An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the sustainability director for Jones Lang LaSalle, Joel Quintal, said that good ventilation and natural light were factors in improved worker productivity.

Green Building and Workplace Productivity

While green buildings are often touted for their lessened impact on the environment and reduced cost over time, green and/or LEED certified buildings, designed for a high level indoor environmental quality have an added benefit: increased worker productivity.

Examples of worker productivity indicators are increases in perceived satisfaction and comfort, reduced sick days and an increase in the number of billable hours versus average time spent at work.

There are many studies that demonstrate that green buildings improve worker productivity, as proven by these indicators.

Green Buildings and Sick DaysTed-Eytan-GWU-school-ph150

In an article entitled “Building the Green Way” in the June 2006 Harvard Business Review, Charles Lockwood stated, “green design criteria – including abundant daylighting, individual climate controls, and outdoor views – raise morale and employee satisfaction, which also improves productivity”.

The Genzyme Center, which is Genzyme Corporation’s LEED Platinum headquarters, was touted as an example: When 920 employees moved from the former headquarters to the new green office space, 58% reported increased productivity. Sick time decreased by 5% compared to Genzyme’s other office spaces.

Worker Productivity After a Building Retrofit

Similarly, “Employee Productivity in a Sustainable Building”, a study commissioned in Australia by Sustainability Victoria and the Kador Group, analyzed employee productivity at Kador’s 500 Collins Street before and after the building underwent substantial green retrofits and earned a 5 Green Star Rating for Office Design.

Comparatively, employees in the new building experienced:

– 39% fewer sick days per month
– 9% improvement in secretaries’ typing speed and significant gains in typing accuracy
– 7% increase in billable hours despite 12% decline in average monthly hours worked, meaning that productivity during hours worked increased

The employees at 500 Collins Street also perceived the office to be more comfortable, reporting higher satisfaction with the new office, higher perceived fresh air and increased perception of thermal comfort and lighting quality. In fact, 40% of the employees found the new office “invigorating” compared to the old office.

Daylighting, Ventilation and Worker Productivity

In a 2003 Carnegie Mellon University study, Professor Vivian Loftness demonstrated the importance of natural light and air to worker productivity. The study showed a 3-18% gain in productivity in buildings with daylighting systems, which increase natural light. Similarly, the study showed a 0.4-7.5% gain in building environments with natural ventilation and/or access to the outdoors.

The study also showed that controllability of systems for thermal comfort and lighting was important to productivity. In buildings with individual temperature controls, there was a 0.2-3 percent increase in productivity. The study also quoted other research, which demonstrated that both underfloor and desktop user-controllable/task air systems increased individual productivity by 11%.

But Doesn’t Indoor Environmental Quality Use Energy?

There is a misconception that improving indoor environmental quality uses (more) energy, but as shown in Loftness’ study, “the goal of improving indoor environmental quality is actually proving to measurably reduce energy and other environmental costs, and to dramatically improve business performance”.

Indoor Environmental Quality and LEED

If you are interested in greening your office space to improve worker productivity, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system may serve as a useful design tool. Specifically, LEED has a credit category called “Indoor Environmental Quality” with helpful design guidelines that address indoor air quality, ventilation, low-emitting materials, controllability of lighting, thermal comfort, and daylighting and views.

As has been discussed before, there are many creative ways to increase employee productivity, from nap rooms to telecommuting.

What do you think?


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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