There are a lot of things that you can do to increase employee productivity, but there’s one thing you probably haven’t considered: the physical workplace. According to a new report, creating a "green" environment isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for your company’s bottom line.

The World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) report, "Doing Right by Planet and People," demonstrates the additional benefits that green buildings can offer besides decreased energy use. These include occupant health, well-being and productivity, according to Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the WorldGBC.

Benefits of going green

According to Gamboa, these are some of the advantages of green buildings and features:

  • An increase in employee productivity.
  • A decrease in employee absenteeism.
  • An overall improvement in employee health.
  • Increased employee satisfaction with the space.

Types of changes that companies should consider implementing

You don’t need to move out of your existing structure or tear it down to the studs and start over to create a green building. You can incorporate changes in your existing building — and keep the creation of a healthier work environment in mind if you ever build a new workspace.

Gamboa recommends improvements that offer both a health and green benefit. "For example, consider creating an increase in natural light access through glazing or lightwells," she says. "Using natural light instead of artificial light reduces energy consumption, while boosting occupant mood, vitamin D supply and improving productivity."

Two other suggestions are to provide good indoor air quality and ventilation, and use natural, low-VOC materials. "These actions improve cognitive function, mood, and benefit overall health," she says.

Case studies

Implementing these features and the other key strategies recommended in the organization’s report has proven to offer tangible benefits to employee comfort, health and productivity, demonstrated by the report’s 11 global case studies.

"Our statistics show that improvements to the physical environment and occupant comfort reduce employee sickness, which results in the reduced absenteeism statistics we’ve seen," Gamboa explains.

For example, after implementing green building features at Sherwin-Williams’ Centro-America headquarters in El Salvador, the company saw a 68% reduction in reported respiratory problems and a 64% reduction in reported allergy problems from staff.

"Additionally, since moving to the new building, employee absenteeism has reduced by 44%, and Sherwin-Williams has calculated a total annual saving of $85,000 per year," Gamboa says.

At engineering-consulting firm Cundall’s U.K. office, there was a 58% reduction in absenteeism, and staff turnover reduced by 27%. Some of the other companies experiencing an increase in productivity, greater satisfaction, and/or annual energy savings include Akron (Ohio) Children’s Hospital; Plantronics in the Netherlands; and the American Society of Interior Designers in Washington, D.C.

"A more comfortable, pleasant working environment leads to higher staff productivity, particularly where indoor air quality is optimized," she explains. "Correlating with an improvement in productivity is a reduction in ‘presenteeism’ — that sensation in which one is physically at work but mentally switched off."

Other benefits

Beyond the workplace health benefits and energy savings, Gamboa says there are other advantages to green changes.

  • The positive environmental impact of introducing strategies that enhance or improve the natural environment.
  • Potential employees are interested in organizations that are sustainable and invest in their staff.
  • Great marketing and communications potential around corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Cost considerations

These recommended features can be implemented at various price points. Gamboa admits that the more "built-in" strategies — like air filtration or building fabric improvement — aren’t cheap. "However, the upfront investment in these strategies can often be offset by reduced utility bills, as well as the savings made by a healthier and more engaged staff force."

For example, as a result of Cundall U.K.’s staff absenteeism and turnover dropping significantly, she says the company experienced savings of an estimated £200,000 (approximately $243,000) per year. "Meanwhile, green improvements helped the Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio achieve over $900,000 in annual energy savings."