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green@work : Magazine : Between Blue & Yellow : Sep/Oct 2005

Between Blue and Yellow

The Power of Green Design

By Sarah Christy

How much does the green design of a building really affect

We are hearing more and more about improved workplace performance and productivity among employees of forward-thinking businesses that adopt green design principles that incorporate elements like natural light and fresh air. But in this issue’s cover story, Diane Greer reports that an increasing number of healthcare institutions are using green design not only to improve workplace performance and keep in line with the growing shift toward sustainability in business practices, but also to improve their patients’ health and recovery time. The concept is nothing new—in the 1980s, Roger Ulrich at Texas A&M University began studying whether viewing natural settings could reduce patient stress and produce measurable gains in patient outcomes, and found that those with a nature view recovered faster (7.96 days vs. 8.7 days)—but there has been a marked difference in the amount of healthcare buildings making green design a priority.

“A few pioneering institutions have made the investment in green building,” says Jim Moler from the healthcare group of Turner Construction, one of the nation’s premier builders of healthcare facilities. “They have demonstrated that there are health benefits, recruitment and retention benefits, and public relations benefits. This has gotten the attention of the industry, and there are not many healthcare executives who are simply rejecting it out of hand.”

The concept of green building certainly got the attention of Perkins+Will, an architecture and design firm that joined with a handful of other companies tired of sitting around waiting for the perfect green project. So they created their own with “GreenLab,” a prototype biotechnology research laboratory based on sustainable concepts and systems. As a result, they discovered that a focus on sustainability in design resulted in both cost savings and other benefits that exceeded even their expectations.

Taking the idea of sustainability a step further is HDR, an architecture, engineering and consulting firm that is hoping to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating, a status that less than 20 buildings in the world can claim. One feature that will help the McKinney Building in Texas achieve this goal is the use of alternative energy to power the structure. Alternative energy sources account for less than 10 percent of the total energy consumed in the country, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. But now more than ever, using alternative energy is becoming a possibility in the minds of many. For organizations that use alternative energy sources to power their facilities— and as a result achieve greater energy independence and reduced monthly energy expenses, as well as earn appreciation from their customers for placing importance on sustainable facility practices—it would seem that the concept is a no-brainer.

The fact is, while the businesses and hospitals and universities that are ahead of the curve in sustainable design are most certainly the leaders of innovation in their respective sectors, they are simply following the very thing that drove the desire to have these healthy, day-lit, nature-inspiring areas in the first place—basic human nature.

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