Most Workers Unimpressed With Office Sustainability, According to Study

Only a third of office workers gave the buildings they work in high marks when it comes to environmental responsibility, according to a survey of 6,486 workers nationwide by IBM.

The survey, which was conducted in 16 cities across the country, also measured the penetration of various automated or “smart” technologies in office buildings. IBM has made a major push into smart technology in the last several years with its Smarter Planet initiative. The company recently announced a partnership with Columbia University to help train students there to work in smart technologies.

Rich Lechner, vice president, Energy and Environment for IBM, noted that “even as automobiles, transportation systems, electrical grids and other modern systems are achieving greater efficiency, many office buildings remain rooted in the past.”

One cost of this lack of efficiency: time spent waiting for, and in, elevators. Thirteen percent of respondents said they had been stuck in their building elevator in the last year, and according to the survey, the cumulative time that office workers spent stuck in elevators in the past 12 months totaled 33 years across the 16 cities.

Over the same period, workers spent about 92 years waiting for elevators.

IBM builds systems to improve elevator performance, but they’re not the only company developing the technology, as our founder Nick Aster reported last week.

Some good news

The survey did have some positive findings: nearly 80 percent of respondents said they conserved resources such as water or electricity as part of their regular routine at work, and three quarters said they conserve more if they were rewarded for doing so.

Los Angeles came out ahead in the rankings, perhaps not surprising given that it has the most EnergyStar-rated buildings in the country.

The city was top-ranked in three categories: 40 percent of Angeleno office workers said their buildings automatically sense when someone is in a room and adjust lighting and temperature accordingly, 22 percent said their buildings incorporated renewable energy in their power supply, and 35 percent said their buildings use environmentally friendly products, such as low VOC paint and biodegradable cleaning materials. The national average for these categories was 27, 14 and 26 percent, respectively.

Another interesting fact: 31 percent of respondents said their buildings use low-flow toilets, which are mandated in new construction. That number may be higher, according to Terry Love, a low-flow toilet expert in Washington State. “People are using low flow and they don’t even know it,” Love said.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.