Woman walking up stairs in sustainable building

Good Health (in Buildings) Starts with ‘Good Bones’

“First we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” Winston Churchill

We all want to enjoy good health. Many of us invest a great deal of time, resources and energy trying to achieve just that. Did you know that the house you live in, and quite often, the building you work in, can have a tremendous impact on your health?

Prioritizing Health & Well-Being

The US Green Building Council’s research discovered that almost one-third of respondents had a direct personal experience of bad health associated with poor work environments or living situations. Low indoor air quality alone can exacerbate the effects of many health problems such as asthma, respiratory allergies, depression and stress.

It’s no wonder when asked what the most desirable green building benefits are, those same respondents expressed the need for clean air and water and less exposure to toxins. Reduced absenteeism and work hours, improved productivity, along with the feeling of being happier and healthier was reported by respondents who already live and work in green buildings.

Improved Cognitive Performance

A ground-breaking study conducted at Syracuse Center of Excellence in collaboration with Harvard University, Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University simulated indoor environmental quality conditions in both green and conventional buildings. Their aim was to assess the effect on cognitive functions as well as the performance of office workers.

The study took place in an environmentally controlled office space (SyracuseCOE’s unique Total Indoor Environmental Quality Lab) where 24 participants spent six full workdays blinded to test conditions.  During this time period, participants experienced indoor air quality conditions found in conventional buildings, green buildings, and green buildings with enhanced ventilation.

Nine functional domains: basic, applied and focused activity levels, task orientation, information seeking, crisis response, information usage, breadth of approach and strategy were used to measure cognitive function.

Results: Cognitive scores were 101% higher in enhanced green building conditions.

The Human Benefits of Green Building

Because 90% of our time is spent indoors, the indoor building environment plays a crucial role in our overall well-being and can hugely affect our health, either positively or negatively.

In  an article on the Smart Cities Dive website, Jason King reports that though the benefits of green building appear to go solely to the environment, this is not the case. Eco-friendly architecture proponents are taking a holistic approach to the health of the environment by including human well-being in their calculations.

At the International Green Building Conference in Singapore, Emma McMahon, director of sustainability at CBRE, a commercial real estate services company, stated that businesses find there is significant risk mitigation and reduction in absenteeism when employees are more engaged and motivated by a healthy work environment. “About 90% of a company’s operational costs are locked up in its people.”  According to McMahon, growing interest in the impact of green buildings on occupant health reflects a cultural shift in the workplace.

Biophilic Design

As the world rapidly urbanizes, city dwellers are increasingly cut off from nature, with office workers spending close to 90% of their time indoors. Greater innovation through creative design makes buildings better places for people along with helping to counter the stresses of the urban, built environment. Biophilic design aims to bring nature into the workplace by introducing living plants, natural daylight, green walls, timber exteriors, and patterns and colors that evoke nature. Growing research shows that biophilia has distinct physiological and psychological impacts on humans. Integrating elements that tap into this connection between man and nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve creativity and productivity in the workplace.

Neo Yi Lin, Deputy director at the workplace health and outreach division at the Health Promotion Board (HPB), reported more companies are realizing these benefits and recognizing the business value of putting health at the center of workplace design.

Another interesting fact: workers report a 20% increase in productivity after spending one hour in nature. The word ‘biophilic’ literally means “love of life.” Having good health is key to being able to enjoy life.

Start with ‘Good Bones’

Amanda Sturgeon, award-winning architect, is the founder and driving force behind the International Living Future Institute’s Biophilic Design Initiative. In her 2019 TedMed Talk, “Using Biophilic Design to Heal Body, Mind and Soul,” Sturgeon shared a recent study done in Portland in which it was discovered that the number of violent crimes actually decreases in neighborhoods as the size and density of the trees increases.

Though we can’t all live in a forest, our homes and workplaces can bring the forest and its benefits to us. By using FSC certified lumber and green design principals to construct our living spaces, we are choosing a healthier option. Start with ‘good bones’ from Re/New Lumber Company.

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