Green Buildings Go Beyond Environmental Conservation
Reposted with permission from constructionexec.com, April 12, 2019, all rights reserved. Copyright 2019.
Buildings use almost 40% of the total energy consumed in the United States and generate 30% of the nation’s greenhouse emissions. The high energy use and large carbon footprint of buildings have led to the development of sustainable spaces known as green buildings.
Green buildings are constructed with sustainable materials, powered by renewable resources such as solar energy and wind power, and have features such as improved air quality, better acoustic properties and biophilic spaces.
An example of a green structure is National Public Radio’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, an official LEED Gold certified space as designated by the U.S. Green Building Council. The NPR headquarters has been designed to save 35% more energy than a conventional building would in its location. The building features a green roof that is home to plants, satellite dishes and even a few beehives; energy-efficient heating; ventilation and an air conditioning system. Its green roof filters rainwater, which helps NPR manage stormwater and improve water quality.
While NPR’s green headquarters, which opened in 2013, was built with the intention of becoming an eco-friendly building, other older buildings are making small changes to go green as well. Chicago’s City Hall also boasts a green roof with a rooftop garden. Green roofs may also feature solar panels or reflective surfaces known as cool roofs, which deflect the sun’s rays away from the roof and can save energy costs in warm climates.
Chicago’s City Hall features a green roof which boosts air quality, saves energy and lessens stormwater runoff.
Chicago’s City Hall building and NPR’s eco-friendly headquarters are two examples of eco-friendly buildings that strive to reduce energy consumption and protect the environment. Everyone knows that buildings constructed according to eco-friendly specifications can reduce the use of fossil fuel-based energy and save businesses thousands of dollars in utility bills. However, what many people do not know about green buildings is that these eco-friendly structures can confer a significant psychological and emotional benefit to the people who use them as well.
GREEN BUILDINGS HAVE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS
Buildings play a large role in people’s lives. Therefore, even small changes to the building environment can make a big difference in people’s surroundings. Green buildings can help boost workplace satisfaction, improve mental health and reduce stress. The fast-paced world of news undoubtedly benefits from NPR’s decision to go green. For example, large windows let in natural light, which can serve to energize daytime news producers on the brink of yet another deadline. Natural light can also reduce the effects of seasonal depression in the colder months as well, keeping employees happier year-round.
Indeed, science corroborates the idea that green buildings make employees more productive. UCLA scientists found that buildings that are certified as green and have fair trade practices enjoy 16% more worker productivity than buildings which are not designed to be eco-friendly. Harvard researchers found that those who work in green buildings are better at decision making to help achieve workplace goals. Healthier, more productive employees are happier, more satisfied people overall—a study by the WGBC discovered employees working in a building with sustainable lighting enjoyed 23% greater happiness than people who worked in a building with non-environmentally-friendly lighting.
In addition to improving individuals’ sense of well-being, a green building enhances the sense of community workers experience and can reduce their physical health problems as well. For example, those working in green buildings reported 30% fewer symptoms such as headaches and respiratory problems, which can plague those working in non-green buildings.
THE ROLE OF CONTRACTORS
While building owners and architects are typically the people who drive innovation in sustainable design, contractors can also influence how green a project is, during construction and after the completion of the construction project.
It’s essential for contractors to clarify the sustainability goals as early as possible—in the bid phase—for the best possible implementation. Contractors who are familiar with energy conservation and efficiency can recommend energy saving designs for air conditioning and plumbing, for instance. Contractors may also wish to develop a mindset of energy efficiency and sustainability which prioritizes green, eco-friendly construction.
Green buildings can improve productivity, work output, employee mental health and workplace satisfaction. They help build community in the workplace and reduce employees’ physical health ailments in addition to the many environmental benefits they offer. To learn more about the psychological benefits, check out the infographic from BigRentz that features 15 ways green buildings promote overall wellness.