MPAS Awards 2014 | Feature Article of the Year (Trade) | WINNER
A NEW ERA OF GREEN BUILDING: HEALTH & PRODUCTIVITY IN THE INDOOR ENVIRONMENT
by Miriel Ko
The new era of Green building brings to light the opportunity for improving indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Particularly, with a growing number of people entering the urban workforce and spending prolonged hours indoors, the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in building materials, poor indoor air quality, lack of contact with nature and other workplace stress are all causes for concern. Green buildings and design features such as daylighting, thermal comfort, sustainable building materials and the integration of natural environments may be carefully considered to mitigate these adverse effects. However, as many elements of Green design can be compromised by the unpredictable operation and maintenance of indoor spaces, acceptance and engagement of Green building rating systems, business owners, builders, and occupants are also fundamental to ensuring operational success. As more research is being done on the link between Green buildings and its occupants, the building industry is becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the uncompromising value of sustainability. When fully employed, Green buildings not only have the potential to reduce the environmental impacts of the built environment but also deliver significant improvements to health, productivity and the business bottom line.
THE URBAN WORKFORCE TREND
In an office environment, where people are the number one investment to business owners, salaries and benefits make up over 85 percent of the share of the operational costs of an office space, followed by rent, utilities, cleaning, and so forthi. Many top business owners recognise the importance of their employees in maintaining growth and sustainability; however, keeping operational costs down and retaining happy, healthy and productive employees over the long term is proving to be more and more difficult.
In a recent study published by Networks Asia, work was considered to be the main source of stress for Asia-Pacific workers, with China having the highest increase in work related stress in the past year out of the world’s top 50 economiesii. As Asian cities become more urbanised and developed, providing optimal space, a healthy work environment, and maintaining productivity are both a challenge and a priority. Business owners that fail to keep their employees safe, healthy and motivated often struggle with a higher employee turnover rate, an increase in employee absenteeism and an overall loss in productive gains.
So what is the problem?
INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
It is estimated that human beings now spend about 90 percent of their lives indoors, most of which is spent at work. As pollutant concentrations indoors are often worse than outdoors, spending extensive time inside an office building can have many adverse effects on occupant health.
Since the 1960s, awareness of “sick building syndrome” (SBS) has prompted some of the bigger health concerns still prevalent today. While the root cause of SBS is still unknown, those who suffer from SBS typically complain of acute conditions such as headache, nausea, dry cough and fatigue after spending prolonged periods inside a building. Moreover, building materials, furniture, cleaning agents and even office machinery can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) causing asthma, respiratory allergies, as well as some long-term health conditions from the accumulation of harmful chemicals in the human body.
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