Make Work Great

Green Building Alliance was just recognized as one of Western Pennsylvania’s Best Places to Work in 2013!  We are very excited about this award, but it got us thinking… One reason GBA is such a great place to work is because it provides employees with a healthy environment.  Does your employer do that?  Consider this…

Overall, we spend 90% of our time indoors (and about 2,000 hours of that per year in our offices) where air quality can be five times worse than outdoor air quality.  So shouldn’t we make sure that all of our spaces are as healthy as they can be?

Tips for Employers

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), half of respondents said their workplace had either formal or informal environmentally responsible policies.  Such policies have a direct impact on the health of employees and GBA thinks everyone should adopt one.  What’s in it for you?  For starters, the most often cited benefit of instituting an environmentally friendly workplace policy (in the same SHRM survey) was improved employee morale.  Other positive outcomes include:

  • a stronger public image,
  • increased customer confidence,
  • a positive financial bottom line, and
  • increased employee loyalty.

Here are some ways that employers can make the workplace healthier for employees and the environment:

  • Develop a green cleaning policy:  Many people have started doing this in their homes to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals surrounding their families.  You can do the same thing to promote the health of your employees! (See examples below)
  • Choose materials wisely:  If you are building or renovating office space, consider the materials you use and how they will impact health.  Choose materials that don’t off-gas toxins and those that won’t foster mold or mildew.  Opt for low- or no- VOC paints and sealants, too. (See examples below)
  • Improve Ventilation:  Are your employees able to open their windows to let in natural air?  Can you install high efficiency filters or a system that incorporates natural ventilation?  This can have a big impact on indoor air and employee health. (See examples below)

Tips for Employees

You might think you have no control over the health of your workplace, but that’s not true!  Even if your employer doesn’t have a health- or environmentally-focused policy, here are some simple ways that you can make your office healthier:

  • Add Plants:  This is one of the easiest ways to improve the air quality of your office and it adds some beauty to your space as well!  Some plants are particularly good at filtering the air and removing toxins and they include:
    • English Ivy,
    • Spider Plant,
    • Weeping Fig, and
    • Gerbera Daisy.
  • Take Initiative: So your employer doesn’t have a policy?  You can help create one!  Gather a team of interested co-workers and talk to management about making changes such as air filters, green cleaning, increased access to sunlight, and green purchasing.

Can Going Green Improve Productivity?

Yes!  While it can be difficult to measure, studies are beginning to show that strategies used to make your office more sustainable, healthy, and high performing can improve productivity.

According to an article by the National Institute of Building Sciences, the largest cost to an employer is its people (averaging $200 per square foot per year, compared with $2 per square foot per year for energy).  And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “poor indoor air is estimated to cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and countless hours of illness and discomfort.”

One study cited a 57% reduction in absence from sickness (and a 27% ROI) in employees who had natural ventilation in their offices.  Another study showed that improved indoor environmental quality could result in an additional 38 work hours per employee per year!  Increased productivity has also been seen in schools as a result of improved indoor environmental quality.  Check out GBA’s Green Schools Academy for more information about this!



SHRM Survey Brief: Green Workplace

Best air-filtering houseplants, according to NASA (Mother Nature Network, 11/30/2012)

Productive by the WBDG Productive Committee, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences (11/15/2012)

Employee Actions for Better Business and Cleaner Air, presentation by Vivian Loftness FAIA, LEED AP (Slide 15, 12/6/2012)

Reference: Preziosi P., S. Czerniichow, P. Gehanno, and S. Hercberg (2004) Workplace air-conditioning and health services attendance among French middle-aged women: a prospective cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 33(5), pp.1120-1123.
**This was cited in Vivian’s presentation above.

Effects of Green Buildings on Employee Health and Productivity (Table 1)