Elevating green building as a health issue

Thirteen years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council launched a rating system called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, with the hopes that architects, engineers, designers and real estate firms would improve energy efficiency and the use of recycled materials in their projects to win LEED-certified recognition.

Now the USGBC’s Northern California Chapter is joining forces with several leading companies and institutions and launching the “Building Health Challenge.“ Several companies, including Adobe, Genentech, Google, Kaiser Permanente, Salesforce.com and the University of  California San Francisco, have signed on to the effort, which marks the first time that major corporations have publicly committed to improving human health through green building practices.

“We’re expanding the conversation,” said Dan Geiger, executive director of the USGBC Northern California Chapter, in an interview. “We’re talking about human performance, not just building performance.”

Adobe plans to study its LEED-certified workplaces to determine if they quantitatively contribute to more collaborative, creative and healthy employees. Other companies are instituting green cleaning practices or evaluating materials for health impacts. Suppliers of building materials are increasingly disclosing HPDs, or Health Product Declarations.

Details about the Building Health initiative were revealed Tuesday evening at the USGBC-NCC Super Heroes Awards Gala  in San Francisco.

The original idea behind LEED was to make buildings more energy efficient and reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment. But LEED-certified buildings have proved to be enormously popular with employees, an anecdotal evidence suggests they can improve concentration and boost productivity. Healthy buildings, whether at schools, workplaces or in low-income housing, are seen as key to building healthy communities.

“We care deeply about the health of our employees,” said Erin Decker, sustainability manager at salesforce.com, which will soon occupy a LEED Platinum building at 350 Mission Street in San Francisco. “This initiative gives us a lot of partners to collaborate with.”

Adobe’s San Jose headquarters. Adobe is a founding partner of the Building Health Initiative.

Dana Hull Dana Hull (229 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.