Nov. 28, 2017
Architects, building engineers, policy makers and building owners often rely on green certification programs — such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in the U.S. or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) in the U.K. — to achieve more sustainable and healthy built environments.
But does simply achieving green certification necessarily translate into creating a more satisfactory interior space in terms of indoor environmental quality?
The findings of a study recently published in the journal Building Research & Information — and based on commercial buildings data from the Center for the Built Environment occupant satisfaction survey database at the University of California, Berkeley — suggest that green certification and the specific indoor environmental quality (IEQ) credits do not enhance occupant satisfaction.
A continuation of previous research published in 2013 and 2014, the study was led by professor Sergio Altomonte of the University of Nottingham (now at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium), and architecture professors Stefano Schiavon and Gail Brager of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, with Michael Kent (Nottingham). It provided evidence that earning specific green certification IEQ credits does not increase occupant satisfaction with the related environmental factor (for example, temperature, lighting, acoustics, etc.). Also, achieving a larger number of IEQ credits or a higher level of certification — for example, Gold or Platinum — does not enhance occupants’ satisfaction.
While these findings are inconsistent with the hopes and expectations of the building industry, there are valuable lessons to be learned from them.
First, green certification is mostly earned upon design intent, but many things can change between the design stage of a project and its operation and post-occupancy evaluation. Therefore, to truly ensure that one is achieving improved IEQ requires the involvement of building professionals in performance monitoring to continuously fine-tune operating strategies.
Second, one might question whether the current metrics used for attainment of an IEQ credit were designed to translate into improved user satisfaction, as opposed to being defined merely in terms of physical metrics. IEQ certification metrics should focus on the occupants as much as on the building, ideally considering the substantial differences — demographic, physiological, socio-cultural, etc. — that characterize building users, rather than solely responding to the needs of an average standard occupant.
Finally, green certification criteria should also consider that satisfaction is a comprehensive design objective that is not only affected by the conventional IEQ parameters of heat, light, sound, and air quality, but is also driven by complex physiological and psychological dimensions surrounding personal health and wellbeing. A more integrative perspective is essential for simultaneously promoting enriched comfort, energy performance, and enhanced workplace experience.
Photo caption: Though not a part of this research study, Jacobs Hall, home of UC Berkeley College of Engineering’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, has been lauded several times since its August 2015 opening for its sustainable design and construction. The building now has another major designation: Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program.
Photo credit: Tim Griffith