Green architecture expert Professor Vivian Loftness speaking on the value of high performance buildings at Green Cities 2015.

Participants in a Green Cities 2015 workshop, including industry partners of the CRC for Low Carbon Living’s Closing the Loop project, have called for more promotion of the positive effects high performance buildings can have on wellbeing and productivity.

“For business, a low performance building can mean disengaged employees with low performance, higher levels of absenteeism and many thousands of dollars wasted per year in lost productivity,” Brookfield Multiplex sustainability manager Lauren Haas said.

“If office workers, students or patients in hospitals are more informed about what can be achieved through high performance buildings they can help drive demand for these buildings

An industry source who took part in of the one of the debriefing sessions following the conference told The Fifth Estate that outside the premium and A-grade building sector, there was far too little being done to promote sustainable buildings.

“There needs to be a drive from the tenant side. They need to be saying, ‘I want to be in a building that’s good for my workers,’” the source said.

Productivity, while often cited as a reason for improving building performance, has proved elusive to measure, with even the concept itself somewhat contentious, particularly in terms of firms in the knowledge economy. How exactly does an analyst demonstrate higher productivity?

It might be difficult to measure, but the source pointed to significant impacts in terms of firm profitability. In knowledge economy firms where wages and salaries comprise around 80 to 90 per cent of the outgoings, even a one per cent drop in productivity because the office has a low indoor environmental quality represents a major cut to business profitability.

Those productivity drops may be because of lesser efforts due to lack of daylight, poor lighting, high levels of volatile organic chemicals, ventilation issues or, more seriously, absenteeism due to illness brought on by sick building syndrome.

There are a number of frameworks that attempt to measure the impact of occupant perceptions of comfort and its relationship to productivity, such as the Building User Studies framework in the UK, and the new BOSSA and SAMBA technologies developed at the University of Sydney’s IEQ Lab.

SAMBA won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Green Cities Weapons of Mass Creation competition.

In design terms, the source said that if a designer wanted to deliver a building with increased perceived comfort and efficiency they needed to “take the user into the game with you”.

“Unless users are engaged in the way of how that building works and responds it won’t have the outcome,” the source said.

“It has been difficult to convey that value as a proposition to the [large real estate firms] that manage buildings. It is very low on their radar. What is high on their radar is ‘what gives the least number of complaints’.”

Where Australia was missing out is that much of the architectural conversation is about aesthetics, while lip service is paid to sustainability, which comes “later down in the piece” the source said.

Brett Pollard, head of knowledge and sustainability at HASSELL said there was plentiful research and evidence from academic experts such as green architecture expert Professor Vivian Loftness, who spoke at conference. However, the message about the benefits of sustainable buildings was still “not getting through to people who are procuring buildings”.

“Ultimately if you construct a building that does not take advantage of the evidence, organisations and businesses are missing out on the opportunity to create workplaces that are healthier and more effective,” Mr Pollard said.

AECOM’s Lester Partridge said that an example Professor Loftness gave contrasting consumer awareness about cars, laptops and buildings was instructive.

“People know more about the features of a car, which may only be owned for three to five years, or a laptop, which might last two or three years, than they do about the features of a building that will last in excess of 30 years. The conversation about high performance buildings needs to change and people need to be more aware of the true cost of buildings,” he said.

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  1. Perhaps we should also discuss the definition of a high performance building; just because a building has a decent Nabers rating doesn’t mean its a high performance building, that is, the indoor environment may be so poor, due to the energy management of the air to achieve the Nabers rating, that the building is uncomfortable to work in. Should a “high Performance” building rating be universal and in line with Nabers? Should it include all the ratings (base, whole, indoor, etc) as a single rating before we call the building “High Performance”. This also adds support to “taking the user into the game” to ensure the building environment supports their workers productivity. I’d be interested in other people’s point of view on this.

    1. Yes, 100% I agree. A high performance building should include consideration of comfort/health/efficiency. We can’t focus only at rating of the building via one target. Rating systems are good but not good enough to reflect a high performance building. Look at a German Passivhaus or Swiss Minergie house. All are low energy houses but never sacrifice indoor comfort and health. There are many possibilities to define different high performance buildings in different Australia climate zones.