People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significantly higher cognitive scores—in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy—than those who work in offices with typical levels.
The research, undertaken by Harvard’s School of Public Health, looked at people’s experiences in “green” vs. “non-green” buildings. The findings suggest that the indoor environments in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function—and that, conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.
“We have been ignoring the 90%. We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and lead author of the study. “These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”
Building-related illnesses and “sick building syndrome” were first reported in the 1980s as ventilation rates decreased. In response, there has been an emphasis on sustainable design—“green” buildings that are energy efficient and are also designed to enhance indoor environmental quality. The researchers designed this study to identify the specific attributes of green building design that influence cognitive function, an objective measure of productivity.
For six days, while the participants performed their normal work, the researchers exposed them to various simulated building conditions. At the end of each day, they conducted cognitive testing on the participants.
They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the green+ environments were, on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments; scores for those working in green environments were 61% higher. Researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the areas of:
crisis response (97% higher scores in green conditions and 131% higher in green+)
strategy (183% and 288% higher)
information usage (172% and 299% higher)
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