When we founded Green Reason back in 2007, the focus of green building was very much on the physical property – reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste and sourcing sustainable materials during the building process, then fostering lower environmental impact once occupied. At one of those early meetings, one of our principals said ‘but what about the people?’ In years since we’ve continually reinforced to our clients that sustainability best practices must encompass the human experience. Guidelines have evolved and new standards were created to improve the overall health and performance of building occupants – many resulting measures are not highly visible, though very important.
Here are the top five strategies employed in workplaces to improve the human experience.
- Thermal comfort refers to temperature, humidity, and proper air distribution within buildings. It is measured and monitored in occupied and shared spaces. Occupants within the same heating and cooling zones should have the ability to control/adjust factors such as air temperature or humidity levels to ensure a comfortable work environment. Monitoring the environment also involves measuring humidity levels and airspeed.
- Acoustics include properly design and specified barriers to sound such as doors, walls, ceilings, and spacing which all contribute to sound and noise reduction. Sound barriers bolster acoustical privacy between rooms by implementing adequate wall construction and proper door specifications. Reducing noise also requires sound mapping, which is strategic interior planning. Sound mapping includes managing background noise, acoustical privacy, and labeling acoustical zones.
- Lighting, daylight access, glare control and quality of artificial light all affect occupants and their productivity. Improving the human experience includes measures to ensure there is appropriate light exposure in indoor environments by using daylighting, such as windows and skylights, combined with appropriate artificial lighting strategies such as proper colour temperature, glare control at work surfaces and appropriate task lighting.
- Air quality is measured and monitored in buildings to ensure it meets specific thresholds to improve the health of its occupants. The most important components of this to measure are particulate matter, such as dust, and pollen, organic gases, such as carbon dioxide, inorganic gases, such as carbon monoxide, and radon (if you are below ground). All of which have adverse effects on human health and are more common than one would think in buildings. The type and quality of air filtration in buildings is a critical component in improving air quality that is often overlooked or overruled due to budget constraints.
- Effective ventilation means bringing in enough fresh air from the outside through mechanical and/or natural means to dilute human and product-generated air pollutants, promoting a healthier work environment for all occupants. The 2020 pandemic has brought intense focus to the need for proper ventilation in all commercial buildings and institutions.
Creating a truly sustainable building requires careful strategy and planning for a company’s or potential tenant’s most valuable assets: their people. The WELL Building Standard is driven by occupant wellbeing. Providing a healthy workplace increases productivity in so many direct and indirect ways, thus improving company performance and making it a desirable place to work. Including the human experience in sustainability best practices is a must for success.