NRC collaboration with RBC reveals new benefits to building green

- Ottawa, Ontario

RBC building at 88 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto, ON

It's well-known that "green buildings"—such as buildings that meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards—are generally good for both the environment and the bottom line. Among other outcomes, green buildings generate less waste, use less water, and consume significantly less energy for heating and cooling, adding up to fewer harmful emissions and lower costs; green buildings have also been shown to have higher real-estate worth.

While these buildings typically add value and reduce costs for an organization, a new ground-breaking research collaboration between the National Research Council (NRC) and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is showing that green buildings can also contribute to a more productive workforce.

How would you measure that?

As Trevor Nightingale, Program Leader of NRC's High-performance Buildings program points out, by offering better indoor environment quality, green buildings provide a more comfortable and health-supportive environment for the people who work in them. "There is a long history of research, including a lot done here at NRC, establishing linkages between the office environment and how it affects employees' ability to do their work" says Dr. Nightingale. "What's been missing is a way to objectively quantify the impact of the office environment on organizational productivity, especially where green buildings are concerned."

Major international organizations, including the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), and the World Green Building Council (WGBC), have laid out frameworks for establishing these connections. These are based on an analysis of multiple performance metrics, such as job satisfaction, health and well-being, job performance, and others. While many organizations already collect data on these and other metrics related to organizational effectiveness, the data have not typically been collated to support analysis of how they may be connected to organizational productivity—until now.

NRC, RBC collaboration shows strong connection

One of those organizations—RBC—has engaged with NRC on a preliminary analysis of the data it holds. The extensive data sets from RBC included anonymized human resources information on more than 40,000 RBC employees, ranging from age and education to job classification and salary; staffing actions such as hires and departures; manager-assessed performance; as well as responses to the RBC Employee Opinion Survey. The data files also included detailed information on more than 70 buildings, such as age and size, LEED certification scores, and the mapping of employees to individual buildings.

Guy Newsham, Principal Research Officer and Team Leader, NRC, says initial analysis involved comparing data from 13 large office buildings with green certification against the same data sets from 13, matched conventional buildings.

"Although not every green building outperformed every conventional building, green buildings on average demonstrated statistically-significant higher values of corporate metrics related to organizational productivity compared to otherwise similar conventional buildings," says Mr. Newsham. "In particular, ratings on the employee opinion survey, including concepts such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment, were generally higher for green buildings."

Just the beginning

By bringing existing data together in a new way, the collaboration between NRC and RBC has revealed how the features of RBC's office buildings affect the staff within them and the productivity of the organization. "Together, we have produced unprecedented data sets, combining human resource and real-estate information from a large number of buildings and staff," says Dr. Nightingale. "And now that these new methods have been proven, there are many more opportunities to leverage the data to quantify real estate's value to the corporate entity."

Robert Carlyle, Senior Director of RBC's Strategic Workforce Management group echoes NRC's excitement for future opportunities, adding that "we look forward to uncovering new insights with the NRC from the 120 million records in the new database – especially in developing physical spaces that will help keep our employees engaged."

A trusted partner

Ruth Weiner, Senior Manager of Energy and Environment for RBC's Corporate Real Estate team, says the NRC research reinforces the value of RBC's commitment to greening its portfolio of large office buildings, and the organization looks forward to additional insights from future research.

"The results more than justify our choice of NRC as our partner in this research, and not just for its technical and analytical expertise," says Ms. Weiner. "It was essential that we have an impartial collaborator, with secure mechanisms for handling confidential data—and NRC gives us all those things."

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