How sustainable workplace environments impact our health

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Moving to a more sustainable environment will lower workers’ compensation claims

  1. Sustainable workplace environments improve workers’ mental and physical health and lead to better resilience in the face of natural disasters.
  2. Three keys to a sustainable workplace environment include air quality, sunlight exposure and physical activity.
  3. Since we’re inside 90 percent of the time, air quality is crucial. A sustainable environment with clean, oxygen-rich air leads to less chronic respiratory disease.
  4. Increased sunlight helps improve vitamin D deficiency, poor skin health and inconsistent sleep patterns.
  5. Active architectural design influences workers to take the stairs and engage in more walking and other physical activity.

Sustainable workplace environments support people’s health and well-being in many ways, and amazing things happen when humans and nature can peacefully coexist. A healthy planet and sustainable lifestyles lead to improvements on many levels.

Here are some of the biggest ways sustainable workplace environments impact well-being and lead to happiness. Making just a few changes in these areas can make a huge difference.

Sustainable workplace environments improve air quality

People spend most of their time indoors today. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American stays inside almost 90% of the time. This sedentary, sheltered lifestyle has led to severe health consequences. Individuals are constantly exposed to volatile organic compounds, smoke, dust, mold and other indoor air pollutants.

The prevalence of chronic respiratory illnesses rose by 39.5% from 1990 to 2017 due to breathing contaminated air. Cases of respiratory syncytial viruses and the flu are also more common. Poor indoor air quality can worsen the symptoms of COVID-19, which has prompted many homeowners to take more serious measures to keep their air clean.

The adverse health effects of poor indoor air quality don’t stop there. There tends to be less oxygen indoors, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, disorientation and loss of consciousness.

Air quality plays a crucial role in society’s health. A sustainable environment with clean, oxygen-rich air helps people at home, at school and at work. It helps children develop into healthy adults without developing avoidable respiratory problems and improves academic performance in the classroom. It makes employees more focused and productive.

Building designers have started to take air quality more seriously. Materials with Greenguard Gold certifications are the new standard. Schools and workplaces must pass ongoing air quality tests for more than 10,000 potential chemicals to ensure the health of the occupants. Carpeting is going out of style in favor of natural hardwood floors. These small efforts add up to make a huge difference.

Related: Beyond face masks: Workplace PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)


Sunlight exposure

Spending more time indoors has also resulted in less sunlight exposure. Students and workers spend most of their days in windowless rooms with dim artificial lights. This dark environment is a huge contributor to seasonal affective disorder, especially during the wintertime when days have minimal sunlight to begin with.

Lack of sunlight also leads to vitamin D deficiency, poor skin health and inconsistent sleep patterns. People need sunlight to balance circadian rhythms and produce serotonin, the hormone responsible for mood, emotion and appetite regulation.

Now that the adverse effects of reduced sun exposure are obvious on a wider scale, lighting has become a much higher priority among building designers and architects. Skylights and window walls are extremely effective at bringing natural light into indoor spaces. Task lighting, dimmers and blue-enriched light that mimics the effects of sunlight are also becoming mainstream.

Relying more on natural light also improves buildings’ energy efficiency. Instead of wasting electricity on artificial lighting that stays on all day, more people are turning off the lights and letting the sun work its magic.

Physical activity

For decades, cities and buildings were built to accommodate sedentary people. You could find elevators and escalators in almost every commercial structure, and students and employees sit at their desks all day and get minimal exercise. These factors have partly contributed to the worsening obesity epidemic among adults and children.

Fortunately, active design is making a comeback. In many sustainable workplace environments, staircases are being placed more prominently, and there’s more access to public transportation. These measures promote more physical activity and reduce carbon emissions by providing alternatives to driving.

New York City has even enacted its own active design guidelines to reduce the city’s pollution and improve residents’ health. Initiatives like this can transform cities from dirty, sedentary parking lots to clean, active environments.

Related: How to reduce on-the-job injuries


Mental health

Sustainable workplace environments also support mental health. Breathing clean air, getting plenty of sunlight and exercising regularly are three key components of a healthy, happy society. This lifestyle prevents avoidable mental illnesses and gives everyone purpose. Additionally, spending more time in nature improves people’s psychological well-being while decreasing feelings of anger, fear and stress. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since people belong outdoors.

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, climate change anxiety will also decrease. Less destruction of the environment will lead to people feeling less guilt. That’s why living sustainably feels so fulfilling. There is no greater feeling than devoting yourself to a worthy cause and doing your part to preserve Earth’s natural beauty.

Social cohesion develops when everyone in a household, school or workplace shares the same goal of reducing wasteful habits and protecting the environment. People learn to get along with each other and reconcile their differences for the sake of the greater good. A society that’s committed to sustainability is tight-knit, strong and supportive.

Sustainable workplace environments support resilience to natural disasters

Recent sustainability efforts show lots of promise but can’t undo the damage humanity has already done. Climate change has led to a higher frequency of natural disasters worldwide. People can’t prevent disasters from happening, but they can increase resilience to them.

Emergency preparedness has become a top priority for governments in recent years. The United Nations even wrote a handbook on disaster resiliency to help local officials strengthen their cities. Some of the most important strategies include moving critical power systems away from flood zones, investing in alternative energy sources and educating citizens about disaster response.

Additionally, all the other methods to improve society’s physical and mental health will help with emergency preparedness. Disaster recovery is quicker and more effective when people are healthy and able-minded. They will also suffer fewer deaths and less infrastructural damage from natural disasters.

Related: Disaster emergency plans: How vulnerable is your business?


Health depends on sustainability

People’s health depends on environmental sustainability in many ways. Wasteful habits in the last few decades have led to many physical and health problems, not to mention more severe effects of climate change. People who adopt more eco-friendly habits and build greener cities can solve many health issues facing the modern world.

Agents, take a look at our Workers’ Compensation Program to add to your portfolio of insurance solutions.