Wood is rapidly rising as a material of choice in British Columbia and beyond, but one expert sees benefits not only for the environment but for a building’s occupants.
Graham Lowe is a workplace consultant and the author of Wood, Well-being and Performance: The Human and Organizational Benefits of Wood Buildings, which is a report written for the naturally:wood organization.
It states the use of wood and other natural materials in buildings can be beneficial for the physical and mental health of occupants of those structures.
Lowe writes wood buildings address biophilia, which is the human need for direct connections with nature and natural materials.
“There’s quite a lot of research on the connections we have with plants, greenery, wood and all-natural elements that contribute to very positive physiological, neurological and psychological responses. When you go into a forest or a wooded park that has calming effects,” Lowe said.
“Wood is the next big step in building green. What that means is that people working in a wood structure, for example built with mass timber where the interiors are exposed wood, that environment is going to have a whole range of positive benefits for those occupants,” he said. “Making that direct connection to nature while being inside is a huge plus, given the fact that we spend the majority of our time indoors not outdoors.”
Organizations can also integrate the built environment into their wellness strategies, Lowe said, and those in the wellness space are starting to make the connection between occupant health and the building itself.
“That to me has got huge potential to move an organization’s wellness strategy forward so it’s beyond offering fitness programs and online resources for mental health and safety to actually looking at how we design the space. We are encouraging people to thrive in that physical space,” Lowe said.
People in buildings with exposed wood are far less likely to be absent and they’re far less likely to experience ‘presentee-ism’ which is a bigger cost for an employer and means coming to work when you’re unable to fully function because you’re not feeling well, Lowe said.
“The evidence suggests the reduced rates of absenteeism and presenteeism are huge cost savings and therefore translate into productivity for the employer,” he said.
Recruitment, retention and engagement are also of top concern to many employers and the wood environment in an office contributes to all of those factors, Lowe said.
“What you’ve got is an environment that speaks to the organization’s culture and its brand as an employer. That’s very appealing, especially to younger employees so that’s the recruitment and retention piece but at the same time if people are satisfied with the environment they’re working in that contributes to their sense of engagement with their job, their commitment and their connection,” he said.
While much of the workforce is currently at home due to COVID-19, Lowe said the work from home trend is unlikely to be as pronounced 18 months or two years from now.
“Most employers still recognize the need to have a physical workspace and the internal design of that space may look different with desks spaced out or cubicle farms but having that physical presence and designing the building in a way that speaks to the values of the organization will still be an important feature,” he said.
B.C. is certainly at the forefront when it comes to leading the wood movement, Lowe said, starting with the provincial government’s Wood First initiative in 2009 for all publicly-funded structures and complemented by structures built for the 2010 Olympic Games as well as the 18-storey Brock Commons tower on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus.
“In addition to putting up these structures, we have expertise at UBC and with manufacturing capacity we have Structurlam, which is a leader for manufacturing components for mass timber buildings. I think B.C. is definitely out front and it still can learn from other jurisdictions and it does,” he said. “The fact that all the building codes in B.C. are permitting up to 12 storeys of mass timber buildings will create quite a surge in tall building construction out of wood,” he said.
For more of Lowe’s interview on the benefits of wood buildings listen to The Construction Record podcast on Nov. 27, https://canada.constructconnect.com/joc/podcasts.
Follow the author on Twitter @JOCFrey.