Architecture : Green buildings cut costs and create healthier communities

Latest research suggests green buildings could usher in cleaner, more efficient and healthier environments.

One Carter Lane, the new offices of Cundall | Credit: Cundall

As the UK emerges from a long, cold winter and begins to warm itself in the Spring sunshine, employees across the country will be feeling grateful that the season of coughs and colds is finally behind them.

Offices can be a hotbed for germs, with winter bugs often spreading like wildfire across open plan desks and communal kitchens.

For businesses, illness is of course bad news: absent employees represent lost revenues, while under-the-weather workers spell a productivity slump and morale nosedive.

But help can come from unlikely sources.

A new report released today by the World Green Building Council (World GBC) suggests green, energy efficient buildings can play a significant role in helping to ensure healthier workplaces, and therefore better bottom lines for businesses, while also delivering significant environmental and operating cost benefits.

The paper highlights case studies of buildings around the world that have one or more green certifications such as LEED or BREAM. It found that as well as saving on energy costs, the sites’ health and wellbeing features — such as enhanced fresh air ventilation, green walls or maximum use of natural light — delivered a cut in employee absenteeism, reduced operating costs, and ensured a more productive workforce for building tenants.

For example, UK-based sustainable engineering consultancy Cundall saw absenteeism drop by more than four days per person per year — a fall of 58 per cent — when it moved into its new offices at One Carter Lane in London in December 2015.

The 1,500 square metre office, which boasts a state-of-the-art indoor air quality monitoring, is certified as BREAM Excellent and WELL Gold, and has saved the company £200,000 to date on staff sickness costs.

Similarly, paint and coating manufacturing company Sherwin-Williams recently refurbished its El Salvador offices to LEED Gold standard, with an increase in natural daylight for employees, and rollout of LED lighting and indoor air quality monitoring technology. Almost 90 per cent of the existing furniture was re-purposed into the new design to minimise the refurbishment’s carbon footprint, and employee satifsfaction with the new environment hit 90 per cent.

One year on from the move, Sherwin-Williams has seen a 44 per cent fall in sick days from workers, saving the firm £85,000 a year. Design principles from the project will now be rolled out across other sites.

“It’s clear from the quality of the case studies that there is a growing amount of evidence in the bid to build green,” said Ed Dixon, sustainability insights director at Landsec, a major property group featured in the paper. “We’re delighted to see that green buildings have a wider impact on employee satisfaction and result in happier, healthier workplaces.”

And World GBC wasn’t the only body to release research this week suggesting a shift in how we design and power our buildings could offer positive lifestyle benefits. Engineering giant Arup released new findings on Friday indicating thousands of UK households and businesses could be energy producers by 2035, thanks to the rollout of distributed energy generation technologies.

According to Arup, batteries and demand-side response services where customers are incentivised to lower or shift their electricity use will become widespread in commercial and residential properties, industrial parks, universities, and airports by 2035. It said the trend would give firms much more control over their energy bills, and even offer them the chance to make money from managing their energy use more effectively.

Meanwhile, most new domestic properties will be energy neutral by 2035, Arup said, with significant numbers boasting energy storage to allow them to be entirely self-sufficient in energy all year round.

But to help bring this vision of a cheaper, more efficient energy system to fruition, Arup said innovation in the way the current energy market is run will be essential. “The next few decades are expected to be amongst the most transformative for the energy industry and billions are being invested to ensure that it is fit for the future,” Arup’s head of energy economics Filippo Gaddo said. “For this investment to enable positive change, flexibility across energy systems and within regulation will be essential in order to achieve a sustainable, affordable, and low carbon future.”

The message that energy efficient buildings powered by green technologies can make life cheaper for occupants is starting to cut through with the British public, according to a survey released yesterday by Comparethemarket.com.

The price comparison site commissioned One Poll to question 1,000 UK homeowners and found 95 per cent have energy saving measures already installed in their homes. Some 60 per cent said their property has loft insulation, while 57 per cent reported switching old light bulbs with energy efficient alternatives, and more than half have replaced single glazed windows with double glazing.

More than three quarters of respondents said saving money was the main motivation for installing energy efficient measures, with half expressing a desire to cut their environmental impact.

Comparethemarket.com also published figures demonstrating the scale of savings on offer — switching to energy efficient lightbulbs can save the average household £231 per year, according to the firm.

Many respondents have plans to take their home improvement work further, with 16 per cent saying they plan to switch to LEDs over the next year and 10 per cent confirming plans to switch to a green energy tariff over the next 12 months. “It seems that green living is now crossing over into the home,” said Peter Earle, energy expert at Comparethemarket.com. “This is not only great for the environment but should also have a positive effect on home-owners’ finances too.”

It’s clear homeowners and businesses alike stand to save thousands of pounds on their energy bills by switching to greener technologies and upgrading their buildings’ efficiency standards. And news that a greener home or office could improve health and wellbeing standards is only likely to accelerate this trend.

The winter flu season may be safely behind us in Britain with the start of some warmer weather, but smart firms will already be considering how a facilities upgrade could help ensure a healthy future, for employees and business alike whatever the season.

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