Not only does green building equate to lower energy use, it has a secondary benefit of improving quality of life. And that benefit is no small change. This study shows it adds up to $6 billion.

Buildings can deliver billions of dollars' worth of public health benefits, including fewer hospitalizations and reduced climate impacts – if they’re energy efficient.

So says new study by Harvard University, which examined a subset of green-certified buildings over a 16-year period in the United States, China, India, Brazil, Germany and Turkey.

Known as HEALTHfx, the study found nearly $6 billion in combined health and climate benefits.

In some countries, health and climate benefits far exceeded – in dollar amounts – energy savings. Globally, the studied green-certified projects saved billions of dollars in energy costs.

Also globally, 33,000 kilotons of CO2 were avoided, equivalent to 7.1 million fewer passenger cars on the road for one year.

This equates to:

$4.4 billion in estimated public health benefits from fewer:

  • Deaths
  • Hospital visits
  • Asthma attacks
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Lost days of work
  • Lost days of school
  • $1.4 billion in estimated climate benefits from reductions in:
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)

This is all in addition to $7.5 billion in energy savings from the green-certified buildings studied. Considering that the buildings studied included only LEED-certified buildings, which are approximately one-third of the global green building stock, total benefits worldwide would be even greater.

In fact, HEALTHfx found that on average, for every dollar saved on energy costs by green buildings, another 77 cents was saved in health and climate benefits. In China and India, the effects were more drastic, with approximately $10 in health and climate benefits for every dollar in energy savings.

Dr. Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, led the research.

"The energy savings of green buildings come with a massive public health benefit through associated reductions in air pollutants emitted,” he said. “We developed the co-benefits of the built environment (CoBE) calculator in this study as a tool that people can use for understanding the health impacts of building portfolios, investments and building strategies. The decisions we make today with regard to buildings will determine our current and future health."

The study builds on the team's 2015 COGfx Study – COGfx is shorthand for your brain's cognitive function – which showed 101 percent improvement in cognitive function test scores when workers spent time in an office with high ventilation, low CO2 and low volatile organic compounds, compared to when they were in a "conventional" office environment. In 2016, the team expanded the experiment and found that, in green-certified buildings, employees scored 26 percent higher on cognitive function tests, reported 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms and 6 percent higher sleep quality scores.

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