New study shows modern working patterns are increasing lift waiting times and carbon emissions

Key findings:

  • Flexible working practices such as hot desking and flexitime are increasing lift waiting times in office buildings
  • Lifts are burning up to 36% more energy than predicted by manufacturers
  • Major companies installing stair promotion and incentivisation schemes to boost productivity and cut emissions

Lifts/elevators in modern office buildings are creating unacceptable lift waiting times and burning as much as 36% more energy than predicted, new research reveals.

New flexible working patterns, break-out spaces and a boom in hot-desking and internal meetings are driving the problem by creating many more inter-floor lift journeys in modern office buildings.

With commercial buildings accounting for 50% of UK electricity use in the UK and lifts making up 8% of office buildings’ energy use, the excess energy cost and associated carbon emissions is potentially enormous. Productivity is also being hit, with employees spending up to 15 minutes a day waiting for lifts in many multi-storey office buildings.

The new research was carried out by specialist lift consultants SVM Associates and the corporate wellness business StepJockey. The findings echo those of a recent government-funded study which found buildings were falling short of energy performance expectations, routinely causing 3.5-times the carbon emissions they should.

The new study - Smarter Buildings: Real-world energy use of lifts/elevators in contemporary office buildings - compared on-site measurements of lift/elevator energy consumption with predictions from  international standards. The study found that:

  • Lifts/elevators burned 16% to 36% more energy in real-world use than the standards predict.
  • The most commonly installed lift type – geared traction lifts – were the worst offenders. The gap between predicted and measured energy consumption was 36%.
  • Changing working patterns such as flexi-time and hot desking appear to have increased pressure on lift/elevator systems by increasing inter-floor journeys and energy use.
  • Energy costs could be significantly mitigated by promoting stair use.

The research does not suggest deliberate manipulation of data by lift/elevator manufacturers. Instead the problem appears to sit with international standards which use ‘ideal’ rather than ‘real-world’ lift/elevator traffic scenarios to estimate total energy use.

But the new study also shows how diverting people away from lifts through stair promotion schemes can significantly reduce lift/elevator energy costs while simultaneously creating productivity savings and boosting workplace health.

SVM Associates director, John Newbold, said: “Our findings will worry many but property professionals need reliable data if they are to make progress. This study shows the importance of direct measurement of lift energy consumption and how, with simple behavioral changes, significant savings can be made”.

Paul Nuki, CEO of StepJockey said: “Modern businesses demand much more in the way of teamwork and flexible working to succeed. This has had a major impact on office lift system and the result is that many millions of working hours are being wasted each year. By promoting stair use companies can improve productivity, cut their carbon footprint and boost workplace health”.

For a full copy of the Smarter Buildings report, go to:



Psychology of lifts

Lifts are part of an industrial age drive for a more automated life, where moving as little as possible became a mark of social status.

Lifts replaced the grand staircases that had been central to most major buildings since Roman times.

They have evolved to be masterpieces of marketing - grabbing and holding your attention and covering over their shortcomings:

  • Pinging call buttons and external floor counters grab your attention as you walk into a building
  • Reflective outer doors are designed to cause you to entertain yourself with your reflection while you wait
  • Mirrored insides allow you to avoid the glances of others while at the same time seeing what is going on
  • Elevator music used to be piped in to distract you from the time you were wasting

Lifts have become the bane of many office workers’ lives, with a slew of trends working against them:

  • Changing working habits are driving shorter, more frequent journeys causing a crisis in lift waiting times
  • The rise of the “cash rich, time poor” worker is exasperating the problem. “Lift rage” is a phenomenon as is "elevator hacking" - where tips on gaming lift systems are exchanged on the web.
  • The obesity epidemic has meant that a sedentary lifestyle is no longer associated with status and wealth. Captains of industry now like to be thought of as dynamic, active people.

Sedentary offices

Sedentary behaviour (sitting) is classed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the biggest threats to human health and modern offices are the biggest risk area. Studies show:

  • 90% of our time is spent indoors
  • 75% of office time is sitting (and less than 5% moderately active)
  • Those that are sedentary at work are more likely to be sedentary at home

Stair climbing

Stair climbing is recommended by doctors and health authorities worldwide because high quality academic studies show:

  • Climbing just eight flights of stairs a day lowers average early mortality risk by 33%
  • Seven minutes stair climbing a day can halve the risk of heart attack over 10 years
  • Just two minutes extra stair climbing a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain

Stair climbing delivers these benefits by improving our cardiovascular fitness. It's officially classed as a 'vigorous' form exercise and burns more calories per minute than jogging.

See StepJockey’s summary of the health benefits of stair climbing for further information.

About SVM Associates

SVM Associates are independent building services consulting engineers specialising in lifts. SVM help clients plan the right type of lift solutions when they’re installing new lifts, upgrading old lifts or resolving problems with existing systems.

SVM’s clients include the Houses of Parliament, Schiphol Airport, Ikea and Google. 

About StepJockey

StepJockey is a health technology company dedicated to encouraging wellness and physical activity in the workplace. The company was seed-funded by the UK Department of Health to help combat sedentary behaviour. It takes a ‘small steps’ approach to improved health - the key to sustainable behaviour change.

StepJockey’s clients include the BBC, Deloitte, JLL, L&G, Public Health England and the NHS. 

Media contacts

Rob Finch, +44 (0) 7932 673138,

Paul Nuki,co-founder and CEO StepJockey: +44 (0)7770 536 043

John Newbold, Partner SVM Associates: +44 (0)7733 121356


For high resolution images and infographics please go to the StepJockey media centre.

Interviews and case studies are available by request.

Experts’ quotes on stair climbing are available here: What the experts say.