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Why we need Greener buildings for healthier workers

Employees spend a majority of their workday indoors, and providing a healthy work environment is becoming a key concern of companies

Daniel Lorenzzo

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When we think about green buildings, we are often interested in aspects like energy consumption and efficient energy usage to minimize the environmental impact.

While these are critical elements, we often overlook how green buildings also impact the health, wellbeing and productivity of their occupants.

If your workplace is in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, you will probably notice very poor management of air conditioned facilities with employees wearing a sweater of being sick.

Studies have linked air conditioning use to increased sickness in office workers and more frequent visits to ear, nose and throat specialists. 

While air conditioners cannot account for the lower humidity aspect of the cold-causing viruses, as the New York Times reports, air conditioners can dehydrate the mucous membranes of the nostrils, which could make the nose a more attractive environment for viral reproduction. So perhaps blasting your air conditioner can make your body somewhat more susceptible to infection.

Employees spend a majority of their workday indoors, and providing a healthy work environment is becoming a key concern of companies.

Staffing costs make up around 90% of operating costs[1], so a small investment in a better work environment could lead to happier, more productive employees.

In fact, a green building that is conducive to a positive occupant experience incorporates[2]:

  1. Good design (natural ventilation, daylight)
  2. Good construction (smart control systems, innovative technologies)
  3. Good behavior (adaptability and engagement with building systems)
  4. Good location (accessibility to services and amenities)

In line with JLL’s Human Experience model, which is about putting humans at the center of the workplace, the user experience is enhanced through the three pillars of engagement, empowerment and fulfillment.

We find that sustainable and biophilic design is one way to provide a sense of comfort in the work environment. For example, the provision of adjustable, desk-mounted, personalized air supply devices could improve employee health, resulting in increased motivation and better work performance.

Source: JLL Corporate Solutions Research

Source: JLL Corporate Solutions Research

Figure: Human Experience Model

Singapore is starting to take this issue seriously. A study conducted jointly by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and National University of Singapore (NUS) from January 2014 over a period of three and a half  years on indoor air quality showed that Green Mark certified buildings had lower bacteria and pollutants in the air[3].

This study also found that occupants in Green Mark certified buildings were less likely than those in non-certified buildings to experience “sick building syndrome” – when occupants feel unwell after staying inside a building for a period of time. This reduces absenteeism, staff turnover rate and medical costs.

The results of this study urged the authority in Singapore to adopt changes in policy. BCA recently announced several new initiatives under the Green Building Masterplan, including more stringent requirements for building owners to improve their indoor air quality and to adopt “smart” control systems to operate their buildings.

For example, building owners are encouraged to monitor and minimize indoor air pollutants through the use of high-efficiency filters in air distribution systems and sensors.

Looking forward, BCA will be adopting a more holistic view of green buildings: they have announced plans to work together with the Health Promotion Board to roll out a new Green Mark scheme in mid-2018 that aims to improve the health of occupants through office interior and wellness programmes.

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