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Here's the proof: green builds boost performance

By 2050 nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.

This means more buildings will be needed – and buildings already consume 40 per cent of global energy.

Clearly, the future of buildings and the future of sustainability go hand in hand. So how do we accelerate energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable green building? We make it about people.

While there is great data documenting how green buildings lower energy use or save water, it has has been pretty thin about how green buildings improve health, personal performance and productivity – that is, until now.

Providing proof

A landmark study released just last year by Harvard University demonstrated in a laboratory setting that cognitive function test scores doubled for people who work in an enhanced green building setting.

But it gets better.

Last week, Dr Joseph Allen of Harvard University presented data from a new study reinforcing these findings to members of the green building community in London.

In the new COGfx Study 2 by Harvard (COGfx is shorthand for your brain’s cognitive function), employees in high-performing, green-certified real buildings showed 26 per cent higher cognitive function scores compared with those working in high-performing buildings that were not green certified.

“Data drives decisions. With this new data about the health and productivity benefits of green buildings, better decisions can be made about the infrastructure for our growing cities”

The study of 109 workers in 10 different buildings in five cities across the US saw workers in green-certified buildings score 73 per cent higher in the area of crisis response; 44 per cent higher in applied activity levels – which reflects ability to gear decision-making toward overall goals; 38 per cent higher in focused activity levels – which reflects the capacity to pay attention to tasks at hand; and 31 per cent higher in strategy.

The study also found an indication that the benefits may extend beyond the workday: the employees in working green buildings reported 30 per cent fewer symptoms of ‘sick building syndrome’ – a condition typically marked by headaches and respiratory problems, attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in an office working environment, such as poor ventilation – and had a 6 per cent higher sleep quality compared with those working in high-performing buildings that were not green-certified.

This can accelerate the green building movement by further defining the value – and need – to build sustainably.

Making decisions

Data drives decisions. With this new data about the health and productivity benefits of green buildings, better decisions can be made about the infrastructure for our growing cities. Our health, and the health of our planet, depends on it. It’s a good thing we know that sustainability works.

London already has a good track record in this regard, and was recently ranked as the third best city for green building globally by corporate strategy firm, Soldiance.

Indeed, many developers expect that more than 60 per cent of all building activity in the UK will be green by 2018 and London has set national targets that will require all homes built after this year, and all non-domestic construction from 2019, to be net-zero carbon emissions.

These developments are welcome, and that’s why Dr Allen is advocating for what he calls Buildingomics – a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment that influence the health, well-being and productivity of people who work in buildings.

The hope is that it will spark an entirely new conversation on the value of green buildings.

John M Mandyck is chief sustainability officer at United Technologies Corporation.

To read more about the Harvard COGfx studies, click here. Primary support for the study came from United Technologies and its UTC Climate, Controls & Security business

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