Going green can help productivity

It has been well established that going green is good for business, and the past decade has seen organisations improve energy efficiency and boost on-site sustainability for a number of different reasons. What is often overlooked, however, is the ways in which an eco-friendly working environment can impact upon staff morale and productivity.

It is common sense that employees tend to favour workspaces that are ‘shallow plan’, where staff can benefit from being surrounded by windows and natural light. However, a recent CIBSE report found that the success of a building (from the perspective of the occupants) was governed to a high degree by good facilities management. It’s fair to say that building managers have the ability to be the behind-the-scenes heroes, boosting the comfort level and sustainability of working environments.

A comfortable workspace

It is notoriously difficult to measure how productive workers are, but one of the key modes we have is absence rates. According to figures from the CBI, UK businesses lose around 190 million working days every year, as a result of sickness and absence.

Unfortunately, crude HVAC systems are a principal source of indoor pollution. Even more worrying, The Carbon Trust, a government advisory body, suggests that 90% of all building control systems are inadequate. However, just as poor HVAC systems can contribute to staff ailments, use of intelligent, sustainable building control systems can also improve air quality immeasurably. What’s more, state-of-the-art building controls are able to monitor and automatically control CO2 levels. This is important, because a build-up of excess CO2 (levels of more than 1,000 ppm) can cause fatigue and headaches.

Getting hold of data, facts and figures on the positive commercial value that can be achieved through intelligent control technology can be a challenge. However for Priva, the benefits can be seen at our own carbon-neutral headquarters in De Lier, Netherlands. At the Priva Campus the emphasis is on creating an environmentally friendly building that is also a comfortable working environment. Controlled using an intelligent Priva BMS, the system ensures that temperature stays at a constant, comfortable 22°C. In fact, Priva conducted extensive testing with its staff in order to determine this as the optimum temperature.

Priva has found that, since moving to its new Campus building in 2004, staff sickness rates have dropped. The absence rate at Priva’s headquarters is just 2–3%, compared to around 4% for a comparable building.

The psychological factor

When gauging productivity levels, it’s important to consider not just the reality of workspace environments, but also the perception of those environments. After all, every facilities manager knows that not all gripes from staff members are concrete. Many workspace issues are simply produced by a lack of engagement with the space. If people feel connected to their working environment, they are more likely to feel motivated and valued, boosting their productivity. This is where the ‘soft’ benefits of sustainability come in.

At the Priva Campus, staff members are even able to view real-time information about the building’s energy consumption. A large, wall-mounted screen in the Campus’s atrium shows current energy data, graphically illustrated. Staff can also access this information via their computers, and they can even adjust their own environment – altering light and temperature settings. The key has been to help staff to engage with their own energy use, and also to give them a sense of control over their workspace.

As a result, the sustainable ethos of the Priva Campus has had a huge impact on attracting and retaining staff. Priva has observed a significant rise in staff retention over the last few years, and it has also saved financially by cutting the costs of recruitment.

Working with older buildings

The Priva Campus was constructed in 2004, but we are often asked if it is also possible to transfer the ideals of sustainable working environments to older building stock. Many facilities managers feel that, with buildings dating back 25, 50, 100 years, it is impossible to implement an environmentally friendly workspace. In fact, Priva has worked extensively to ensure its building controls can be retrofit-installed, often utilising existing BMS cabling or providing ‘workarounds’ like radio frequency sensors. Older building stock and even listed buildings no longer represent a barrier to creating indoor environments that are both comfortable and highly sustainable.

The ‘greening’ of workspaces can have an impact far beyond simple energy savings. Low-carbon building control systems increase comfort levels and improve air quality, while the projection of a sustainable ethos can make staff feel more engaged and inspired, boosting both morale and productivity.

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