Take a Deep Breath
The importance of quality indoor air in relation to good health is obvious, yet many buildings still offer inadequate ventilation and contain air that's tainted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, or bacteria. As a result of daily exposure to poor air, building occupants may experience sick building syndrome with symptoms such as respiratory irritations, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, and even serious long-term health problems. Sustainable facilities address these concerns with a combination of factors that extend from the design process through ongoing operations.
Because products with VOCs emit gasses over time, sustainable facilities are designed with low-VOC materials, paints, and sealants to help safeguard air quality. Ducts can be sealed during construction to prevent the accumulation of dust in the ventilation system and trapped humidity, which may lead to mold growth. Well-designed ventilation systems are integral to a sustainable facility, as they introduce fresh air into the building and ensure even distribution to all interior spaces. Many green buildings incorporate CO2 sensors to monitor air quality. By specifying non-toxic cleaning products, green housekeeping policies help keep harmful chemicals out of the air and water systems.
Sustainable facilities incorporate these measures to create a cleaner and healthier indoor environment for occupants, which not only appeals to prospective employees interested in protecting their own well-being, but also increases a company's bottom line by reducing illness and absenteeism.
Physical comfort and psychological factors greatly influence employees' perceptions and performance in the workplace. Sustainable facilities positively impact the workplace experience and are proven to enhance productivity. Some of the features that contribute to greater workplace satisfaction include thermal comfort, natural light, and access to views.
Green buildings frequently include mechanical systems designed to give individuals personal control over the temperature in their workspace. The incorporation of daylight and access to views has a measurable affect on the human ability to function as noted by two studies from the Heschong Mahone Group Inc.
One study found that students in classrooms with the most daylighting had a learning progression that was 20 percent faster in math and 26 percent faster in reading than similar students in classrooms with the least daylighting. Since the work tasks of knowledgeable employees are similar to student work in that they include reading comprehension, synthesis of information, writing, calculations, and communications, the results of the study have relevant application for highly skilled workers.
Another Heschong study showed that office workers performed 10 to 25 percent better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they had the best possible view compared with those that had no view.
Heightened capabilities point to the fact that daylight and views pave the way for an improved experience in the workplace, which increases employee satisfaction.
The Right Fit
Resource conservation, waste reduction, and minimizing pollutants are integral components of a sustainable facility, and knowledgeable employees will be excited by the prospect of working in a facility that supports their commitment to the environment.
With natural resources becoming scarce, energy-efficient building systems and appliances as well as water-saving fixtures and techniques have taken on great importance. The fact that buildings are responsible for 48 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions means that every effort to reduce the amount of energy consumed and utilize clean, renewable power has global ramifications. Sustainable facilities often locate near public transportation, provide bike racks and showers, or create reserved parking spaces for electric, hybrid, or biodiesel vehicles so employees can minimize their use of fossil fuels. The use of recycled-content materials and operational practices that include recycling help employees keep materials kept out of the waste stream. On-site stormwater treatment lets employees know that contaminants from stormwater runoff aren't overflowing into natural waterways and seeping into the groundwater. The ability to work in facility that aligns with their own value systems instills pride in employees.
By providing sustainable facilities, building owners and corporations send the message that they take a proactive approach to employee well being and are concerned about the environment. Highly skilled workers are always in demand, and sustainable facilities offer a compelling market differentiation to help recruit and retain skilled work force talent.
Jay Coalson, LEED AP, is president of Green Building Services Inc., a Portland, Oregon-based professional consulting firm that helps clients successfully adopt green building and facility management practices. Jay can be reached at (866) 743-4277.