Next time you look around a mid-afternoon meeting and see nothing but stifled yawns and drooping eyelids, don’t think about replacing the espresso machine—think about going green.
A new report by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) and JLL titled “Health, Well-being and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building” finds that a lack of natural light and outdoor views, air that’s stuffy, too hot or too cold and too much noise not only make employees unhappy, they also make them less productive. Converting to a green office addresses nearly all of these problems and leads to more, better work, according to the report.
“Companies are always looking at how to improve the assembly line, get faster internet, etc. But they’re missing the most important thing to focus on–their people.”
Bob Best, Executive Vice President, Energy & Sustainability Services for JLL and Co-Author of “The Green & Productive Workplace.”
The findings are especially valuable in today’s business world, where staff costs—salaries, benefits, etc.—often account for 90 percent of a company’s operating expenses. “Companies are always looking at how to improve the assembly line, get faster internet, etc. But they’re missing the most important thing to focus on—their people,” says Bob Best, Executive Vice President, Energy & Sustainability Services for JLL. “Simple office improvements can not only make the office greener and reduce energy costs, they can also make employees more productive—which can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.”
The report could also serve as a catalyst for business leaders who’ve been skeptical of the green movement. A 2013 study by Accenture found that 37 percent of CEOs who supported sustainability in principle cited a lack of a clear link to business value as the main barrier to making greater environmental progress.
But that link is becoming clearer, as the WGBC-JLL report demonstrates. Here are five ways sustainability in the workplace can create value by making employees, from the CEO to the intern, more productive:
1. Clear the air. Air quality has a big impact on how people feel and function at work. According to the report, numerous studies show that high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which are common in building materials) make employees feel tired and impede clear thinking. A 2011 study of offices with high levels of VOCs found that increasing ventilation improved workplace performance by eight percent. Air temperature makes a difference, too; employee productivity declines by four percent when the office is too cold and by six percent when it is too hot.
2. Plant some plants. New research shows that plants—real, live plants—can help lower office stress, improve cognitive function and enhance creativity. Biophilia, which is the concept that humans connect with other living things, including the leafy kind, is an emerging theory of workplace design. In addition to the benefits of seeing real plants, views of other groups or the outdoors create visual breaks for employees.
3. Let the sunshine in. In many traditional office layouts, natural light is a privilege given only to senior managers with corner offices. But research shows that natural light is not more than just a nice perk, but in fact it leads to higher-quality sleep that in turns boosts productivity.
4. Shhhh. Silence can be golden, and it can also be a fantastic productivity tool. Noise pollution is consistently reported as a major cause of workplace dissatisfaction; a 1998 study found that productivity dropped by 66 percent when distracting noise filled an office.
5. Give me some space. In a quest to cut costs, many companies have adopted open office plans, hot-desking and other new design concepts. Done well, these approaches reduce carbon footprints while providing quiet, private workspaces, meeting areas and informal social spaces. Done poorly, employees feel distracted and annoyed, and productivity suffers across the board. Make sure your open office provides privacy options and gives your team quiet places to focus.
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