Moreover, the WELL Building Standard is an entire rating system dedicated to indoor building occupant health and well-being. WELL marries best practices in design, construction and evidence-based medical and scientific research to support human health and well-being.

The WELL Standard echoes the intent of the LEED Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) category, but goes much further. Where the LEED EQ category addresses human health factors such as indoor air quality, access to quality light and views and individual thermal regulation controls, WELL does a “deep dive” into seven wellness categories, referred to as “Concepts.” Learn more about WELL here.

Do Green Buildings Improve Worker Productivity?

Though research has shown that poor indoor environmental indoor quality can negatively affect occupant health, many studies also document the benefits associated with enhanced day lighting, natural ventilation, and improved indoor air quality in buildings. Benefits associated with these “green” features include improved worker productivity as well as reduced absenteeism and illness.

A study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University states that “people who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores.” Similarly, a study at Herman-Miller showed up to a 7% increase in worker productivity following a move to a green, day lit facility.

Some studies have even monetized the benefits of improved IEQ in green buildings. A widely cited study by Kats (2003), examined a sample of 33 green building projects. It found that the increased worker productivity and decreased sick time in these buildings created a benefit of $37 to $55 U.S. dollars per square foot.

Additionally, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that U.S. businesses could save as much as $58 billion in lost sick time and an additional $200 billion in worker performance if improvements were made to indoor air quality.

For more examples of research about green buildings and workplace productivity, click here.


imageClaire Moloney

A recent graduate of Cornell University, where she studied Environmental Science and concentrated in Sustainable Development. Her interest in green building and LEED stems from her project-based coursework at Cornell, where she proposed design strategies for sustainable developments in Helena, MT and Ithaca, NY. Claire also exercised her passion for sustainability and energy conservation through extracurricular activities at Cornell, such as Solar Decathlon, Lights Off Cornell and Sustainability Hub. For the last three summers, she worked on energy projects at a town government, including an on-site hydrogen station and EECBG-funded activities.

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