Body Bennies: The Health Impact of Going Green

The buzz about green buildings and living green walls isn’t new. These energy-efficient structures can be environmentally friendly in various ways, which is why the green building sector has an incredible potential to generate a positive impact on the climate. “Environmental consequences and concerns definitely lead the charge as they do for the growth of the solar industry worldwide,” according to editors at Comfy Living magazine, who share the health and economic factors driving green construction and green building boom.

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): A rapid and far-reaching sustainable transition in the land, energy, buildings, transport, and cities is needed to meet global carbon reduction goals. Buildings account for almost 40 percent of global energy-related CO2 and will play a major role in a sustainable transformation.
  • Green buildings, like those that are LEED-certified, are a global solution for cities, communities, and neighborhoods: The tangible benefits may not be easily recognizable to tenants or visitors, but through sustainable design, construction and operations green buildings are reducing carbon emissions, energy, and waste; conserving water; prioritizing safer materials; and lowering our exposure to toxins. These outcomes are contributing to the global growth of the industry.
  • World Green Building Trends SmartMarket Report: Many in the building and construction industry expect the majority of projects in the next three years to be green buildings. Looking ahead, creating spaces that support our health and well-being, as well as the economy and environment, will be vital to accelerating sustainable development and delivering a better standard of living.

Here’s why green buildings do a body good: 

  • USGBC public opinion research: A third of respondents have had direct, personal experience with bad health associated with poor environments or living situations. We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors and green buildings create spaces that promote health and comfort. Read about inspiring work from around the world in our Project Directory. USGBC’s research also showed that when it came to the green building benefits that resonated the most, respondents said clean air and water and less exposure to toxins. Hear from communities that are prioritizing health across buildings and spaces.
  • Green buildings have a positive impact on public health: Improving indoor air quality can reduce absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression and stress and self-reported improvements in productivity. USGBC’s own research reinforces that employees in LEED green buildings feel happier, healthier and more productive.
  • National Institute of Building Sciences: A recent study found that each $1 spent on mitigation activities – such as strengthening buildings and improving drainage conditions – saves $6 in response and recovery costs. Green buildings promote resilience-enhancing designs, technologies, materials and methods. To support these efforts, green buildings promote the use of durable materials, thoughtful site selection, rainwater collection, demand response, grid islanding, energy efficiency, onsite renewable generation and more. Explore more resilience strategies at USGBC’s Center for Resilience.
  • LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities: There is value in incorporating resilience into individual projects, but also on a larger scale. Pursuing resilience on a community or portfolio level can encourage greater collaboration among residents and property owners. Review the tools needed to improve the quality of life for people through resilience planning here.

More fabulous facts about the future of going green:

  • The green building market in the US is expected to hit $99.8 billion by 2023.
  • California’s Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan aimed at making all new residential construction in this US state zero net energy by 2020.
  • 17.2% of green buildings in the US belong to the education sector.
  • Green building industry statistics show that the global green construction materials market was forecasted to reach $1 trillion in 2020.
  • Australian Green-Star-certified buildings produce 62% lower greenhouse emissions.
  • The global green building industry has the potential to cut energy consumption by 50% or more by 2050.
  • Green buildings achieve a 7% increase in asset value compared to non-green ones.
  • Working in well-ventilated environments improves brain function by 101%.
  • LEED Gold buildings have 19% lower maintenance costs.
  • In the US, there has been a 19% increase in LEED-certified buildings since 2017.

What about Green Living Walls?

Known by several names including green walls, living walls, or vertical gardens, these architectural elements can be found on exteriors or interiors of buildings, and can range in size from just a few square feet to entire walls in the atrium spaces. First developed by Stanley Hart White, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, in 1938; he created a patent for his “vegetation-bearing architectonic structure and system,” but the invention didn’t really take off.

In fact, Stanley’s brother E.B. White documented the invention in his 1937 letter to Katherine S. White, writing, “I guess everyone has crazy brothers and sisters. I know I have. Stan, by the way, has taken out a patent on an invention of his called ‘Botanical Bricks,’ which are simply plant units capable of being built up to any height, for quick landscape effects, the vertical surfaces covered with flowering vines, or the like. He thinks that the idea has great possibilities for such things as world fairs, city yards, indoor gardens, and many other projects. I think perhaps he has got hold of something, and have written him for more information. He certainly deserves a break.”

Stanley refined the vertical garden typology with his patent for the “vegetation-Bearing Architectonic Structure and System (1938)” in which he outlined the scope for a new field of vegetation-bearing architecture. The impact of this invention has still unrealized provocations on this history of gardens and designed landscapes, establishing a precedent for verdant modernism in the prewar Middle West. The wall was reconstructed in 2012-13 as part of a Graham Foundation Research Award.