A Breath of Fresh Air
When it comes to their bottom line, businesses could do a lot worse than looking at how happy their employees are. The health and wellbeing of staff has been proven to have a significant impact on productivity and, according to the Stoddart Review, happy workers are 12% more productive. This is great for individual companies but if we look at this on a national scale, just a 1% increase in productivity would add £20bn to the UK economy. This is not something to ignore.
So how does this link to building design and sustainability you ask? Well, sustainable buildings should support and help people live better, healthier and more productive lives. And a host of research has shown that building design can affect staff wellbeing a surprising amount. A report by the Royal College of Physicians found that around 40,000 people die annually in the UK as a result of air pollution. With office workers exposed to an array of airborne pollutants such as ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens and asthmagens originating from building materials, carpets, finishes, cleaning products, office equipment and traffic, it is clear this needs to be addressed. Even exhaled carbon dioxide can be detrimental when left to amass in high concentrations.
This is backed up by a World Green Building Council report which showed that office design impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants, with a key area being good indoor air quality (IAQ). A comprehensive body of research was drawn on and suggests that productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better IAQ. This is not small stuff.
With the rising demand for energy efficient buildings in recent years, modern offices have become more airtight. However, simply increasing air-tightness reduces ventilation levels, which can have an adverse impact on IAQ. Airtight buildings can also overheat, with excessively high workplace temperatures impacting IAQ and reducing productivity. Hot rooms are linked to fatigue, irritability, and headaches and chemicals are released from building materials faster.
So what can be done to improve IAQ and so productivity and wellbeing? If undergoing an office refurbishment it is vital to review ventilation requirements to ensure current ventilation measure are fit for purpose. This is especially important if a refurbishment involves energy efficiency measures that make buildings more air tight.
The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) recently refurbished its London headquarters, with wellbeing measures an important element of the project in order to improve staff satisfaction, productivity and overall health and wellness. With the benefits of good IAQ well established, the UK-GBC office now has an innovative ventilation system, which includes Vent-Axia’s Lo-Carbon T-Series fans, delivering a massive 750% increase in background fresh air provision.
Good IAQ is essential since it is clear that a healthy, happy workforce is vital to a productive and successful business. According to the Stoddart Review, the ‘productivity gap’ is the chasm between those organisations that are taking a proactive strategic approach to the role of their physical environment and those who are not. In the highest performing Leesman Index measured workplace (a performance measure of how workplaces support the employees they accommodate), 86% of employees said that 'their workplace enables them to work productively'. In its lowest performing space, that figure stood at just 15%. Although it has often been overshadowed by concerns around outdoor air pollution, the quality of the air inside the buildings in which we spend most of our lives can no longer be a side issue.