Healthy Offices Make Healthy Employees

Posted by Andrew Price


There's already empirical evidence that views of the outdoors help hospital patients recover faster and natural light in schools raises students' test scores. Now we have more evidence that "green buildings" improve the office environment in tangible ways.

Two Michigan State University researchers just published a paper called "Effects of Green Building on Employee Health and Productivity." Here's the abstract:

We investigated the effects of improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) on perceived health and productivity in occupants who moved from conventional to green (according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings) office buildings. In 2 retrospective–prospective case studies we found that improved IEQ contributed to reductions in perceived absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, and stress and to self-reported improvements in productivity. These preliminary findings indicate that green buildings may positively affect public health.

USA Today reports that absentee hours averaged 1.12 in the conventional buildings but 0.49 in the green buildings, but neglects to mention what the time frame is (way to go, lame-stream media). It's also not clear precisely which aspects of the green buildings account for that effect. Maybe it's air quality; maybe employees just like being in them more. A skeptic might also wonder if being observed by researchers made employees less likely to report sick.

That said, we shouldn't be surprised that there are health benefits to better buildings. The real challenge is incorporating these findings into policy. It would be nice if there were additional subsidies for green building that reflected their benefits to public health and productivity.

Image: Hearst Tower, Foster + Partners