Benefits of Green Buildings
Protect existing natural spaces: Green buildings tend not to be constructed on environmentally sensitive lands. If they are constructed on or near green spaces, measures are taken to limit the impact on the local ecology.
Enhance existing ecology: Green buildings often are constructed on previously developed property, with measures taken to restore plant life to building sites by decreasing the site area used for parking, or through the use of green roofs, which provide a more ecologically friendly alternative to conventional roofing systems.
Reduce water use: Water use typically results in draws of clean water from the environment and delivery of contaminated water back to the environment. Excessive water use can also act as a transport mechanism of other contaminants, such as fertilizers used in landscaping. By reducing water use, green buildings minimize the detrimental effects of water use and its effects on local ecologies, such as aquatic life.
Reduce material use and use low-impact materials: All materials carry embodied environmental effects, in that there are environmental and ecological consequences as a result of their production and use through their life cycle. Green buildings promote the use of materials with lower embodied environmental and ecological burdens. Green buildings also typically utilize fewer materials, through efficient design and elimination of unnecessary finish materials (for example, many green buildings employ exposed structural materials, rather than covering these materials with a wall finish). Lastly, green building operations promote recycling in their operation.
Reduce emissions to air: Green buildings effectively reduce air pollution through reduced energy use, the use of appropriate refrigerants, the use of materials with low off-gassing, and other steps. The reduction in use of fossil fuels at the building site result in lower air pollution contributions at the site, while reduction in electricity use results in lower air pollution associated with power plants.
Reduced Operating Costs– lower energy, water, landscaping, insurance, and waste costs.
Savings in energy costs of 20-50% are common through integrated planning, site orientation, energy-saving technologies, on-site renewable energy-producing technologies, light-reflective materials, natural daylight and ventilation, and downsized HVAC and other equipment.
Mitigated Risk- Many of the tangible benefits of green buildings reduce a variety of risks, which should be reflected in insurance rates.
For example, green buildings tend to be healthier for occupants, which should be reflected in health insurance premiums. The self-reliant nature of green buildings (natural light, off grid electricity, use of site water) should reduce a broad range of liabilities, and the general site locations should reduce risks of property loss due to natural disasters. Lastly, the integrated design of a building can reduce the risk of inappropriate systems or materials being employed, which could affect other insurable risks. For example, Fireman’s Fund Insurance offers discounts to commercial owners who rebuild damaged property using “green” building practices, which tend also to improve building safety.
Improved Employee Productivity and Satisfaction- via better occupant comfort, improved indoor air quality, natural light, and better acoustics.
A variety of studies show a positive relationship between green building elements and increased worker productivity. Since a majority of the annual employee and workplace costs is for salaries (as much as 60%), increasing worker productivity by a very small percentage or reducing absenteeism by a day or two per year, or causing people to work a few additional minutes per day, the economic productivity benefits will swamp the economic benefits associated with energy savings or reduced water use.
What is productivity? Productivity has traditionally been measured in blue-collar work, such as manufacturing, where it’s fairly easy to compare the inputs to outputs. In an office setting or non-manufacturing facility, assessing productivity is more difficult and there remains concern over a standard way to define and measure productivity, especially among white collar workers.
To date, most studies (1990’s – 2006) on human productivity and buildings have sought to determine whether there is a causal relationship between various attributes of buildings and improved health and productivity. These studies have consistently shown a positive correlation between specific green features and worker productivity. However the broad range of productivity results (i.e., 3-18% productivity gains with the introduction of daylight in the workplace) suggests that further research needs to more accurately pin-point how much these buildings enhance productivity. Finally, few studies have sought to explain why we are seeing these effects (i.e., why retail establishments with more natural daylight experience higher retail sales).
This case study examined the influence of natural lighting and windows on job performance at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). The Call Center study looked at the performance of 100 SMUD employees at a facility handling customer inquiries (shorter calls indicated better performance). The Desktop study tracked the performance of 200 office workers on short cognitive assessment tests conducted on their computers.
In the Desktop study, workers performed 10-25% better on tests when they had the best possible view to the outdoors as opposed to no view, and in the Call Center study workers handled calls 7-12% faster with the same parameters (most consistent finding among Heschong studies). Conversely, glare form windows reduced test performance by 15-21%. Positive correlations were also found between productivity and increased fresh air supply.
This case study looked at the Herman Miller SQA building in Holland, MI. The study reported significant productivity gains and satisfaction among workers in the green building (up 60%). The study suggested that contact with nature and sunlight may enhance emotional functioning (positive emotions that lead to worker satisfaction) and that green building features, such as indoor and outdoor relaxation areas with vegetation and views, are likely to enhance social interactions and a sense of belonging.
This case study of five hundred classrooms in 36 schools was studied in Fresno, California. The study failed to replicate prior findings from a Heschong study showing that students in classrooms with the most natural daylighting (from skylights) progressed 20% faster in math and 26% faster in reading that students in classrooms with the lease natural light. This study instead demonstrated that access to window views improved performance by 5-10%, and performance dropped in classrooms where teachers were unable to control glare using window blinds.
Optimized Performance Over Time– lowered life-cycle costs, and O&M costs.
Green buildings can realize significant savings during the life of a building by employing natural landscaping techniques, water-saving features, low-maintenance materials, and smart building controls.
Environmental and Community Benefits– reduced smog and urban heat island effect, conserved resources, and lowered carbon footprint.
Green buildings offer value to communities by reducing congestion and pollution from automobiles, by minimizing their carbon footprint, and by fostering stronger neighborhoods through the creation of green space and support for the local business economy.