Perhaps this question renders itself easily answerable when we swap out “green” for the more precise “sustainable”, and sustainable design arises from consideration of environmental impact, as well as health, safety, and profitability. Acoustical treatment can be applied to almost any design project to optimize the comfort level of a space. According to Acoustics.com, an alliance of educators, experts and design professionals dedicated to promoting the importance of acoustics in architecture, design, and construction, sustainable design encompasses far more than use of recycled materials. A design professional must consider:
- Efficiency. Both energy and human efficiency factor into sustainable design. As a company’s most valuable resource, employees necessitate creating a space in which they can thrive. Many studies convincingly document that noise is by far the greatest impediment to workplace productivity.
- Health & Safety. Hearing loss (from noise exposure) is one of the leading occupational hazards—and it’s 100% preventable. Employees that suffer from hearing loss are 55% more likely to have a workplace accident. Other noise-related health issues include headaches, tinnitus, high blood pressure, heart problems, respiratory ailments, and even negative fetal development. If you’d like to read a comprehensively researched and well-written article on the many ways excessive noise impacts our wellbeing, we recommend Things You Need To Know About How Noise Pollution Affects Your Health by Jocelyn T of Home Living Lab.
- Comfort. “Few people have ever experienced real comfort—thermal, visual, or acoustic—but once they do, they tend to want more of it.” (Hawken, Lovin & Lovins. Natural Capitalism) Occupants in a noisy space can feel irritable, distracted, anxious, hostile and annoyed, sometimes without consciously making the connection to noise.
- Functionality/Building Longevity. For a space to be successful, it must function, and if it doesn’t, how can one hope for longevity? An acoustically correct environment is paramount to the functionality of most spaces. You must consider acoustics in any space where:
- speech intelligibility is critical (classroom, courtroom, boardroom, etc.).
- there is a PA system (airport, gymnasium, public building, etc.).
- speech privacy is necessary (open office, call centers, etc.).
- confidentiality is imperative (doctor’s/counselor’s office, HR, attorney’s office, police facility, etc.).
- music is (no pun intended) key (performance space, concert hall, recording studio, etc.).
- both speech and music are important (worship center, ballroom, theater, multi-purpose room, etc.).
- a quiet atmosphere is essential (library, museum, healthcare facility, etc.).
- noise build-up can be problematic (restaurant, lobby, mall, etc.).
- How the Building Impacts the Environment. Facility operation shouldn’t harm (pollute) the environment. Although LEED certification takes into account water, air, land and light pollution, it surprisingly doesn’t include noise pollution. While controlling/limiting light pollution is very important, noise pollution can prove far more annoying, harmful, and difficult to limit.
- Recycled (Sustainable) Materials. Many recycled/sustainable acoustic products work as well as (or better than) non-recycled alternatives. Acoustic products can account for a significant percentage of the materials in a space. Often, most (or all) ceiling, flooring, and wall surfaces serve an acoustical purpose.
At the end of the noisy day, we know that certain levels and frequencies of sound negatively affect human as well as animal health and well-being. In addition to obvious problems such as hearing loss or tinnitus, prolonged exposure to excessive noise can cause stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, and diminished productivity.
Consider too that, regardless of legislation, the air we breathe—and hear—is really a “commons”, a public good. When we (as individuals and organizations) ignore our obligation to maintain that commons in a way that ensures public comfort, we’re behaving a bit like schoolyard bullies. And who wants to be a bully? No one likes them, and people eventually rat them out.