Good for the Environment, Good for Your Body

By Lindsey Kirleis and Valerie Miller, The Dobbins Group

The indoor environment quality section of LEED contains some provisions that offer just as many perks for the end user as they do sustainability for the environment. Whether you are a building manager trying to retain tenants or an office manager trying to retain employees, things like air quality, thermal comfort, daylighting and optimal views may seem more luxury than green. But in fact they are both, with the benefit to your budget not only in energy savings, but in reduced turnover costs.

The Dobbins Group“In today’s market, companies want to establish green practices for two reasons,” says Ari Klein, Senior Vice President at Grubb & Ellis, a worldwide commercial real estate firm. “First is to show the outside world that they are contributing, and second to cater to the large pool of new and younger talent coming into the workforce who demand a ‘greener’ work environment.” Klein believes that if a company isn’t able to be in a new or greener building, there are initiatives a company can take to contribute.

For the commercial market, there are numerous products out there ergonomically designed to meet the needs of all workers no matter what age, size or shape. While they currently won’t earn you any LEED credits, these products were designed in the spirit of productivity and comfort that underlies green practices and protects your bottom line.

The workplace has been revolutionized in the digital age, making the need to understand the human-machine interaction even more important. “Technology has allowed us to perform most work tasks while seated at our desks, but the challenge is to figure out how we keep our bodies moving in different ways to prevent injury from static sitting and repetitive motion,” says Jennifer Graham, architectural and design manager for Knoll and an ergonomic specialist. “A chair doesn’t have to be just a chair anymore. At Knoll when we design a new chair we want it to be innovative, functional and beautiful,” says Graham, “but also intuitive and easy to adjust.” All while being consciences of the environment. Knoll adopts Green Guard children and school certification, which is a strict standard for indoor air quality and also SMaRT, which is a 3rd party sustainable certification.

According to Graham, the four most natural body positions are: standing, sitting upright with your feet on the floor, sitting in recline and sitting at a forward tilt. With the exception of standing, these can be achieved with all ergonomic task chairs including Knoll’s Life and Chadwick chairs.

Most task chairs have a mechanism to adjust the height, but for further ergonomic needs look for an adjustable seat pan with “waterfall” front, adjustable arm height and position and adjustable lumbar support. Using these mechanisms properly will allow the user to quickly and efficiently adjust the chair to fit his or her body. For the back and seat cushions there are many options including mesh fabric which allows for breathability or traditional foam for a solid plusher look. Most major furniture companies provide their own version of an ergonomic chair. Choosing the right chair for your body may require trying several different brands but will be worth it in the long run. Sitting properly in a chair that fits your body correctly can not only prevent injury but alleviate existing injury.

“Often times when sitting for long periods of time, your body isn’t circulating blood properly, This makes you feel tired and think you need sugar or caffeine,” says Graham. With a chair that is intuitive to adjust, workers are more likely to properly adjust their chair which will allow users to sit in natural positions that support the task at hand. This increases blood flow and helps prevent tiredness which increases productivity in the workplace.

Chairs aren’t the only option for achieving proper ergonomic positioning at your desk. Many companies offer products such as monitor arms, keyboard trays and footstools made of sustainable materials that can also help you adjust your personal real estate to fit your body. We spoke with Kim Darke to learn more about how to properly use such products.

“Monitors should be at 18″ or arms length from your body,” says Kim Darke of Workrite Ergonomics. “You want to look at the top third of the screen so you aren’t straining your neck or eyes.” Darke makes a fist and lay her forearm flat on the table with the inside of her palm facing down, “This neutral position is the proper position for your wrists to achieve the most comfort while typing,” she says. “Poor wrist positioning is often blamed for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome–which is why you want to get that neutral position leaning toward negative tilt for standard typing.” Workrite offers keyboard trays with positive and negative tilt that facilitates this neutral position. Positive tilt is for the “hunt and peck” typists while negative tilt should be used for standard typists. If you position your chair correctly for your arms and this leaves your feet dangling in the air, try a footstool to prevent discomfort.

As a design/build firm, The Dobbins Group tries to encourage clients to not only use sustainable products, but products that contribute to employee daily life and prevent injury in the workplace. This allows for better quality of life and higher productivity. The Dobbins Group Chicago office has installed monitor arms and footstools to allow employees to sit properly while working.

“Whether or not one of my clients chooses a building may depend on a combination of several factors, and being ‘green’ is certainly one that is moving up the list of priorities. But the building has to suit the business first,” says Klein. “That’s the main priority. From there, there are many ways that company can support the environment.”

No matter the type of building you are in, there are ways to brand yourself and company for green initiatives. The sustainable and ergonomic tools are out there to help you live a greener, healthier life. Green building practices are not only good for the environment but good for your body.


The Dobbins Group is a full service design/build firm in Chicagoland. They provide a balance of architecture, interiors, engineering and construction that is cost effective and schedule sensitive. Each project has a customized scope of services that ensure client’s requirements are achieved. The 12 year old company has offices in Lake Forest and Chicago. For more information, go to www.dobbinsgroup.com.

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