Around Australia, people are working in conditions with poor lighting, stale air and toxic materials. 

Nurses spend their shifts breathing in recycled air from ancient air-conditioning units, teachers and students squint in poorly lit classrooms, retail workers serve customers in cavernous stores and office workers breathe in fumes from cheap carpets and rattling photocopiers. These are just some of the everyday examples of unhealthy workplaces – workplaces that we’ve come to accept as normal.

The good news is that this is changing, and this change is being driven by a desire to create buildings that are good for the environment and good for people too.

A new report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices: The next chapter for green building, finds “overwhelming evidence” that office design significantly impacts the health and productivity of staff.

Launched in Australia by the GBCA as part of World Green Building Week, the report finds a range of factors – from air quality and lighting to views of nature and interior layout – can affect the health, satisfaction and job performance of office workers.

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

Of the almost 25 million square metres of office space across Australia, 23 per cent is now Green Star-rated. Operating from sustainable office space is increasingly recognised as a strategic business decision that is not only environmentally and economically sound, but one that can also enhance a company’s biggest asset and expense – its people.

This was the case for Macquarie Bank, when it moved its staff into the 6 Star Green Star – Office As Built v2 certified One Shelley Street in Sydney. Research by the University of Technology Sydney demonstrated a direct link between sustainable building design and employees’ assessment of their ability to work. The research tracked over 2,500 Macquarie Bank employees over 15 months as they moved into their new high-performance office.

“A group of participants in the study showed an average of 15 per cent net increase in perceived productivity for employees who had moved into the new building,” says UTS’ Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, Leena Thomas.


Macquarie Bank’s office, One Shelley Street, Sydney

 The City of Melbourne’s Council House 2 (CH2) was Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star – Office Design v1 rated building, and went on to achieve a 6 Star Green Star – Office As Built v1 rating as well. This multi-award winning building has demonstrated that productivity of office building occupants can be enhanced through good, green building design and a high-quality, healthy and comfortable interior environment. A post-occupancy survey has found that productivity has risen by an impressive 10.9 per cent since staff moved into their green office, with an estimated annual cost savings of $2 million.

Healthy, productive work spaces should not be restricted to nine-to-five office workers. The first holistic assessment of school building design and student performance, undertaken by the UK’s University of Salford and Nightingale Architects in 2012, found that the quality of the classroom environment can affect student learning by as much as 25 cent. A study of schools and universities in the United States found that green attributes such as good lighting and ventilation can improve health of students and teachers by 41.5 per cent, boost student learning by up to 15 per cent and drive up test results by up to 25 per cent.

The same goes for green healthcare facilities. International studies have found that turnover rates of nursing staff are far lower in hospitals that are green-rated. Some green-rated hospitals have reported an 80 per cent reduction in nursing turnover rates compared to the national average. Sunlight and views of nature can also reduce average length of stay by up to 41 per cent, and lessen the need for pain medication by 22 per cent.

A 2012 study from the University of Notre Dame in the US has found that bank branches operating from green-rated facilities opened 458 more consumer deposit accounts and had $3 million more in consumer deposit balances per facility per year over non-certified properties. Researchers found green banks also had almost $1 million more in loan balances. After controlling for other variables that influence performance, the sales at green branches increased by $461,300 per employee compared to non-certified locations.

Certainly, the evidence is clear that green building principles, when integrated into building interiors in schools, hospitals and retail centres, deliver massive health and productivity benefits. In fact, studies have found that up to 70 per cent of a building’s whole of life value comes from improved productivity and health benefits.

Our challenge is to monetise this so that building owners, developers, tenants and governments can make better investment decisions about their buildings.

Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices: The next chapter for green building will help Australian companies to ‘join the dots’ between their workplace productivity and the workplace itself. The report can be downloaded from the WorldGBC’s website here.