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Berkeley Study Questions Increased Office Worker Satisfaction Claims in LEED-Certified Buildings

Rendering of Hines' LEED Gold-hopeful 7 Bryant Park, now under construction in Midtown Manhattan.

Rendering of Hines’ LEED Gold-hopeful 7 Bryant Park, now under construction in Midtown Manhattan.

A (relatively) new research paper, completed by Stefano Schiavon, an assistant professor of architecture in sustainability, energy and environment at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE) and associate professor Sergio Altomonte with the University of Nottingham’s Environmental Physics and Design Research Group in the United Kingdom, expands on prior work by the same two authors. It belies other studies examining office worker satisfaction in LEED-certified buildings which have concluded that worker productivity, health, and overall well-being increases in green offices.

Titled Influence of factors unrelated to environmental quality on occupant satisfaction in LEED and non-LEED certified buildings, Schiavon and Altomonte’s paper concludes that most office workers do not experience a higher level of workplace satisfaction on account of working in LEED-certified buildings, regardless of the building and office layout, amount of time spent in the office, and other factors. The authors published the paper in the April 2014 issue of Building and Environment.

From the abstract:

The results show that [non-environmental] factors statistically significantly influence the difference in occupant satisfaction in LEED and non-LEED certified buildings, but the effect size of such variations is, for most, practically negligible. However, tendencies were found showing that LEED-rated buildings may be more effective in providing higher satisfaction in open spaces rather than in enclosed offices, in small rather than in large buildings, and to occupants having spent less than one year at their workspace rather than to users that have occupied their workplace for longer. The findings suggest that the positive value of LEED certification from the point of view of occupant satisfaction may tend to decrease with time.

The authors’ prior study analyzed occupant satisfaction in LEED- and non-LEED-certified buildings using a subset of the Center for the Built Environment’s survey database. That study concluded that LEED certification did not have any practically significant influence on occupant satisfaction. Their current paper aimed to analyze factors that are unrelated to environmental issues, like office type, layout, and distance from windows, the building size, and occupant age, gender, weekly working hours, and time spent at the office.

Schiavon and Altomonte are working on yet another paper that will suggest the most effective LEED strategies for increasing office worker well-being and intend to release that effort sometime in 2015. For now, they hope that their current research will spur builders and businesses to more carefully implement design strategies aimed specifically at increasing worker satisfaction. The authors also hope the paper will solicit increased feedback from workers, as well as encourage USGBC and others to refine third-party rating systems to increase their assessments of building and worker performance.

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