Most people involved in the design and construction of buildings will be aware of BREEAM and its aim to help create sustainable developments that have a minimal impact on the environment. With BREEAM’s ratings the lower the environmental impact the higher score (and high scores also help to boost residual property values).
However, architects and developers may not know that BREEAM also measures the impact buildings have on the wellbeing of their occupants.
Providing a healthy and positive working environment not only improves the productivity and performance of the workers, they’re also less likely to take time off work due to stress or illness.
Taking regular breaks from prolonged periods of sitting, which is an issue with most office-based workers, will improve the employees’ wellbeing, but having a green space in which enjoy some time out will multiply the benefits.
Under the ecology section, BREEAM aims to promote the importance of enhancing a site’s ecological value through the introduction or enhancement of green spaces, which will help to overcome and prevent a wide range of ailments — from acute aches and pains, to chronic musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Not only does a green space provide a more scenic environment, natural spaces encourage
building users to become more socially interactive in the work place, which further boosts the employees’ mental wellbeing. Other benefits of green spaces include improved air and water quality, reduced heat build-up and carbon dioxide sequestration.
BREEAM ratings also take into account how workers get to and from the office; credits Tra 01 Transport Accessibility and Tra 04 Maximum Car Parking promote car sharing and the use of public transport.
The number of solo commuters driving to and from work has significantly increased over the years, which has contributed to increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, together with localised health issues resulting from nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide being released from petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.
To help reduce the reliance of private vehicles to get to and from work, Tra 01 encourages developers to choose sites that are in close proximity to existing transport links. If a site is chosen that has minimal public transport links, credit Tra 05 Travel Plan encourages developers to establish new transport links that will service their scheme.
Developments with fewer car parking spaces achieve a higher BREEAM rating, which is evaluated through credit Tra 04. The overall aim here is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging car sharing and the use of public transport, and to continue to encourage people to walk and cycle to work.
To help boost the number of workers that cycle to the office, BREEAM credit Tra 03 Cyclist Facilities evaluates and encourages the provision of cycle storage facilities — that are covered, well lit and secure — together with adequate facilities (showers, changing rooms, lockers and drying areas).
BREEAM will also reward the location of buildings; the closer they are to local amenities the better — typically within 500 metres, which will encourage workers to walk to use the local facilities. This will help to boost the local economy and provide further opportunities for exercise — a ten-minute brisk walk will burn approximately 50 calories.
BREEAM also looks at the amount of natural light the employees are exposed to whilst at work. The daylighting analysis — under credit Hea 01 — determines whether applicable rooms of a building provide adequate levels of daylight to ensure best practise in visual performance and comfort for the occupants.
The benefits of effective daylighting include reduced stress levels, improved moods, enhanced performance and reduced eyestrain. Harnessing natural light can also reduce energy consumption.
Working near to a window with views outside also satisfies the physiological need of the eye to regularly change focus and being near the source of natural light can also help with circadian rhythms (which regulate our wake/sleep patterns).
BREEAM also looks at the thermal comfort of workers and the occupants of buildings. Being uncomfortably hot or cold can reduce productivity and performance. Buildings that are too hot can lead to heat exhaustion or and buildings that are too cold that lead to hypothermia.
High relative humidity can also cause the proliferation of mould and the associated release of spores that can lead to respiratory illness and aggravate existing allergies or breathing conditions. Conversely, low humidity can cause dryness of the throat and eyes — both of which also impact on productivity.
BREEAM has been at the forefront of the drive to help reduce the environmental impact of new buildings and to encourage the building of truly sustainable communities.
Although BREEAM is perhaps best known for addressing issues such as reducing energy consumption and improving the energy efficiency of buildings, it is very good news that the health and wellbeing of those who use the buildings is now coming to the fore.
There may well be additional costs associated with creating green spaces and maximising natural light, but there is clear evidence that a positive working environment boosts health and wellbeing, which in turn improves performance, reduces stress levels and enhances cooperation between employees.
Written by Katie Townley, Sustainability Consultant