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Harvard study: How Green Buildings and CO2 affect your ability to think

Indoor built environment is, today, increasingly important for our overall well-being, taking into account the fact that we spend 90% of our time indoors and that buildings can influence, positively or negatively, our health. Ventilation, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds can all significantly affect our physical condition and productivity.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health simulated indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions, to measure the impact of indoor environment on higher-order cognitive function, which is directly connected to office workers’ productivity. Accordingly, twenty-four study participants spent six work days in an environmentally controlled office space, in either a “Green” (low concentrations of volatile organic compounds) or “Conventional” (high concentrations of volatile organic compounds) building. On different days, research participants were exposed to IEQ conditions found in Green and Conventional office buildings in the United States. Additionally, a Green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate was used, labeled “Green+”.

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The study found that when office workers worked in Green and Green+ environments, they had significantly better cognitive function scores, compared to when they worked in a Conventional environment. Additionally, average cognitive scores decreased, with higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). More specifically:

  • Under the Green building condition, cognitive function scores were higher (compared to scores under the Conventional building condition) in all nine functional domains measured (as seen in the diagram). The biggest differences were observed in Crisis Response, Information Usage and Strategy.

  • Compared to the Conventional building day, cognitive scores were 61 per cent higher on the Green building day and 101 per cent higher on the two Green+ building days.
  • When spending a full day in a Green building, participants’ cognitive function scores were significantly increased (compared to a conventional building).
  • Carbon Dioxide and Cognitive Function:
    • Cognitive scores decreased with higher levels of CO2, for seven of the nine cognitive function domains.
    • Compared to the two Green+ days, cognitive function scores were 15 per cent lower on the moderate CO2 day (~ 945 ppm) and 50 per cent lower on the day with CO2 concentrations of ~1,400 ppm.

 

References:

This article is based on published information by Environmental Health Perspectives. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the publication’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original please revert to the following link:

https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/15-10037/

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