Modern corporate interiors with their open air design, natural light, clean air and “productive ambiance” contribute to employee health and productivity. This article, however, alerts readers to the fact that sustainable office design often fails to address one important area of health and productivity – acoustics. Not only are there no LEED credits for acoustics [except for LEED for Schools] but current green design paradoxically can negatively impact employee health and performance. The author assures readers that this issue is far from a trivial one. Surveys show that distracting noise and a lack of acoustical privacy are at the top of workplace complaints, more so in green than in non-green buildings. Part of the problem is that the open air designs that let in light and airflow are inherently noisy due to reduced opportunities for sound absorption.
So how can designers create sustainable spaces that are also acoustically appropriate? The author argues for a holistic approach to office design that pulls in acoustical consultants early in the process and provides varying levels of acoustical attention depending on the function of each space, from teamwork-intensive areas to havens of private concentration. The wide range of green acoustical materials available in the marketplace is discussed, including sound absorbing ceiling tiles and floor underlayment, cotton duct lining and sound absorbent panels. The author warns us that there are initial costs to be faced, but argues that the returns on such investments will be considerable. The article ends with a call for LEED credits for acoustics and for more research to validate the impact of noise on health and productivity.