Why does the occupant matter in green building design? (hint: ergo)

by Josie Blake

Our recent ACE conference was held at The Banff Centre, in gorgeous, “Green certified” buildings (we were in this one: https://www.banffcentre.ca/articles/leed%C2%AE-gold%C2%A0achieved-kinnear-centre-creativity-innovation), which were alarmingly close to some of the wildfires (apparently only 6 miles!) The conference had a session dedicated to presentations on sustainable development, and one presentation that intrigued me was given by Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University, entitled “Green building design needs ergonomics”. He briefly reviewed how ergonomics “points” have been incorporated into current Green building rating systems (LEED, WELL and FITWEL), and discussed effects that incorporating ergonomics design has had, and could have, on the health, comfort and productivity of employees working in Green certified buildings. He catered to tWhyyhe audience of ergonomists and researchers by indicating what was needed from us in order to improve health and human experience and performance when designing Green buildings.

Currently, the LEED certification system (http://www.leeduser.com/credit/Pilot-Credits/PC44) seems to have the most detail on how to obtain a credit towards certification by implementing ergonomic designs and strategies (compared to other certification systems). However, Hedge pointed out that he has only seen a few projects seek the ergonomics credit… perhaps due to lack of awareness, or lack of need for an additional credit, or perhaps the assumption that if the building is certified by LEED then it must be healthy for its occupants in all ways (Hedge, 2017)!

Very little research has investigated the presence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) among occupants of Green certified buildings. However, Hedge has been working on it, and in 2010, his research team followed approximately 200 employees through a move from an “old” building where 7% of employees reported a compensable WRMSD, to a Green building where the ergonomics credit had been pursued. A year post-move, he found that the ergonomics credit had been impactful, as WRMSDs fell to 2% (Hedge, 2017). In some of his other studies, where the ergonomics credit had not been pursued, he found that the presence of WRMSDs was not always better in Green buildings and results showed that some concerns had even worsened (Hedge, 2017), indicating that not all LEED certified buildings are successful in improving all aspects of health and human experience.

It is clear that more research on presence of WRMSDs in Green buildings is needed, but there is plenty for ergonomics practitioners to do in the meantime. In addition to promoting awareness of the LEED ergonomics credit, we can offer our services and expertise to architects and construction/design professionals:

–          During the conceptual or schematic design phase, we can help with all human elements from layout and work flow, to flooring, to designing for maintenance and repair, to working heights and reaches.

–          We can help develop your ergonomics strategy – we are experts in navigating guidelines such as BIFMA and CSA, and we can use our vendor files to help purchase quality “ergonomic” furniture.

–          We can provide ergonomics education to the building occupants (and also for those involved in the construction phase!)

–          We are experienced in evaluation and maintenance of occupant ergonomics – we can run your ergonomics program for the infinite future (see, we strive for a sustainable business for ourselves too), training new employees, and keeping you up to date on ergonomics guidelines and standards.

If you check out ergonomics credit requirements (link above), the services we provide cover all the requirements. If you hire an ergonomist (*ahem, pick us with 50+ years of combined experience*), pursuing the ergonomics credit for your new LEED certified building can become less intimating and much easier than you may have thought. Think about it… if the ergonomics credit is not pursued and an ergonomics strategy is not implemented pro-actively, workers could end up with inappropriate workstation layouts and furnishings, and no education on MSD recognition and prevention. Ultimately, this could have a negative impact on the overall goal of green buildings by hindering efficiency (the human element can be thought of as reduced worker productivity) and preventing maximal sustainability (the human element includes worker well-being and retention).


Hedge, A. (2017). Green building design needs ergonomics. Proceedings of the 48th Annual Conference of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists, 12th International Symposium on Human Factors in Organisational Design and Management July 31-August 3, 2017, 179-184.

Leed User (2017). Pilot-Credits PC44: Ergonomics Strategy. From: http://www.leeduser.com/credit/Pilot-Credits/PC44 on August 22, 2017.

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