Healthy Buildings – Just What The Doctor Ordered?

In 1860 Florence Nightingale wrote of the importance of keeping windows open to make for a healthier environment, however these days it is more likely for your Doctor to advise you to “get more sleep” than question you about the amount of daylight and fresh air you receive at the office.

People spend more than 90% of their time inside the artificial environments such as offices , so it makes sense for us to create indoor spaces we enjoy spending time in and that positively affect our health and wellbeing. Yet it is rare that we consider buildings a factor that influences our health.

A healthy building ought to work on behalf of the people working in it and allows them to operate at their highest functionality. If the building enables the people within to work in a productive, healthy space, then it creates a more efficient and positive working environment which is beneficial to both employer and employee.

There is no deep mystery about how to create healthier buildings; the major components of healthy environments have everything to do with creating space not for itself, but for the people who inhabit it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The two main influencers are thought to be improved ventilation and better lighting, however Angela Loder, a professor at the University of Denver and researcher in health, buildings and urban nature, adds to this by suggesting that research “has the potential to dramatically improve” the way buildings affect people.

Loder believes that there are three key branches of research in the field of healthy buildings:

  • Materials and Ventilation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   It is well known that hazardous substances used in building can lead to a rise in asthma cases. But generally, using cheaper and low quality building materials can have negative implications for everyone as they can impair “the ability to make complicated decisions, to focus, and to problem solve.”
  • Access to Nature                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Loder belies that by increasing access to views of nature and the great outdoors one can benefit from improved mood and increased productivity. “Recent trends in green building and landscape architecture are incorporating nature into buildings, seen in green roofs, green walls, and prioritizing views of nature,” Loder suggests. “For example, in my own research I found that viewing a green roof from the workplace led to 50% better concentration and feelings of calm wellbeing, better problem-solving, and a sense of hope.”
  • Amount of Natural Light                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Increasing the amount of natural light into a building was once considered a ‘soft’ benefit for employees but it is now thought to dramatically improve the wellbeing of a building’s inhabitants. In schools, more robust natural light is believed to have shown improved test scores and reduced student absence.

So, creating a healthy building and working environment answer the prayers of businesses wanting to increase or appease employee satisfaction, but does it make good business sense? Salaries and benefits can make up to 85% of total workplace costs making employee satisfaction vital for any business. It has been suggested that recruitment and retention of employees is higher for companies that invest in indoor environmental quality which can result in significant cost savings such as a reduction in absences due to illness.

Considering that the average payback period of initial investment into creating healthy work environments is only two years, it would seem that providing a healthy building in which employees will operate should be an easy decision for any employer to make.

After all, surely no company would want to have a beautiful building that contains miserable employees.

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