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Greener Buildings, Better Places, Healthier People

Jesse Putzel Jesse Putzel 20 Sep 2013

This is the theme adopted for World Green Building Week 2013, with the aim to kick start a global discussion on how buildings can help to boost student test scores, improve productivity, accelerate patient recovery rates, and slash energy consumption, benefiting the environment and people at the same time.

The London event on Wednesday night was held at the Wellcome Trust’s headquarters, a great example of a sustainable workplace designed with occupants’ wellbeing at its heart.

Jane Henley, CEO of the World Green Building Council, outlined the importance of the subject. Building on their recent report on the business case for green buildings, the report reinforces the need for a greater focus on the wider social and economic benefits of sustainable developments. When you look at costs over the whole life of a building, 85% are associated with staff and only 1% with energy. Tackling environmental impacts is clearly important, but in economic terms, there’s a huge opportunity in focusing on how buildings can help reduce employment costs. Numerous statistics were cited on the benefits of healthier buildings, including 10% increases in typing speed, 8% decline in hospital stays and even an increase in birth rates in green hospitals.

This isn’t new…Fiona Ashtead, an expert in health and sustainability, cited the example of the ‘Port Sunlight’ development, in the Wirral, built by the Lever brothers in 1888 to accommodate workers in its soap factory (now part of Unilever). They introduced welfare schemes and provided education and entertainment for staff, investing profits back into the wellbeing of their workforce with the aim of providing “everything that makes life pleasant”… in short, buildings that make people happy. This clearly has many social and environmental benefits and can also lead to lower rates of absenteeism, retention, attraction of staff and increased productivity.

Nigel Bunclark of Network Rail outlined their aims to create a ‘great place to work’ for staff and how their new National Centre in Milton Keynes  (built by BAM last year) has already demonstrated the benefits of green building. They’re using the ‘Leesman Index’ to measure how well office environments support employees in their work environment. So far they’ve already identified significant improvements in staff sense of pride (37%), enjoyment at work (19%), sense of community (14%) and improved productivity (11%). They’ve used this experience to inform all future projects, and while capital cost will always be a concern, it’s clear they have to look beyond standard measurements such as cost/m2 to realise the true benefits of greener buildings.

       National Centre for Network Rail in Milton Keynes

The challenges are significant though. There is a lack of widespread data on how buildings perform over time and we need to translate what we can achieve with new build and refurbishments. BAM is already contributing by carrying out post occupancy evaluations and expanding our focus on soft landings. As an active UK Green Building Council Member, we plan to share our experiences from current and future projects and help to develop the tools and approaches needed to move the agenda forward.

Learn more and share your insights with the W-GBC.

Jesse Putzel is a Senior Sustainability Manager at BAM.




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