10 September 2010

Los Angeles Times

Is where you work making you sick? A new study finds that employees who move from buildings with poor indoor environmental quality to more healthful "green" buildings may reap some benefits, including less absenteeism and higher productivity.

The green building movement isn't just concerned with constructing buildings that are more energy efficient and environmentally responsible - they're supposed to improve indoor surroundings as well, making it more healthful and pleasant for those who work there, via lighting, ventilation, acoustics and ergonomic design.

Researchers from Michigan State University did two case studies evaluating the physical and mental health status of people who moved from traditional to green office buildings. One scenario involved 56 people and the other 207, and employees were asked through surveys about absenteeism from work in both types of buildings for asthma, allergies, depression and stress-related conditions. They were also asked about productivity in the two settings.

Both green buildings received high ratings from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification organization.

Being absent from work for asthma, allergies, depression and stress decreased following the move into the green buildings; for example, hours absent from work due to asthma and allergies was on average 1.12 per month in conventional buildings and 0.49 in green buildings. The average number of work hours affected by illness per month also declined after the move. Productivity improved.Using the numbers, researchers estimated that better health and higher productivity could translate into more work hours per year.

Researchers plan to do additional research at other sites as well as follow these employees to assess changes in health and productivity and to make sure that the results aren't due to the Hawthorne effect, a phenomenon in which people change the behavior that's being evaluated because they know they're being studied.