Green certified buildings are delivering billions of dollars in health, climate and energy-saving benefits, according to a major new study from Harvard University.
Engineering giant United Technologies Corporation (UTC) commissioned a team of researchers at the university to study how LEED certified buildings had performed over a 16 year period in six key markets: the US, China, India, Brazil and Germany.
The final peer-reviewed report, which was published in Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, concluded that the green buildings studied had delivered $7.5bn in energy savings.
However, it also detailed how the buildings had delivered a further $4.4bn in public health benefits through fewer deaths, hospital visits, and respiratory issues. And a further $1.4bn of benefits were documented as a result of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The report estimated that for every $1 of energy cost savings delivered by green buildings a further $0.77 of health and climate benefits were recorded.
“Considering that the buildings studied included only LEED certified buildings, which are approximately one-third of the global green building stock, total benefits worldwide would be even greater,” the report added.
Dr. Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study provided further evidence of the wide-ranging benefits associated with green buildings.
“The energy savings of green buildings come with a massive public health benefit through associated reductions in air pollutants emitted,” he said in a statement. “We developed the Co-benefits of the Built Environment (CoBE) calculator in this study as a tool that people can use for understanding the health impacts of building portfolios, investments and building strategies. The decisions we make today with regard to buildings will determine our current and future health.”
John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at United Technologies, said he hoped the research would help accelerate the roll out of greener buildings.
“Green buildings are designed to save energy and water while promoting healthy indoor environments,” he said. “Now we know the reduced environmental impact of building green is amplified with quantifiable benefits to public health and climate resilience. With this new human context, we can accelerate the green building movement globally from this groundbreaking research.”
The research builds on a previous Harvard study, which in 2015 explored how the brain’s cognitive function was impacted by poor office environments. It showed 101 per cent improvement in cognitive function test scores when workers spent time in an office with high ventilation, low CO2 and low volatile organic compounds, compared to when they were in a “conventional” office environment.
A follow up study in 2016 found that workers in green-certified buildings scored 26 per cent higher on cognitive function tests, reported 30 per cent fewer sick building symptoms and recorded six per cent higher sleep quality scores.