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Business & Our Health: A Sustainable Living

Doug Aitken “Mirage" (Lance Gerber Photo)

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an average person spends about 90% of their life indoors. That is equivalent to about 72 years of our life (with an average 80-year lifespan). And yet scientific evidence has shown that indoor air is a lot more polluted than outdoor air even in industrial and busy cities that don't have great outdoor air quality, which can pose variety of risks to our health and quality of life. Studies and researches have provided insights into practices and methods that can directly or indirectly address some of these issues like airborne pollutants that cause harm to our health and have negative environmental effects and greenhouse gas that has high GWP (Global Warming Potential) and Ozone Depletion.

In this article we want to discuss solutions businesses can implement to directly and indirectly address the health and quality of life of their employees. Naturally these solutions not only address the air pollution to provide a better indoor (and outdoor) air quality but also connect people with nature to get as much healthy fresh air as possible during the working days. While there are many great solutions and we cannot possibly discuss all of them in this article, we will bring forward 2 category solutions that will have the most impact for both the environment and the occupants but also factor in initial cost and life-cycle cost (LLC), productivity at work and generating multiple benefits from one solution.

Fresh Air & Nature

Dallas Katy Trail

One of the easiest and less expensive ways of improving human health while reducing indoor energy consumption is to enforce stronger connecting with nature by spending more time outdoors. A study by the University of Michigan researched the link between interacting with nature and being outdoor with cognitive skills. The study found that being outside or just even looking at pictures of nature for an hour improved both short-term memory and attention span by 20%. The study emphasized the need for connection to natural scenes when being outdoor rather than walking down the city streets with buildings, cars and less "exploration" opportunities.

A business can improve the productivity of its employees and cognitive skills like focus and attention span by creating parks and outdoor rest areas for employees to enjoy during lunch breaks or by providing covered outdoor offices and conference rooms for meetings and work outdoors. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many other big companies have incorporated some form of outdoor spaces for their employees from rooftop lounges with comfortable and appropriate business and computer/internet connection arrangements to natural plants and gardens inside the office buildings.

A Study by National Institute of Health (NIH) researched the amount of time spent outdoors during workweeks versus weekends. The study showed that the median times per day outdoor is 1.04 h for workweeks and 1.64 h during the weekends. So we conclude that people get more fresh outdoor air when they are not inside offices and working.

A recent change in traditional workweeks by New Zealand firm, Perpetual Guardian shows positive benefits of 4-day workweeks rather than the traditional 5 days. The results show positive outcome for employees, companies and planet. A survey of their employees before and after implementing this change shows 38% less stress reported versus 45% and 78% higher satisfaction with work/life balance compared to 54% beforehand. This approach comes from initiatives to improve the quality of life of their employees so that they can be the best versions of themselves when at work, which can benefit the employer by having happier employees at work who are more productive with better engagement and company loyalty. Some researches have shown that only less than 2 hours of a day are productive work hours. So having employees on-site or on-line for over 8 hours a day does not necessarily lead to more productivity and it could actually have an adverse effect.

The shorter workweeks strategy not only helps the life quality and health of working people and brings the same and maybe even more monetary and definitely more non-monetary benefits for the businesses but it also helps with energy consumption and air pollution which again benefits environmental effects and cuts down the operational costs of energy for the business. When employees are not at the office, there would be less demand for energy and electricity and less cars on the road which can help with greenhouse gas emission and air pollution reduction efforts.

Architectural Design & Indoor Air

Architectural design is a very important element of sustainable living and has profound amount of impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. Another great way of incorporating more interaction with nature is by blurring the line between indoor and outdoor. The indoor/outdoor blur can be approached in many different ways but mostly it's a type of design that encourages strong connection with nature by making outdoor spaces easily accessible within a space and bringing in a lot of natural light and elements indoor. Glass window door openings to outdoor areas, strategic placement of windows around the building, placement and type of furniture and open floor layouts are among many ways to blur the line between indoor and outdoor.

For better IAQ, EPA recommends space planning and furniture arrangement around the air delivery and flow in the room. For example placing furniture against supply or return air registers that blocks the air generated in the room can negatively impact the air quality and even result in higher energy consumption and energy cost. Same goes with placing a big sofa against the window or access to outdoor opening as it blocks the light and the natural air flow, not to mention the beautiful view of the nature outside.

This article was drafted and edited by Aidin Belganeh.

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