By Vern Faulkner
Saanich News
March 11, 2003

Turn-of-the-millennium companies are just beginning to realize the benefits of creating a happy workplace, says Susan Painter, a UBC psychology graduate who surrendered a teaching position with an Eastern Canadian university to pursue a career in environmental psychology. 

The growing fascination with engineering workplace contentment has spawned a whole new industry of professionals who seek to integrate building design, furniture and facilities to produce the best work environment possible. 

"When I talk about this in public, or at lectures at UCLA, people are fascinated. They want to know more about it," says Painter, who is a design consultant with the California-based firm, AC Martin Partners. That fascination doesn't necessarily translate into action, however as many of the office features that Painter feels are vital to creating a positive work environment tend to be a bit more costly than the standard traditional fare, and consequently they are often scrapped. 

"There's not as much focus on this area, this issue, as one would hope at this point in time," says Painter. "The issue of human factors and how people relate to their physical environment is given a certain amount of lip service." 

Gathering statistical evidence rather than anecdotal feedback will be key in proving that so-called "green" buildings make long-term fiscal sense. 

"The weight of statistics and hard data is heavy – it makes a big difference," says Painter, who commends the developers of Vancouver Island Technology Park and tenants like E-Traffic Solutions, who have taken the time to quantify the effect moving into the facility had on productivity. 

She says it will be interesting to see if productivity gains continue over the long-term and whether they are "still keeping up that level of productivity once (they've) moved past the novelty stage." Once Painter and other environmental psychologists begin gathering hard data on the long-term benefits of crafting positive working environments, architects are more likely to begin designing 'healthy' buildings, she says. 

In the meantime, cutting-edge facilities such as the technology park will no doubt be pioneers in an emerging field.