Sustainability

The process of planning, designing and constructing office buildings has been dominated for a number of years by a suite of environmental calculations and metrics – Part L of the Building Regulations, BREEAM, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) to name a few. These are all metrics that rate the potential for a building to be energy or carbon efficient; however, they do not necessarily represent reality. The focus is beginning to shift to a parallel, and perhaps more important aspect, which is the actual performance of office buildings and bringing measurable improvements to a building’s occupants.

Building performance is important from a value perspective.  There is clearly a demand in the market for more sustainable and high performance buildings, with occupants and investors paying far closer attention to these issues at the pre-purchase and occupation stage.

While much of the UK property market is still focused on an approach to building design based around BREEAM, the leaders in the market are now looking to a more sophisticated measurement and understanding of true performance. Erecting sustainable, profitable green buildings will no longer be enough to stand out in the industry. Buildings will also be expected to directly contribute to the health and wellbeing of the people who work inside them. There is already some evidence to suggest ‘healthy’ buildings are increasingly seen as impacting positively on the businesses and workers who occupy them and with employee ill-health costing over 30-million working days in 2015-16, this is an area to focus on.  According to scientific research, exposure to pollutants, such as carbon dioxide for example, affects cognitive functions. At the same time, researchers have found that, on average, environments with better ventilation improve their participants’ performance, especially in critical areas such as crisis response, strategy and information usage.

As the connection between where you work and how well you work becomes better established and understood, companies that hope to differentiate themselves as employers of choice will focus on healthier buildings for their employees, thereby also benefitting from reduced absences, high employee retention rates and more engaged and productive workers. This in turn could mean opting for certification and market-based rating systems -that take account of performance measures relating to air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind - such as the WELL Building Standard or Fitwel as a differentiator.

Measurement and interpretation of occupant satisfaction is undoubtedly harder than that of energy or water use, but when done well it can facilitate significant improvements in occupant well-being and productivity.

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