Does Your Building Need a Sick Day?

Drawing Courtesy of John Andrews
Drawing Courtesy of John Andrews
Green buildings use key resources like energy, water, materials and land more efficiently than buildings built simply to code. Elements like abundant natural light, non-toxic materials and better air quality contribute greatly to improved employee health, comfort and productivity. Research surrounding the relationship between employee productivity and green buildings is gathering momentum and for good cause. Most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors and often experience a concentration of indoor pollutants as much as 10 to 100 times higher than when outdoors, making it time we paid more attention to where we live and work.

Productivity is undoubtedly an important success factor for all organizations. Companies strive to improve productivity in order to stay profitable, but measuring it is a challenge. For example, how do you measure a person’s ability to add value to the firm or their contribution in the workplace? Measuring an employee’s quality of work, efficiency and output in a professional environment is not cut and dry.

Even though measuring the financial impact of healthier, more comfortable and greener buildings is difficult, attributes common in green buildings that might contribute to a more productive environment include increased energy efficiency, greater energy management and control, less-toxic building materials, effective lighting quality, enhanced ventilation and better operational performance of the heating and air conditioning systems.

Typically, studies have utilized common indirect measures for evaluating worker productivity such as: absenteeism; hours worked; tardiness; safety rule violations; number of grievances filed; and employee turnover. Researchers at the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, in cooperation with CB Richard Ellis, released a new study that surveyed 154 green buildings, containing some 2,000 tenants across the United States. Over 500 of the tenants participated in the study, making it the largest of its kind thus far.

The team surveyed tenants in either Energy Star-labeled or LEED-certified buildings (at any level) and used two measurements of productivity: sick days and self-reported productivity figures experienced after moving into a green building. Though the data is preliminary, the results show that 12 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that employees are more productive in green buildings. Another 42.5 percent of employees “agreed” employees are more productive in a green building and 45 percent noted no change in productivity.

The data translates to a 4.88 percent increase in productivity with employees taking 2.88 fewer sick days per year in the green building as compared to a non-green building. The perceived increase in productivity translates to a net impact of $20.82 per employee, based on office space of 250 square feet and using an average salary as an index.

Yet, despite the results of this survey and others, most people say they would still not pay more for a green building.

Many companies might not even realize that they are occupying an unhealthy building, since volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and allergens like mold spores are impossible to see. But these VOCs exist and come from adhesives, paints, cleaners and building materials, which give off gas long after the building is completed. These unhealthy buildings contribute to sick building syndrome (SBS), which is a combination of ailments possibly associated with up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide. Most sick building syndrome incidences are related to poor indoor air quality and symptoms experienced include irritation of the eyes, nose, throat as well as respiratory ailments and headaches.

If green buildings can be energy efficient and therefore have substantially lower operational costs, and be healthier for employees, it’s likely that many companies will begin to seriously reconsider their next office move or remodel.

Cory Vanderpool joined EnOcean Alliance as the Business Development Director for North America. Prior to this role, she was Executive Director of GreenLink Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting energy conservation in buildings and tax incentives for building owners. Before establishing GreenLink, Cory worked in business development supporting a government contracting firm focused on civilian and defense markets. In addition to her work at EnOcean, Cory is also pursuing her PhD in Environmental Policy at George Mason University and is a part-time contributing writer at Triple Pundit.

2 responses

  1. It is quite a stretch of reasoning to conclude from a survey symply asking tenents whether or not they agreed with the statementthat employes are more productive in green buildings that productivity actually increases in green buildings by 4.88% and employees take 2.88 less sick days. I would also question a survey that appears to have only a 25% response rate. I think that the verdict as to whether green buildings are any healthier than typical buildings is not in yet. There simply is not enough data on actual indoor air quality levels in green buildings for good comparison with typical buildings. Our firm has some preliminary IAQ data were we have compared a group of new LEED buildings to some older existing buildings and have found that air quality levels in the older existing buildings is better than in the LEED buildings. However we and others need much more data on the IAQ metrix to draw any substantial and significant conclusions. As for productivity that is even a much more difficult metric to measure than IAQ.

  2. thanks for bringing this up, these kinds of articles increase our environmental awareness. Our employees will definitely have a hard time working if they are facing health problems because of LEED and other harmful chemicals around them, so we need to ensure that they are safe and far from harm.

Leave a Reply