The Green Office
There are many advantages to green building and specification, in particular reducing our impact on the planet and its resources and then of course reducing energy bills. But did you know that green buildings are also good for your health?
A 2015 study by the Green Building Council (GBC) sets out the benefits of ‘low carbon, resource efficient’ office buildings to the occupiers’ health, well-being and productivity. Whilst low carbon design does not automatically lead to healthy buildings the report describes a ‘virtuous circle of good design’ where decisions which can be taken to minimize energy consumption can also lead to improved user experience, both perceptually and physically. This means better physical and mental health for those working within the building and greater productivity for the employer.
The following are key considerations when designing a work place which can lead to improved health and well-being.
- Indoor Air Quality
- Thermal Comfort
- Daylighting and lighting
- Noise and Acoustics
- Interior Layout and Active Design
- Views and Biophilia
- Look and Feel
- Active Design and Exercise
Most of the areas identified above are issues we tend to try and address through good design and more specifically through meeting high technical standards, such as those required by Passivhaus. In particular, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, daylighting and acoustics are all key considerations when designing a Passivhaus building.
So as an example, highly efficient Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) is installed as standard within Passivhaus projects in order to minimize heat loss from uncontrolled ventilation. Using MVHR improves the energy performance of the building but also improves indoor air quality by removing pollution and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – often found in paints and office furniture – and reduces CO2 levels. Not only can this lead to improved health in the long term and therefore fewer sick days, but it is believed that keeping CO2 below 1500 parts per million (outdoor air CO2 content is usually around 400ppm) actually impacts directly on people’s ability to concentrate.
One of the GBC’s recommendations which is less frequently considered is Biophilia – the idea that humans have an innate and genetically determined affinity with the natural world. We know that plants are excellent absorbers of CO2 and are also very effective at absorbing pollutants and VOCs, so have a confirmed positive impact on our physical health, but there is also a growing body of evidence which shows that being around plants has a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
According to research by Bill Browning of Terrapin Bright Green, this can be explained by the two aspects of our nervous systems; the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. The sympathetic system ‘stimulates the body when cognitive function is needed’, whilst the ‘parasympathetic serves to relax the body’. Too much sympathetic stimulation caused by chaotic environments can lead to stress, frustration and distraction. Browning’s research has shown that fractal patterns present in the natural world (such as plant leaves, shells and snowflakes) ‘positively affect human neural activity and parasympathetic systems’. In other words, plants and other natural features have a calming effect, reducing stress and irritability and increasing a person’s ability to concentrate.
In our office we have plants such as palms and lilies to help create a calm, productive environment. As the personal breathing zone is between 0.17 and 0.23 cubic meters that surround the individual we have a plant on each desk as well as by the equipment which causes some of the most gasses. We also have some reclaimed artificial grass to reinforce the biophilic benefits – interestingly the biophilic effect can also be generated using artificial plants, though they do not help with the VOCs!
The financial benefits of Green Offices to an employer are obvious as not only can introducing greenery to your office improve productivity by up to 6%, but it can also potentially reduce absenteeism. According to a study the University of Oregon up to 10% of all absences can be attributed to employee’s lack of connection to nature. However, the same principles can be applied within the home also, as the physical and mental advantages to our health are evident.
If you would like some help or designs for your green office fit-out or healthy home, come and see what we have done or give us a call.