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Wellbeing, productivity and green buildings

Wellbeing productivity

6 October 2014 

Herpreet Grewal

A key report published this month by international coalition organisation the World Green Building Council assesses how the design of the workplace significantly affects the health, wellbeing and productivity of its staff.

Health, Wellbeing And Productivity In Offices: The Next Chapter For Green Building, sponsored by large support services and construction companies such as JLL, Lend Lease and Skanska, finds that a range of building design features from air quality and day-lighting to views of nature and interior layout, can affect the health, satisfaction and job performance of office workers.

Jane Henley, CEO of the World Green Building Council, said: “The evidence linking good office design and improved health, wellbeing and productivity of staff is now overwhelming. There is unquestionably a clear business case for investing in, developing and occupying healthier, greener buildings.”

The report suggests that design features commonly associated with green buildings can enable healthy and productive environments for their occupants, but acknowledges that low-carbon buildings are not automatically healthier and more productive for occupants. 

Integrating green features

Understanding the link between workers and their workplace helps to drive the business case for “higher quality, healthier and greener buildings that are valued by investors, developers and tenants alike,” argues the report.

For example, salaries and benefits typically account for 90 per cent of an organisation’s expenditure, points out the report and “any higher construction or occupation costs are far outweighed by even small improvements in staff performance”.

Despite this statistic, it “has so far failed to engender a lot of action” from businesses, the report’s authors say, “because people see the numbers but do not know what to do”.

Although the findings may not be groundbreaking and are fairly familiar to those in the facilities management industry, the report says the savings that can be made by integrating green features into their buildings would be a helpful step towards ensuring more buoyant businesses. Claudia Hamm, head of workplace strategy (EMEA) at JLL, said the report “reinforces the view that a building’s impact on its occupants must be included within financial considerations”. 

Another solution the report presents is a toolkit that businesses can use to measure the health, wellbeing and productivity of their staff and relate this back to the physical features of buildings. 

Measures in the toolkit include absenteeism, staff turnover, medical complaints and revenue – data that is already collected, but not typically available on a building-by-building basis. If absenteeism largely relates to health, and staff turnover to wellbeing, then the third metric – revenue – “most certainly falls under productivity”, says the report. 

Although this is the one measure that all companies collect it is also one that companies are least likely to consider from a building point of view, concludes the report.

The intersection of FM, human resources and finance is another overlooked area for companies when it comes to the potential to collate information and translate it into action.

The report states that the overlap of these three roles is very important “yet so few businesses take advantage of this rich space, which is a huge missed opportunity”.

As Henley says: “Many organisations are sitting on a treasure trove of information that, with a little sifting, could yield important immediate improvement strategies for their two biggest expenses – people and places.”

Comparing the metrics
By comparing the financial metrics against physical conditions (including location and amenities) and worker perceptions, organisations can begin to understand how physical factors influence the business case for better-quality buildings, adds the report.

According to Richard Francis of The Monomoy Company, who contributed to the report, the often-underused FM is “critical” in learning about how a building works and in helping businesses access information.

Francis told FM World: “No one is going to know that more than an FM and they will know about the history of the building. They will be able to provide a base layer of information about the building, providing the connection between metrics, perception and the actual building.”

As for how all this evidence will be turned in to actual practice, John Alker, director of policy and communications at the UK Green Building Council, says: “We have provided evidence on the business case and suggested some simple tools that can be used to make it real for individual organisations. 

“Ultimately, it will be end-users that drive demand for healthier buildings, and it will be up to them how they choose to engage with this agenda, but we certainly plan further activities to encourage use of the toolkit and continued sharing of information and best practice.”