Image: View Dynamic Glass
By Brandon Tinianov
In the modern knowledge economy, organizations thrive and grow on human energy. In this context, Human Energy is the total sum of the health, productivity, and happiness of the people that do the work that run today’s organizations.
Every day, a certain amount of human energy is introduced, is spent, and leaves the buildings where people work. I believe that when a building space is able to anticipate and respond to needs of people and their tasks, you will improve the energy of the individuals at work and at home. I’ve been calling this the Human Energy Factor, and improving it can lead to more valuable buildings for property owners, significant HR-related savings for managers and a healthier workforce.
Human energy is impacted by a number of elements—fulfillment, exercise, nutrition and socialization for example—but we’d like to focus on one that business and building owners can control: Natural Light.
According to a Harvard School of Public Health report, we spend about 90 percent of our time inside buildings, often away from windows and access to nature. Humans evolved outdoors, in ever-changing environments under the sun and moon. Activity was largely determined by whether the sun was up or down, and our biological rhythms are synchronized to the cycles of day and night. Disruption to this circadian rhythm by being inside all day, where windows are blocked by blinds, under harsh artificial lighting, can lead to sleep disorders and other health issues.
Although Human Energy Factor is just a term I like to use around the office, its business implications are profound and growing in recognition. Personnel is most organizations’ largest expense and their most valuable resource, so even a small increase in their productivity or decrease in their costs can amount to a significant impact on the business’ bottom line.
It turns out that people who work in offices with natural elements, of which light is an integral factor, show a 6 percent increase in productivity. Workers in offices with poor lighting quality and poor window views used significantly more sick leave hours than those in offices with good natural light, according to a University of Oregon, Eugene study.
The impacts extend beyond productivity and reach into the whole health of building occupants. As the University of Oregon report states, “daylight exposure and access to windows at work has been linked to improved sleep duration and mood, reduced sleepiness, lower blood pressure and increased physical activity.” Increased light increases human energy, “...whereas lack of natural light has been associated with physiological, sleep, and depressive symptoms.” In fact, the lack of sunlight is believed to be one of the leading causes of seasonal affective disorder. Conversely, the introduction of natural daylight led to improved cognitive function at work and improved sleep quality at home.
For businesses more needs to be done. According to a Northwestern University study, workers in offices with windows slept an average of 46 minutes per night more than workers without windows. Which led to better performance at work the next day. Human Energy Factor is based on that simple principle: create workplaces that let light into buildings to naturally energize people.
The last motivation is that people want more natural light in their workplaces and are willing to pay for it. Natural lighting goes beyond providing value only to human resources departments. Developers, builders, and real estate investors also have much to gain from creating healthy, human energy-friendly buildings. A report by Dodge Data & Analytics shows that 73 percent of US building owners who recognize the impact of healthy, light-filled buildings report faster occupancy rates and 62 percent report higher property values. The research also showed that 69 percent of building owners also report improved satisfaction due to their healthier building investments.
Many businesses have already embraced the concept behind Human Energy Factor. Adobe told BBC Capital that it had renovated its headquarters to incorporate plants, sunlight, and views. Overstock.com chose to use dynamic glass that automatically tints to create a design that promotes employees’ exposure to natural light. McKesson's headquarters in Virginia was also recently renovated to optimize access to natural light and use LED fixtures that brighten and dim automatically to mimic how sunlight changes throughout the day—adapting to people’s natural circadian rhythm.
Overstock occupants, image: View Dynamic Glass
A building where people are happy and healthy will better position a company for continued success. After all, the best environment is bound to attract the best talent and 33 percent of 7,600 polled global office workers said that office design “unequivocally affect[s] their decision whether or not to work somewhere.”
While the term is an evolution of the new but growing fields of biophilia and human wellness, Human Energy Factor describes a very real truth, applied to businesses and having real value to people who work inside buildings—which is most of us. Humans need natural light for health and happiness. Give them what they need, what their bodies need, and they will be healthier and happier to your benefit.
A recognized expert in cleantech, sustainability and building sciences, Brandon is vice president of business development at View, Inc. He is on the national advisory council to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), on the board of directors of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, a member of the California Technical Forum, and has served on the USGBC Northern California’s Board of Directors for six years, twice as Chairman. Also, Brandon is a registered Professional Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional, and has a Doctorate in Engineering Systems from the Colorado School of Mines and Master and Bachelor of Sciences degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas and Tulane University, respectively.