When you are inside a building, the air that you breathe, the light that you are exposed to, the sounds that you hear and the views that you are exposed to are all determined by the indoor environment created by the building. Maintaining a high-quality, healthy and comfortable indoor environment is a continuous process that is a combination of good design, construction, maintenance and operation practices.
GBCI India and Saint Gobain Research India recently released a joint study, Healthy Workplaces for Healthier People, that evaluates the health performance of office buildings in India. The study evaluated 30 offices located in nine Indian cities. Building data collected from project teams and professionals who work at the buildings, along with onsite measurements and inspection; and occupant feedback collected through online surveys were all analysed to determine whether the buildings were delivering healthy and comfortable spaces. Important parameters such as indoor air quality, lighting, access to outdoor views, thermal comfort and acoustics, which define workspace quality, were evaluated.
The study revealed there is considerable room for improvement in Indian offices when it comes to maintaining a healthy indoor environment. Inadequate design, operation and maintenance practices, building managers’ and occupants’ lack of awareness on indoor environmental quality, are the key reasons behind poor-quality indoor environments in most offices.
Can people perceive the indoor environment correctly?
Occupant surveys are usually considered a basis for identifying problem areas and evaluating the quality of the indoor environment. However, this study demonstrated that critical indoor parameters like air quality and lighting are primarily unnoticeable by occupants. Despite poor lighting and air quality observed in many spaces, 76% of people reported satisfaction with lighting and 68% with air quality. This highlights that occupants’ perception does not accurately reflect IEQ performance and regular measurement and monitoring is required to protect occupant health and wellbeing.
What impacts people the most?
High levels of nitrogen dioxide indoors, lack of access to good outdoor views and low melanopic lux* level exposure in morning hours were the top factors affecting people’s overall happiness with their office environments. Occupants felt fatigued at the end of the day due to lack of access to good outdoor views, poor thermal comfort conditions and high levels of indoor generated noise.
*‘Equivalent melanopic lux’ (EML) is a metric that characterizes circadian light, or light that acts as a stimulus for the human circadian system.
How to realize the health benefits of certification?
Study findings showed that even though certified spaces were designed better, most were unable to deliver a high-quality indoor environment. One of the main reasons behind this gap in design and performance was poor operations and maintenance.
To realize the full health benefits of certification, green-certified projects should:
- Attempt to obtain all critical credits aimed at enhancing IEQ at the certification stage,
- Ensure regular operation and maintenance, and
- Regularly measure and track building performance.
While green building certification is a crucial first step, maintaining a high-quality healthy and comfortable space is a continuous process. Rating programs like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) offer recertification for all occupied and in-use projects that have previously achieved certification to reassure projects that their space is performing at a high level, meet every-changing goals and stay on the cutting edge. Buildings can also leverage simple and data-backed performance platforms like Arc to regularly measure and track and improve their building’s performance.
Towards better workplaces
Insights from the Healthy Workplaces for Healthier People study will prove useful to anyone who owns, operates or works in an office as well as to professionals who are involved in workplace design. Company leaders, building owners, office managers, architects and developers can apply the study findings in evaluating and improving the health performance of existing facilities and planning new projects.
Read the Healthy Workplaces for Healthier People study to get more information on health performance of workplaces in India, and to learn strategies to ensure occupant health is prioritized in these spaces.