Green Buildings: Bridging Health and Sustainability

I joined the 2018 MBA cohort in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices with a passion for the intersection of health and sustainability. The  connection between these two fields is not always obvious, and I would like to share some interesting highlights of  what I have learned and why it matters.

We often think of reducing resource consumption as a key part of sustainable management. According to the EPA, in the United States, buildings account for 39% of total energy use, 12% of the total water consumption, 68% of total electricity consumption, and 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions. Add to this that average Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. Green buildings have emerged as a way to reduce resource consumption, and it turns out these buildings also improve human health! How can this be possible?

Let’s start by looking at what green building is. According to the US Green Building Council:

“The definition of green building: Green building is a holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day.”

The first part of that definition represents what we typically think – that green buildings are about energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and other environmental improvements. What I would like to focus on is the second part of the definition, the impact of green buildings on human health.

Recent studies suggest that working in a green building has measurable positive effects on cognitive performance, productivity, sleep quality, stress reduction, and overall wellness. Specifically, the COGfx Study found that cognitive testing scores doubled in LEED Certified green buildings. They coined the term “Buildingomics” and defined it as “a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment that influence the human health, well-being and productivity of people who work in buildings” (http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/).

http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/

This relatively new school of thought has led to many companies implementing green workplaces in order to experience these health and productivity benefits, either by remodeling current facilities or ensuring new facilities are built with this in mind. For example, healthcare non-profit Kaiser Permanente has embraced this trend, working with AECOM on a hospital project in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon they built their first LEED Certified campus. It is not surprising healthcare organizations are eager to incorporate these projects, but beyond healthcare, The Society for Human Resource Management writes about the benefits of green buildings too, citing they can reduce sick leave, regulate both temperatures and noise, and remove air toxins (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/green-workplaces.aspx). ForHealth has created the diagram below to illustrate the overlap of green buildings and healthy inhabitants.

http://9foundations.forhealth.org/

Health is inexorably linked with sustainability. Yet, there is a tendency to think about the green movement on a macro level without understanding how it will impact each one of us. What I like about this recent study is that it provides concrete evidence for how one specific sustainability initiative – green buildings – has directly impacted human cognition and productivity.

So, why does this matter? The World Green Building Council sums it up well. “How do we accelerate energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, green building? We make it about people.” There is already strong environmental support behind the green movement, and now we can add another reason to get behind green efforts, and it’s something nearly everyone can rally for – our health!  Green buildings illustrate how health and sustainability can be neatly integrated, and remind us that increasing the number of people who are behind green initiatives will help guarantee a healthy environment for present and future generations.

Sources:

http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/

https://archive.epa.gov/greenbuilding/web/html/whybuild.html

http://9foundations.forhealth.org/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/can-businesses-make-a-profit-while-saving-the-planet/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Chan-Twitter-General

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/green-workplaces.aspx  (photo cred collage photo 1)

http://www.ambiusindoorplants.com.au/why-plants/case-studies/index.html (photo cred collage photo 2)

http://www.aecom.com/projects/kaiser-westside/?qm%5B0%5D=2463&qp=&qt=12 (photo cred collage photo 3)

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.