Public Health Benefits of Green Buildings ‘Worth Billions’

Green buildings are worth billions of pounds in public health benefits, according to the latest study from Harvard University.

The team previously found green-certified buildings create energy savings of $7.5 billion (£5.3 billion) worldwide, while office workers benefit from improved productivity thanks to better air quality and effective ventilation.

According to the latest findings, the combined health and climate benefits total $6 billion (£4.2 billion). The value includes public health benefits such as a reduction in lost days of work and school, fewer hospital visits and fewer asthma attacks.

Effective HVAC design and installation prioritises air quality, helping to preserve the health of the people who occupy a building, as well as enabling them to be more productive and effective. United Technologies, which provided support for the study, suggested the green building movement may now accelerate, as landlords and businesses realise the benefits go beyond the environmental impact.

Dr Joseph Allen of Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health led the research. "The energy savings of green buildings come with a massive public health benefit through associated reductions in air pollutants emitted,” he said. “The decisions we make today with regard to buildings will determine our current and future health.”

Improved wellbeing

The HEALTHfx study builds on the university’s previous COGfx research, which showed the impact on low carbon dioxide levels and a good ventilation system in a conventional office environment. Later experiments showed green-certified buildings are responsible for a 26% increase in cognitive function tests, report 30% fewer symptoms of sick building syndrome and 6% higher sleep quality scores.

Last month, the relationship between open-plan office design and employee satisfaction was the subject of a report by Sweden’s Karlstad University. The flexibility and cost-saving potential of the open office has made it popular worldwide, but the study showed a negative impact on both wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Effective HVAC design contributes to improved wellbeing, but other factors need to be taken into account when planning a workplace. “Decision-makers should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility, and productivity,” the Karlstad University team said.

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