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Office workers reap healthy spin-offs from efficient building design.
THE new wave of ultra-green office buildings is bringing unexpected benefits for their occupants beyond the obvious savings in cost and energy.

Employees have reported being healthier and happier working in natural light and with minimal air-conditioning, as well as being surrounded by carpets that don't emit the cocktail of chemicals called volatile organic compounds.

The Green Building Council of Australia says the number of buildings winning Green Star certification has risen from just three in 2005 to 22 last year.

1 Bligh Street in the CBD is one of the 16 new buildings to be awarded six-star green status so far this year. It became the new home to law firm Clayton Utz in June and among the green features it incorporates are its own basement sewerage plant that recycles 90 per cent of the water in the building, solar panels on the roof and cooling from "chilled beams" rather than conventional air-conditioners.

"I wasn't expecting to feel too much difference but having moved into the building it's surprising how much more natural light there is and how much better you feel generally working in a naturally ventilated building," 25-year-old lawyer Aman Saxena said.

Colleague Jemma Rowe, 26, shares his enthusiasm for the ultra-modern building, adding that there had been an obvious "positive impact" on staff since the move.

The pair's sentiments are backed by an increasing body of evidence, including a detailed study with another law firm, Oakley Thompson, after it recently moved into a newly refurbished green building in the centre of Melbourne.

The study, conducted with the University of Melbourne, found sick days had fallen 39 per cent and the lawyers' billings ratio rose 7 per cent despite the overall hours worked falling 12 per cent.

The survey even found the firm's secretaries were typing 9 per cent faster in the new building and with greater accuracy.

Professor Deo Prasad of the University of NSW's faculty of the built environmentpoints out that keeping employees healthier and happier is a major financial incentive for businesses considering going green.

"In the lifecycle of a building the salaries of the people working in the building is by far the single largest cost," he said.

"If you can improve productivity by, say, 2-3 per cent you are making a huge difference."

Professor Prasad added that employers are also finding that providing green offices was helping them recruit and retain younger workers from Gen Y and beyond.

"There's increasing evidence that working in a greener building is more attractive to a certain type of younger occupant," he said.

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