Healthy buildings

You’ve attended every seminar ever given and read every book ever written on how to motivate and increase your employees’ productivity.

They seem eager and dedicated, but when they walk through the door, they just deflate. Walking through that door may actually be your problem.

Traditional (read: old) buildings do little promote the health of either employees or the environment. That’s why many business owners have begun adopting green building philosophies.

“It’s building design and construction that takes environment and human health into account, that minimizes the impact of buildings on the environment,” says David Beach, director of EcoCity Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that looks at rebuilding communities from an ecological basis. “It is also a building that is healthy and delightful for the building’s occupants.”

Beach says those who have built green office buildings have discovered that productivity dramatically increased. That can be attributed to improvements such as better lighting and better comfort.

“It’s a better feeling building,” he says. “They tend to tend to be more open to the outdoors. There’s more natural daylight. People feel better in those buildings and they work better.”

Taken as a whole, Cleveland isn’t among the leaders in green building design. But the buzz is growing among local contractors and architects, who have learned to embrace the concept and tout the benefits.

“Sometimes these green buildings may cost a little more to design and build, but there’s so much of an increase in productivity, the payback is almost immediate,” Beach says. “And then the building continues to pay well into the future.”

You don’t have to build a new structure from scratch to receive the benefits of green philosophies. But you do need to be careful. One mistake many owners make is applying a Band-Aid approach — trying to fix 10 little things instead of concentrating on one larger area.

Beach says that results in small incremental improvements, at best.

“The key is to think in terms of whole systems and not just one part of the building or the other,” he says. “You tend to get your biggest savings by taking a comprehensive view of how a building works. This is not far out stuff. This is off-the-shelf technology being used all over the world that can make these buildings dramatically better and improve their performance. So it’s not really esoteric kinds of things.”

And it’s not as overwhelming as one might think. Beach says there are many ways to employ green strategies with existing buildings, and when current systems reach the end of their life spans, building owners should consider the green approach. Spending a little bit more now on green windows might mean replacing the current heating and cooling system with a much smaller one when the time comes.

“If you’re going to do a building, I think you’re crazy not to consider these ideas,” Beach says. “Because by doing them, you’ll get a better building, save a lot of money and you’ll also feel better about doing something good for the earth.”

How to reach: EcoCity Cleveland, (216) 932-3007 or

Daniel G. Jacobs ([email protected]) is senior editor of SBN.