Last week, I attended a debate on whether the current interest in well-being in buildings is taking attention away from measures to improve energy efficiency. Whilst there is broad agreement they can be achieved in harmony, there is a tendency to prioritise one over the other, and the concern expressed is a focus on well-being, may have a detrimental impact on efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Energy efficiency measures are principally motivated by two factors; regulation with associated targets relating to carbon reduction, and a desire to decrease energy costs. Whilst the later has a direct impact on the bottom line of a business, carbon reduction yields no immediate benefit to an organisation. In some cases, carbon reduction comes at a significant cost, and payback may take several years. However, companies actively reducing their carbon impact offer benefits to wider society and the long term health of the planet via mitigation of climate change. This can come at a cost to market competitiveness, especially in sectors where trade is global and competitors may not be subject to the same carbon reduction targets.
So while energy efficiency can be at least in part an eco-centric pursuit, a focus on well-being is more about the people within a business. Prioritising staff well-being on the face of it appears an altruistic pursuit, but unlike energy efficiency, the company has a direct quantifiable benefit that is a win-win for both the employer and employees. Companies are increasingly aware doing more to look after their staff can directly impact bottom line performance through improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, a happier workplace and improved staff retention. It is well documented staff costs exceed energy costs by many times, and even a 1% increase in staff productivity will have a larger financial benefit for most organisations than a 50% reduction in energy use.
Whatever the motive, it has to be positive that employers are giving greater priority to staff well-being. Every year, 15 million work days are lost as a result of mental health related issues such as stress, and it is clear more can be done to improve working conditions. Research is increasingly demonstrating strong links between workplace indoor environments, health and productivity. If, as building performance specialists, we can establish how to optimise the relationship between people and place, while at the same time reducing building energy use, we will have achieved the ultimate goal of improved wellbeing and improved energy efficiency.
At LCMB we believe that it is possible to simultaneously improve worker productivity and well-being whilst reducing energy use. The Innovate UK WLP+ project is aiming to achieve exactly this. Using a number of trial buildings representing a range of office working conditions, the study will improve our understanding of how indoor environments impact on building users. Results will be applied directly to real-world applications using building management systems to dynamically control work, space while at the same time optimising control strategies in order to reduce overall energy use. LCMB are leading the project consortium, and would like to hear from organisations interested in how WLP+ can support their business.
If you are interested in understanding how the LCMB team can improve the performance and productivity of your buildings and estates to increase your organisations return on investment and competitiveness then contact:
John O’Brien our MD on t: 01295 722823 or by email.