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Is poor air quality affecting YOUR performance at work?

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Study suggests that cleaner indoor air improves cognitive function

A study from the universities Harvard, SUNY and Syracuse has found a link between improved indoor air quality and better cognitive performance in offices.

Modern energy-efficient buildings are often designed to be ‘airtight’ to retain heat. However, this can lead to poor ventilation and higher concentrations of airborne chemicals, allergens and carbon dioxide. This phenomenon is known as ‘sick building syndrome’ and people have reported symptoms such as headaches, respiratory problems and dizziness as a result of working in poorly ventilated offices. Sick building syndrome is different to other ‘building-related diseases’ like Leigonella or illness from asbestos inhalation.

Could a ‘green’ office be the answer?

A new wave of sustainable ‘green’ office buildings with improved indoor air quality has recently cropped up in response to the concerns about sick building syndrome. But can they also enhance productivity?

The aim of the study was to find out which elements of a ‘green’ building are helpful in improving productivity. The researchers examined 24 professionals for six days as they worked in an office environment in Syracuse. As they worked, the scientists subjected them to a four different simulated conditions, examining their cognitive function (a measure of productivity) at the end of each day.

The simulated conditions included:

A: A typical office environment with high levels of VOCs (for example emitted from photocopiers and laser printers)

B: A ‘green’ building environment with improved ventilation

C: A ‘green’ building environment with low levels of VOCs

D: A typical office environment with artificially increased levels of carbon dioxide.

The results show a positive correlation between improved air quality and cognitive function. Subjects working in environment B scored on average twice as highly on cognitive tests as those working in environment A. In green conditions as opposed to the typical office environments, subjects scored more highly in information usage, strategy and crisis response – all related to productivity.

Are you an employer or do you work in an office that may be suffering from sick building syndrome? Improving ventilation, using gentle cleaning products as opposed to harsh chemicals and bleaches, avoiding buying new items that can ‘off-gas’ (for example carpets, foam and MDF furniture) and investing in an efficient air purifier can all help to improve indoor air quality.


Study links green building design to higher cognitive performance


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