Recently at the Climate Summit, US President Joe Biden promised to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions to at least 50 percent by 2030. Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi reiterated India’s resolve to also contribute its bit in combating climate change. The summit has brought into focus the emergent and immediate need of the world to address issues of global warming. As the world moves ahead with rapid industrialization and development, the role of sustainable or green architecture in this area takes center stage. Since people spend most of their time indoors at workplaces, building designs have to encompass a holistic approach in the construction process including materials, ventilation and air-conditioning, waste handling, synergy with the environment, etc. Therefore, going forward, building designs need to reflect sustainability and achieve resource efficiency.
The US Environmental Protection Agency defines green buildings as “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life cycle.”
This brings us to the concept of “Green Buildings” and the positive effect they can have on the health and productivity of occupants. The World Green Building Council lists certain features that make a building green. These include:
- Efficient use of energy, water, and other resources
- Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy
- Measures to reduce pollution and waste, and enable reuse and recycling
- Good indoor environmental air quality
- Use of non-toxic, sustainable, and ethical materials
- Consider environment in design, construction as well as operation
- Consider the quality of life of occupants in design, construction, and operation
- A design that allows adaptation to a changing environment
The efficient use of resources, ensuring worker health, increasing productivity, and reduction of harmful impact on the environment requires a holistic approach that takes into consideration construction materials, building architecture, and the need for sustainability.
One of the major areas of focus in workplaces these days relates to health and wellness of employees. Design of buildings incorporating green features can have a substantial effect on employee health, thereby inculcating a more productive environment. All this ultimately leads to sustainable value creation in the long run.
Green Buildings: Features and their benefits
There is suggestive evidence that “green” buildings have positive effects on the occupants as compared to conventional buildings. Thus, at workplaces, green buildings reduce sick time and improve employee well-being. A spinoff is increased productivity. Green buildings tend to focus on the basics like lighting, ventilation, biophilia, etc. Though many of these features tend to overlap and work in conjunction, the synergy has a positive impact on the inhabitants.
Some of the features of green buildings that have an effect on employee productivity:
- Improved Air Quality. Green buildings circulate fresh air inside the building through ventilation systems, reduction of pollutants, and have maintenance practices to keep these systems in proper shape. Improved ventilation leads to a substantial increase in the cognitive performance of employees.
- Lighting. Artificial light and glowing computer screens cause a disruption of our body’s processes and thus, have a detrimental effect on health. A green building’s interior has natural lighting and outdoor views. This reduces the energy needs besides enhancing user comfort. Green buildings are designed to maximize the percolation of natural light and create an ambient level of lighting for employees. Natural light has a positive quotient and creates a harmonious, productive work environment thereby boosting productivity.
- Acoustics. Green buildings use interior designs and materials to achieve noise control and speech privacy. Noises tend to cause distractions, affect short-term memory and impair concentration of the worker. Reduction of noise in workplaces, external and internal, has a major role in enhancing employee productivity, concentration, and productivity.
- Thermal Comfort. This refers to use of strategies, designs, and systems to maintain indoor temperature and humidity in an effort to ensure the comfort of employees. Green buildings use natural ventilation through wind circulation and building orientation to maintain ambient temperatures and reduce the need for air conditioning. This has a positive effect on the health and wellness of workers.
- Natural Surroundings. Green buildings establish a connection of the occupants with nature through sensory perception natural elements like water, air, light, and greenery. This helps in creating a more productive and healthy environment for employees.
- Building Aesthetics. Though perceived as superficial, a beautiful and harmonious work environment is known to benefit the mental state of employees. Thus a work environment that is well designed, has social spaces and recreational facilities for employees and is certainly helpful in boosting employee productivity.
Productivity through Well-Being
The well-being of employees is being recognized as one of the major drivers of productivity within an organization. Providing a harmonious work environment cuts down absenteeism, reduces sick downtime, and improves worker engagement. The result is a quantifiable improvement in productivity.
Green buildings are now moving beyond energy efficiency and integrating health and wellness features in an effort to focus on employee harmony and prosperity. The goal is to boost productivity, foster innovation, and reach a stage where employees are satisfied with their jobs.
Pioneering by example: Sehgal Foundation’s headquarters “Green” building
The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an important tool to raise awareness on making workplaces safe and promote worker well-being. This day is being promoted as part of the Global Strategy on Occupational Safety and Health. One of the ways this initiative is being conceived is through holistic work environments made possible by green buildings.
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), a rural development NGO, has constructed its headquarter building in Gurugram, Haryana, according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards set by the Indian Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council.
Sehgal Foundation’s green building includes features like photo-voltaic solar panels on the rooftop generating 35 kW of electricity; solar water heaters; shading devices; a rainwater harvesting storage tank of 800,000 liters; onsite recycling of gray and black water; groundwater recharging (zero runoff site); courtyards maximizing natural light and ventilation; recycled wood; various endangered plant species; use of in-situ bricks; maintenance-free exteriors; insulated walls; use of rapidly renewable rubber wood and bamboo; double-glazed glass, and a highly reflective roof finish, among others.
The founders, Dr. Suri Sehgal and Mrs. Edda Sehgal, envisioned the use of “green” design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the building to be in keeping with the organization’s mission to promote sustainable development and reduce the building’s impact of human health and the environment. Most of the technology used in the building is about common sense, and only a small part deals with sophisticated technology. With intelligent designs such as that of the Sehgal Foundation building, almost 50% of the electricity cost can be brought down.
The incorrect notion of the high cost of green buildings is a myth. Sehgal Foundation’s green building clearly shows that a sustainable project requires little or no extra expenditure and aligns with the organization’s mission to achieve positive social, economic, and environmental change.