SAINT-GOBAIN NORTH AMERICA
CREATING A LIVING LABORATORY
Can you measure your workplace’s impact on employee productivity and well-being? Can you create a building specifically designed for the people inside?
Saint-Gobain, one of the world’s largest building materials companies and manufacturer of innovative material solutions, used these questions to guide the creation of its North American Headquarters. Based in Malvern, Pa., the 277,000-square-foot, LEED Platinum certified Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed North American Headquarters was designed to align with the company’s purpose of creating great living places and improving daily life. A living building, it serves as a physical embodiment of the brand to drive employee comfort, productivity and well-being, and a draw to recruit and retain top talent.
The team renovated a long-unoccupied 65-acre campus, which was home to two 1960s-era buildings. Completed as two simultaneous projects, core and shell and interior fit-out, the project included major renovation of the existing buildings and a 40,000-square-foot addition, expanding the link between the buildings. The existing structural system was maintained and reused in the new design.
By installing more than 60 sustainable building materials from its own family of brands, the headquarters, which opened in October 2015, now serves as a living laboratory, where experts can evaluate how multiple building materials working together in a system influence thermal, visual and acoustic comfort and indoor air quality (IAQ), as well as employee productivity and well-being.
To study the impact of the building materials and systems, Saint-Gobain collaborated with the University of Oregon’s High Performance Environments Lab (HiPE). The longitudinal study, a first of its kind based on size and scale, revealed that a systems-based design approach, utilizing multiple solutions and strategies, can have a stronger collective impact on a building’s ability to optimize occupant comfort. Conducted in four phases over 36 months, the study analyzed employees’ experiences pre-, during and post-renovation throughout the company’s move from its former Valley Forge location to its Malvern headquarters.
The findings demonstrated substantial improvements in employee comfort, productivity and satisfaction. Approximately 40 percent of employees felt more productive in the headquarters, and more than half reported an improvement in perceptions of health and well-being.
Employee feedback reflects these statistics. Alison Ditton, Senior Credit and Collection Manager, noted: “Working in an environment that supports the employee motivates the staff to bring their best to work each day.”
Employees also reported improvements in visual, acoustic and thermal comfort and IAQ. Employees can continue to report their feedback in real time using an app called CrowdComfort, which ensures the building meets evolving needs.
Saint-Gobain utilized glazing systems, light-reflective acoustic ceiling systems, interior glass partitions and white interior walls to improve visual comfort. Employees reported a 56.4 percent improvement in visual comfort, contributing to a stronger sense of productivity and satisfaction. The study determined a strong correlation between higher employee satisfaction and the amount of light, daylight penetration, access to views, reduced glare and daylighting controls of the all-glass building.
By selecting low-emitting sustainable building materials and installing building systems to
improve air quality, Saint-Gobain created a healthier work environment. Nearly all employees (91.6%) reported an improvement in how healthy and comfortable they felt in the headquarters due to IAQ changes.
Saint-Gobain utilized a system of sound-absorbing surfaces, high-performance noise-reducing interior walls and exterior facades and a sound-masking system to improve acoustic comfort. Approximately 45 percent of employees reported an improvement in acoustic comfort and reported perceiving less noise and more control over their acoustic environments.
The team continues to evolve the space based on a loop of continuous feedback. For example, while a system of Saint-Gobain building materials fundamentally changed the building’s functional design and makes the building more efficient than the HVAC system, employees were still providing feedback on the temperature. Employees only reported a mild improvement (4.8%) in perception of thermal comfort, despite significant upgrades to the building’s core and envelope and high-performance heating and cooling system. Saint-Gobain will continue to address further challenges. As an ever-evolving space where data is constantly collected and evaluated, Saint-Gobain’s headquarters will continue to function as a living laboratory, where that input will be assessed to improve not just building performance, but the human experience of the people working in the space. Employee and visitor feedback will inform how the company enhances and creates building technologies that contribute to a more sustainable built environment.