Going green is not just for the home. Office buildings account for 19% of all commercial energy consumption, more than any other type of building. So the environmental reasons for going green in the office are crystal clear. But evidence suggests that a green office does not only reward the environment – it actually rewards those working in it.
A recent study examined 12 office buildings and their employees in England and India. The study found no correlation between satisfaction at work and high energy consumption. In both countries, buildings that combined air conditioning with natural ventilation reported higher employee satisfaction. Seasonal illnesses (i.e. colds, allergies, etc.) were lowest in naturally ventilated office buildings. Environmentally speaking, ventilated buildings create 50% fewer emissions than those that are centrally air conditioned.
Creating a Green Office
A green and happy office begins with nature. Natural lighting and natural ventilation save energy and create a more breathable work environment, be it at home or in a commercial building. Take the rapid rise to prominence of LEED certified commercial buildings as evidence of the economic benefits of the green office. But it goes beyond economics to benefit environment and employees as well.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 88% of energy expenditures in office buildings are for electricity. Office equipment and lighting account for nearly half of the energy used. So, finding a method to save on electricity costs is another big way to save money and green an office. Natural lighting is, of course, one way to save, and new ideas are in the works. Researchers in Canada have developed a unique passive solar lighting system that may soon revolutionize office building design.
More efficient office equipment and energy conservation techniques are other steps. Energy Star estimates that if every piece of office equipment purchased this year were Energy Star qualified, Americans would save $200 million in energy costs. Such devices typically have automatic standby modes and other programs that prevent them from sapping energy when not in use.
With 88% of costs going to electricity, solar power is an obvious and vital factor in greening the office and saving cash for any employer. Solar is expensive up-front, yes, but for heavy energy consumers like office buildings, they are the most cost-effective. In general, the more energy you consume, the faster the return on your solar investment.
Working from home? Even better, as you can put the home solar power system to work for your own office. Bring your coffee maker and computer off the grid and make the family happy as well!
Creating a Happy Workforce
So how do these and other green office options make the employees any happier? We’ve already established that a green, well-ventilated office creates a healthier environment. And anyone who’s ever been sick understands that they are much happier and productive when healthy. But there is also the satisfaction of being a part of something that is bigger than us.
The knowledge that the copy machine or computer he or she is using runs on solar power can be very powerful knowledge. It can make even the most menial tasks rewarding in a new and unprecedented way. Solar power and eco-friendliness are a movement. A recent poll showed that 92% of Americans want solar power development scaled up in the United States. How nice it would be, as an employee, to know that very wish was being fulfilled at your own office?
There other ways to get employees directly involved in creating a happy, green office. Recycling is an obvious step, but anything from taking the stairs to adding real air-cleansing plants also helps. Encouraging employees to walk, ride bikes, carpool or take mass transit to work is another key step that many companies are taking. Again, it contributes the triple bottom line by protecting the environment while keeping employees healthier and more active. An employee who walks or rides to work can enter an office with natural air and light flowing through it and feel that much better as they settle into the work day.
The hope is that the obvious economic, environmental and social benefits – that triple-bottom line of sustainable business – in green building will inspire an increasing number of architects, engineers and business owners to build and renovate green offices. The correlation found by researchers between a green office and a happy workforce should help to put a green seal on future office plans.photo credit: Advanced Solar Photonic’s