Build Better to Live Better

Jake GlavisA comprehensive review of studies covering green building and their benefits by Dr. Joseph Allen and his team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently found that green buildings can indeed nurture healthier tenants. Published in Current Environmental Health Reports, the report is the first of its kind.

Over the past decade, green building has exploded. A minimized impact on the environment, due to reduced use of energy and water, defines green building design. Limiting environmental disturbance throughout construction is also key. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is responsible for certifying green building standards and found that more than 3.6 billion square feet or 69,000 buildings have been established in 150 different countries. Green buildings improve (or at least intensely mitigate damage to) their ecological contexts.

The impact these green building designs can have on human health is less widely understood. To consolidate the knowledge that has been accumulated by the scientific community thus far, Dr. Allen and his researchers analyzed fifteen studies. They found that the evidence points to better indoor environmental quality in green buildings directly benefits their occupants. In general, people living and working in such structures report better indoor air quality, in addition to better building cleanliness and general maintenance. Further, studies reveal that green buildings expose tenants to less allergens, pollutants, and other environmental contaminants like formaldehyde. As a result, one study reported higher rates of work attendance (and therefore increased productivity) in a green building due to lower instances of absences due to asthma or allergies.

Overall, better indoor environmental quality seems to very much result in better physical and mental health for the people spending a significant amount of time inside. Higher productivity, lower employee turnover, and decrease in the length of staff vacancy have all been noted. One study reported that green hospitals offer these sorts of benefits extend to both patients and the medical staff. This can mean fewer infections, improved record keeping, and even lower overall mortality rates

Although research into green building is still relatively new, these initial findings all point to the reality that taking care of the Earth can significantly help people take care of each other.