Quantifying the human benefits of green building has long been considered necessary to showing its return on investment, but in the past, such an achievement was out of reach. Now, thanks to a new report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) entitled “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Office Buildings: Measuring Impact and Sharing Best Practice,” it’s very reachable.
“In the past, people haven’t linked everyday financial metrics—such as absence rates, retention rates, and medical costs—to the office place in which they’re based,” says John Alker, director of policy and communications for the U.K. Green Building Council, which led the project. “Now they can and will channel that information into design, financing, and leasing decisions.”
The report stemmed from a 2013 WorldGBC publication entitled “The Business Case for Green Buildings,” one chapter of which highlighted some of the research demonstrating that green buildings could enhance the health, well-being, and productivity of its occupants. The chapter was so popular, Alker says, that the WorldGBC wanted to expand on it. “We couldn’t solve all of the challenges laid out in the 2013 report, but we wanted to provide a framework for doing so,” says Alker of the 2014 report, which was sponsored by Lend Lease, JLL, and Skanska and compiled with the help of 50 experts from the building industry and academia in 20 different countries.
The report is aimed at a mainstream real estate audience. “We imagine it will be read by designers, engineers, and architects, but it’s not highly technical, so the intended audience is building owners, occupiers, and their advisors,” Alker says. “We hope they will use it in their discussions with clients, colleagues, and customers.”
The report begins by analyzing the relationship between office buildings and occupant health. It also assesses the extent to which strategies for maximizing the well-being and productivity of occupants are complementary to strategies for reducing resource use. “The intention is to increase understanding in the real estate sector of both the relationship between building and user and the financial impact of that relationship,” Alker says.
The second part of the report provides strategies for measuring occupant health and translating outcomes into financial metrics. “Essentially, we provide readers with a high-level framework for making the business case for healthy building to their own organizations,” Alker says.
With major partners on the report’s steering and technical committees, its findings and recommendations could be world-changing. At a minimum, the WorldGBC hopes the report will ultimately lead to better data to inform real estate investment and design decisions, which can have huge impacts on costs.
Staff costs, including salaries and benefits, typically account for roughly 90 percent of business operating costs, the report notes, so even a modest improvement in employee health or productivity can bring a huge financial return for employers. “It’s many times larger than any other financial savings associated with an efficiently designed and operated building, and far higher even than rent,” Alker says. The report, released in September 2014, is available at worldgbc.org.