Phtoto Courtesy of Lend Lease
Studies show daylighting and high indoor air quality boost productivity.

A report released by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) aims to establish a quantifiable monetary link between sustainable office buildings and occupant wellness and productivity. The report also offers a tool kit for building owners to realize financial benefits in their sustainability efforts.

"There can be no doubt that buildings have an impact on human health, well-being and productivity in the workplace," says Jane Henley, WGBC chief executive officer. "Workplaces that are good for people can also be beneficial to the environment and to a business's bottom line."

The report synthesizes hundreds of academic and industry studies covering a range of office-design factors, including lighting, thermal comfort, acoustics, interior layout and biophilia, or the connection of people to the natural environment. In one example, the report shows that indoor air-quality improvements can boost productivity by 8% to 11%.

While some in the industry might think the study's results are just common sense, Henleys says, "the challenge has been helping organizations to integrate this information into financial decision-making. The report and the metrics tool kit are the next step toward linking outcomes back to the financial bottom line."

Although up to 90% of occupancy costs go toward worker salaries, it is important for the report to present clear evidence to business leaders on deriving better value from the buildings they occupy, says Miles Keeping, partner with Deloitte LLP's London office.

"Most CFOs wouldn't know what a savings of 10% off their energy bill would mean to their organization. But telling them they could see a 10% output productivity improvement would get their attention immediately," Keeping says.

Sustainable design strategies alone do not necessarily translate into health and productivity boosts. "The report suggests that it is far too simplisticand potentially damagingto suggest that low-carbon and resource-efficient buildings are automatically healthier and more productive for occupants. We need to be honest about that," says John Alker, the report's lead author and policy director at the U.K. Green Building Council in London. "It shows the importance of ongoing product innovation and de- carbonization of grid electricity, because demand reduction only goes so far."

The report's tool kit, which Henley says is the first of its kind, gives business owners a common set of principles to measure their buildings' impacts on employees, so they can make financial decisions accordingly. Since companies already possess ample facilities management and human-resources information, the report predicts the coming prominence of a "chief wellness officer" to view this data by financial performance.