Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green buildings: Good for people, productivity and profit

One more reason to begin standing up for a cleaner, greener environment – a working environment, that is.

Today's leading-edge green buildings are driving a radical shift in office politics.
Gone are the days of the senior management pinching the penthouse floor and hogging the best harbour views. Today, green buildings are providing truly equitable workplaces, with fresh air, natural light and views of the outdoors available to all staff regardless of their salaries.

Ask most employees for their office wish lists and onsite gymnasiums, massage therapists and child care centres will be lower down the list than fresh air, natural light, indoor comfort and collaborative spaces.

In fact, Colliers International Office Tenant Survey 2010 found that excellent indoor air quality and thermal comfort was second only to location to public transport (and above cutting edge IT and communications) in the top three office attributes for staff attraction and retention.

Office employees intuitively know that the basics of natural light and fresh air make workplaces happier, more productive places - after all, most office workers spend 90% of their waking hours indoors.

What they may not understand is how much poor indoor environment quality (IEQ) can affect their performance - and how simple solutions can have a dramatic impact on their productivity levels.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that sickness and absenteeism costs organisations an estimated $2,700 per employee each year. When indirect costs are factored in, absenteeism costs around $5m for every 1,000 employees.

At the same time, we know that good IEQ in green buildings reduces sick leave and improves worker productivity and health. The evidence-based research has found that these gains are between two and 10 per cent per worker.

The principles of green design recognise that improving IEQ can dramatically affect productivity, health and wellbeing. Green Star, Australia's environmental rating system for buildings, rewards building projects that can demonstrate high levels of IEQ - by providing more fresh air, circulating fresh air around the rooms more efficiently, ensuring daylight can reach more of the interior, and eliminating harmful chemical compounds found in paints, adhesives or carpets.

We now have more than 315 Green Star-rated buildings around Australia, with tens of thousands of people enjoying the benefits of cleaner, greener offices. After moving into their green office, the legal firm at the 5 Star Green Star-rated 500 Collins Street in Melbourne reduced staff sick leave by 39% - well below the national average. What's more, sick leave costs fell by 44%. A post-refurbishment study also found a 9% increase in typing speeds of secretaries and a 7% increase in lawyers' billings ratio, despite a 12% decline in the average monthly hours worked.

Trevor Pearcey House, the 6 Star Green Star head office of Australian Ethical Investment in Canberra, provides staff with a healthier work environment by maximising the use of natural ventilation and lighting. More than 90% of the floor space is naturally ventilated with openable windows, which also improve daylight penetration. Occupant health was also a priority in choice of materials, with paints and sealants, furniture and fittings selected for their low levels of volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. The building now ranks in the top 11% of Australian buildings for staff productivity and amenity.

Many of Australia's employers of choice are looking for green office space to attract and maintain top talent. Increasingly, Green Star-rated buildings symbolise a corporation's environmental and social performance, and can be a powerful strategic business tool.

A 2008 Deloitte survey of organisations that had undergone at least one green building retrofit in the US found that 93% of respondents found it easier to attract talent after their renovation, with 81% reporting greater employee retention. Every company surveyed reported an increase in goodwill and brand equity. Closer to home, leading corporate such as ANZ, Google and Accenture have recognised that operating from Green Star-rated facilities can not only boost performance, but also attract and retain staff.

ANZ's new global headquarters, the ANZ Centre in Melbourne, is the largest 6 Star Green Star-rated building in Australia. The new building, which houses 6,500 staff, offers fresh air, natural light and easy access to outdoor open spaces. More than 500 bike spaces have been provided, alongside yoga and Pilates classes, physiotherapy and massage at the ANZ Wellness Centre. ANZ's Green Star rating is part of its employee attraction and retention program, saying that the new headquarters "was designed and developed with great care and consideration for employees, with facilities and services available that enhance the working environment and promote health and wellbeing".

The Green Building Council of Australia's post-occupancy survey of its own 5 Star Green Star-rated office, known as The GreenHouse, found that 95% of all staff had a positive or very positive perception of their new workplace. One staff member even said that it was a "one-of-a-kind office and I feel very privileged to be able to work here. None of my previous offices have made me want to come to work".

Green buildings are more affordable than ever before. A 5 Star Green Star-rated building is now considered cost neutral when compared with its non-green counterpart, and the ongoing operational costs are significantly less. When productivity gains are factored in, it just makes good business sense to go green.

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