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Are LEED buildings satisfying?

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It's become almost an article of faith to believe that employees are happier and more productive working in a LEED-certified building. There have been studies done that appear to prove it.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

It's become almost an article of faith to believe that employees are happier and more productive working in a LEED-certified building. There have been studies done that appear to prove it.

But, a study published in the latest issue of the journal Building and Environment indicates that people working in LEED buildings appear no more satisfied with the quality of their indoor workplace environments than those who work in conventional buildings.

Instead, the authors found that the positive value of LEED certification, from the point of view of occupant satisfaction, may tend to decrease with time.

The study was done by Stefano Schiavon, of UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built environment, and Sergio Altomonte, of the University of Nottingham’s Environmental Physics and Design Research Group.

Other studies have examined the question before this, of course, and most found a higher level of satisfaction among people working in a LEED building.

Those studies also considered such factors as building layout, the amount of time spent at work, and other things.

Schiavon and Altomonte didn’t include those. They considered only LEED certification.

They analyzed the survey responses of 21,477 individuals in 144 mainly large office buildings, most of which were in the United States.

Of those buildings, 65 are LEED certified. Other studies were based on much smaller sample sizes. Like many academic studies, this one contains a number of “whereases” and “notwithstandings,” making generalizations difficult.

For example, as you read, you discover that occupant satisfaction with LEED buildings was higher when the respondents were working in open spaces, rather than enclosed offices. Satisfaction was also higher when the buildings were smaller in size. But, how much weight was given to these responses as the researchers analyzed their data?

Satisfaction with a LEED building appears to decline over time, with the greatest level of satisfaction reported during the first year spent in a green building.

The authors speculate that this might be because LEED certification is based largely on predictions, without measuring real building performance over the years following construction. They suggested that the results might be different if more design-related information could be collected by assessing LEED buildings based on actual operations and performance.

They said that as part of the LEED certification process, more attention should be paid to ways to improve occupants’ feelings of health and well-being.

Collecting feedback from employees about how they felt about their workplace should be a regular part of assessing the building’s performance. Perhaps their most important recommendation is that there should be continuing development of the LEED program “towards continuous assessment of building and people performance.”

While criticism of LEED is implicit in the study, it shouldn’t be taken as a signal that green certification is perhaps outdated, or just too costly, or even useless.

“Certainly not,” says Schiavon, “especially given the urgency of the environmental challenge and the fundamental role of buildings on people’s health and well-being, climate change and energy security.”

The study comes at a time when LEED is under some pressure in the U.S., where some states have banned its use in state buildings, in favour of the Green Globes assessment system, which is seen by some as being simpler and cheaper than LEED. Because of that, the study will be read with interest by Green Building Councils in both the U.S. and Canada because that’s who operate the LEED system.

It really ought to be read by many others, as well.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a website where readers can download a copy without charge. But if you’re willing to shell out US$39.95 for a copy, you can get it at www.sciencedirect.com.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

by Journal Of Commerce

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