October 25, 2011 | by Julie Goodhart | Sustainability + Energy, Workplace Culture + Practices

It seems that most articles about green buildings focus on building metrics and how well these high tech, energy-saving buildings are performing. While this data is important, as an HR professional who works in a green building, my thoughts center on the people and their experiences within our workplace.

NRG Systems’ green campus: Building for the future

NRG Systems completed its first green building, an office and manufacturing space, in 2004. The 46,000 square-foot building, with solar panels, ample natural lighting and energy-efficient construction, received gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This building was to house our workforce for 10 years, but rapid growth in the global wind energy industry changed that plan. In 2008, we added another gold LEED-certified green building—a 30,000 square foot office and manufacturing facility—to our Vermont campus.

Building green made sense on many levels for our company. From an environmental perspective, these buildings have allowed us to put our core value of environmental stewardship into action. We wanted to demonstrate what was possible with green building design and renewable energy and support efforts of our employee community to live more lightly on the planet.

From a people perspective, it resulted in a workspace that was comfortable, beautiful and productive for our employees. It feels like a home away from home and many of our employees remark that they look forward to coming in to work each day. In addition to features like an indoor lap pool and exercise room, a stone fireplace and beautiful pieces of art, the building design itself included specific features, such as common meeting areas, to foster creative problem solving.

And from a business perspective, our up-front investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy serves as an investment into the future that will protect us against rising energy costs and market volatility. It has also helped in our efforts to recruit and retain top quality employees.

Study on green buildings and employee health and productivity

Results of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health [.pdf] in 2010 suggest that green buildings may have a positive impact on the health of occupants. The study followed two groups of people who moved into green buildings. Researchers saw a substantial reduction in self-reported absenteeism among those who worked in the LEED-rated buildings in the study. Study participants also reported a positive effect on productivity and a decline in depression, asthma, respiratory allergies, and stress-related ailments.

Other studies have also noted a link between improved indoor air quality, lighting and comfort and increased productivity.

What makes a great workspace?

A recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog discussed attributes of great workplaces. The author stated that to truly engage your employees you must address four basic needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Obviously, the work environment plays a big role in addressing the physical and mental needs of your employees. Spaces that are uncluttered, comfortable and nice to work in make it easier for employees to concentrate and be productive.

Another article suggests ways you can enhance your workplace environment. Having a layout that encourages frequent communication and a well-lit environment are chief among them.

Our buildings feature a main “street” or hallway that serves as a connector within each building and between the two buildings. Half walls separate the office areas from the main street allowing for greater formal and informal meeting opportunities and conversations, which are so important to workplace productivity. Each building also features a cafe that allows employees to come together for lunch each day.

As with most green buildings natural lighting serves an important function in our buildings. There are ample windows, skylights and clerestory windows that allow light to go deep into the building. Employees have outdoor views from just about every work space, including our warehouse/production area—a benefit that doesn’t go unappreciated.

Is green essential for workplace productivity?

Do you have to have a green building to promote workplace productivity? No, but it certainly can’t hurt. It’s essential to recognize how important the workplace environment is to your workers’ performance.

While a primary goal of building green is to reduce negative impacts on the environment, the design approach is truly holistic and looks at all the building components and systems and how they will affect the people working in these spaces—they truly are designed with the end user in mind.

If you aren’t in a position to “go green,” but you’re making changes in the workplace environment to make it a better, more comfortable and more productive experience for your employees, they’ll know and appreciate it. And it will make a difference.

Related:

NRDC: Building Green from Principle to Practice

julie goodhart
Julie Goodhart

Julie Goodhart formerly served as human resource director at NRG Systems. She wrote on all things affecting the human side of the organization (aka, everything). From compensation and benefits, recruitment, and organizational culture to continuous improvement, performance management, and training and development, she offered her insight on the strategies, policies and program areas of interest to everyone in the workplace.

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