09/24/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

Healthy Buildings: The Next Chapter in Green Building

Buena Vista Images via Getty Images

What's the secret to a healthy, productive office? Bring in the fresh air, let in daylight, minimize noise and keep the temperature steady. Sounds obvious, right?

And yet, many people spend their working week sitting in sealed up, stuffy offices that are dim and dingy or lit up like operating theaters.

They sit shivering in winter or sweating in summer, are distracted by incessant disruptive noise, and never see the sun or the sky during the day.

This isn't good -- for the health of people, or for the health of the planet.

The World Green Building Council, in partnership with its Green Building Council network, has today published a new report, Health, well-being and productivity in offices: The next chapter for green building, which finds a range of factors -- from air quality and lighting to views of nature and interior layout -- can affect workers' health, satisfaction and job performance.

When employee salaries and benefits make up 90 per cent of a typical organization's budget, a small improvement in staff performance can have a big impact.

Take daylight, for example. While the stereotype of the coveted 'corner office' may be outdated, research finds that workers with access to natural light and views are more productive than their colleagues who are squeezed into dark, dim cubicles.

One 2011 study, which investigated the relationship between view quality, daylighting and sick leave of employees in administration offices of Northwest University, Washington, found those in offices with better daylight and views took 6.5 per cent fewer sick days.

Absenteeism is a significant drain on business productivity -- which ultimately impedes profitability. The annual absenteeism rate in the United States is three per cent per employee in the private sector, and four per cent in the public sector, costing employers US$2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year respectively.

In many cases, sustainable design strategies trigger a "virtuous circle" that delivers both economic and environmental dividends. For example, designing a building to maximize daylight reduces the need for artificial daylight, and with it energy costs and carbon emissions, while also creating a more pleasant and productive workplace for people.

The report -- sponsored by JLL, Lend Lease and Skanska -- also presents a simple toolkit that businesses can use to measure the health, wellbeing and productivity of their buildings and inform financial decision-making.

While this report doesn't have all the answers, it does establish a pathway to help building owners and managers measure the previously unmeasurable -- and to make business decisions that are better for people, performance and profit, and leave the planet better off too.