Are Green Buildings Healthier Buildings?

– Green buildings are not just better for environment but are also beneficial for its occupant’s health.

It’s well known that, green buildings reduce the impact on the environment by conserving water and energy, and by minimizing the disturbances to the local surroundings. But, what is less known and less recognized is the fact that, green buildings positively influence the human health, well-being and productivity. They influence directly at the individual level by providing optimized indoor environments, and indirectly on a population level through reductions in energy use which in turn bring reductions in air pollutants that cause premature death, cardiovascular diseases, exacerbate asthma conditions and also contribute to global climate change – a known potential source for adversely impacting human health.

The green building movement started out of this recognition that, buildings have the potential for both positive and negative impacts on people and the environment, and the desire to mitigate negative impacts while enhancing those features that provide positive benefits. This green building revolution gathered pace nearly 10-15 years ago and according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – a green building standards certification body, over 3.6 billion square feet or 69,000 buildings have so far been certified in 150 countries.

Dr. Joseph Allen, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US, summarizing on the review of studies on the influence of green buildings on occupants, conducted by him along with fellow researchers say that, overall, the initial scientific evidence indicates that compared to conventional buildings, green buildings have better indoor environmental quality with direct health benefits for those who live and work in them.

Passive solar office enhancing natural ventilation.(Steven Vance, 2013. Photo via Licensed under Creative Commons License.)
Passive solar office enhancing natural ventilation.(Steven Vance, 2013. Photo via Licensed under Creative Commons License.)

The studies reveal that, because green building designs target to achieve higher indoor environmental quality, occupants of green buildings are significantly less exposed to volatile organic compounds, formaldehydes, allergens, pollutants and particulate matters found in many building materials, which are known to have adverse health effects.

In all the studies, occupants of green buildings in comparison to those living in conventional buildings expressed high satisfaction for indoor air quality, thermal comfort, cleanliness and maintenance, and workspace. They also stated to have better access to outside views, better mood, improved sleep quality at night, and less visual or physical discomfort.

Most occupants report that the air quality is good and with better ventilation and air movement, they say the air remains fresh with reduced humidity and staleness. They further express that opting to live in nature friendly constructions has paid off with better health outcomes. This includes fewer sick building syndrome symptoms, fewer respiratory symptom reports in children, and better physical and mental health.

Also it turns out that hospitals build on green principles benefit not only the patients but also the medical staff. It is recorded that green buildings improved quality of care, with fewer blood stream infections, improved record keeping, and lower patient mortality.

Earthship Interior, London Permculture.(London Permaculture, 2007. Photo via Licensed under Creative Commons License.)
Earthship Interior, London Permculture.(London Permaculture, 2007. Photo via Licensed under Creative Commons License.)

In office working environments also, green designs show their positive benefits. After moving into green buildings, employees have reported significantly lower absenteeism due to asthma and other respiratory allergies and lesser work hours afflicted by depression and stress. In addition, there was observable increase in productivity with lower employee turnover and a reduction in the length of open staff positions.

Though on most parameters of indoor environmental quality, green buildings scored better than conventional buildings, one aspect in particular – building acoustics, received consistently lower scores, with residents reporting dissatisfaction on the noise levels experienced.

Dr. Allen and his team believe that further research is needed for better understanding. Along with surveys and questionnaires, they strongly recommend using mobile health sensors, which they perceive will objectively monitor and gather information about the health performance of green buildings.


“Green Buildings and Health”, Current Environmental Health Reports, Allen, J.G. et al, 10th July 2015.

Feature Image: The house uses mobile sun shades and passive cooling tower for passive climate control. The ceiling and doors are made of recycled lumber.(Jeremy Levine, 2009. Photo via Licensed under a Creative Commons license.)

Ravindra Krishnamurthy

Ravindra Krishnamurthy is a freelance science writer covering science, tech, the environment, health, food, and culture.

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