How a Sustainable Office Can Boost Staff Productivity
Eco-friendly workspaces are not only good for the environment, they’re also fantastic for staff wellbeing
Studies (see below) have shown that eco-friendly features, such as natural materials, good ventilation and thermal regulation, can improve wellbeing, reduce sickness and absenteeism, and ultimately affect productivity.
Take a look at these ideas to find out how you can create a sustainable workplace that will also help your staff.
Contributing professionals: Barbara Fischer-Clark of Stommel Haus Agency; Ann Marie Aguilar, Senior Vice President of the International WELL Building Institute; Donna Budden of Eco Design Consultants
If you’re weighing up which materials to use for your office space, timber is a great option, as it’s sustainable and has natural health-boosting properties.
Barbara Fischer-Clark explains that her firm works in an eco timber house. “The timber comes from FSC-certified forests and is untreated,” she says. “The amazing characteristics of timber, such as breathability and antibacterial properties, can benefit the people working in this environment.”
She cites a 2009 Austrian study, which found that children in a timber-clad or timber-furnished classroom had lower heart rates, were less stressed, and were more able to concentrate than those in standard classrooms.
If you can’t incorporate wood in the structure of your building, try bringing in timber elements, such as furniture, shelving and accessories.
Workers in a green, well-ventilated office space can benefit from a 101% increase in cognitive scores, according to a World Green Building Council report.
A well-ventilated office has less damp and stale air, which is particularly important to employees with allergies, according to Barbara. She recommends timber walls, as they don’t require membranes, which can stop the breathability of the material.
Consider installing a mechanical ventilation system in your office building, too, which will ensure the air is constantly being circulated.
“Poor indoor air quality can not only cause discomfort and allergic reactions, it can lead to loss of focus among employees,” Ann Marie Aguilar says.
She recommends avoiding building materials, furnishings, fabrics, cleaning products and personal care products that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Select low-emitting furniture and furnishings, or use mechanical exhausts in kitchens and bathrooms to expel toxins,” she says. “Introduce more clean (filtered, if needs be) outdoor air to dilute any remaining pollutants.”
“All the furniture and fittings in our office have been sourced second-hand, as this is in keeping with our values around reducing embodied carbon,” Donna Budden says. “It’s also a great way of improving air quality in the office, as new furniture can off-gas for years – formaldehyde, for example, will take up to two years to off-gas.”
“Leading research indicates that employees perform 6% poorer when the office is overheated and 4% poorer when the office is cold,” Ann Marie says. She adds that thermal comfort is ranked as one of the highest contributing factors influencing overall human satisfaction in buildings.
“Uncomfortable levels of heat, humidity and ventilation are associated with people’s experience of itchy eyes, headache and throat irritation,” she says.
Barbara recommends underfloor heating and highlights the benefits of a ground source heat pump. “High insulation and this latest heating technology keep the energy cost low in our offices,” she says.
“The underfloor heating is also capable of keeping the building cool,” she adds. “Instead of an air conditioning system consuming energy and causing draughts, the underfloor heating pumps cooler water through the floors, keeping the building at the same temperature, regardless of the weather.”
Windows are important in a sustainable building, as they bring in heat, light and ventilation without using energy. The light they provide also has an effect on your employees’ sleep patterns and energy levels.
“As our company is in a rental property, we’re a little limited in terms of structural alterations,” Donna says, “but when we were choosing the office, we made sure the room had plenty of natural lighting.”
“Light is the primary driver that aligns our body’s biological clock – our circadian rhythm – with the sun’s 24-hour day,” Ann Marie says. “Poor lighting that does not align with our circadian rhythm can negatively affect productivity and alertness.”
Ambient light is suitable for the evening to allow the body to prepare for rest, but in a workspace it’s important to provide energising light. Ensure there are plenty of windows in your office – triple-glazed ones are a good option for a sustainable space, as they provide better insulation.
Read more: 6 Reasons You Should Invest in Training Your Staff.
Soak up pollution, promote biodiversity and prevent the risk of flooding by ensuring there’s plenty of greenery outside your work building. Not only does green space help the environment, it also has an intrinsically positive effect on people’s wellbeing.
“The emerging field of biophilia – the idea that humans have an affinity towards the natural world – helps us to understand why access to nature and other natural elements is linked to a range of positive outcomes, such as mitigating cognitive fatigue, lowering stress and improving mood,” Ann Marie says.
“When it comes to promoting mental health,” she continues, “incorporating beauty and mindful design through views, access to nature and artwork can create a calming environment and positively impact mood.”
Donna says her firm has used a number of biophilic principles in its office. “It’s well located in a park with limited vehicle access, so there’s a buffer zone between us and transport pollution, and we have a lovely green space for a stroll,” she says. “Indoor plants have specifically been chosen for their ability to filter the air, so we have peace lilies, dragon trees and palms.”
What sustainable elements have you included in your office space? Have they had a positive impact on staff wellbeing? Share your thoughts in the Comments.