Better office air leads to better thinking

While there are indisputable environmental benefits to developing eco-friendly or green buildings, the advantages for people who spend time in those buildings aren’t well-known. As such, As LG South Africa (LG) has announced a research partnership with the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) to find out more. 

According to a study, ‘The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function’, by American researchers at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health’s, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University looked at the impact of indoor air quality (IAQ) on productivity…

sick building syndrome 300x195Improper indoor air quality can lead to sick building
syndrome and poor productivity.

Researchers looked at the impact of ventilation, chemicals and carbon dioxide on workers’ cognitive function because buildings are becoming more energy efficient and they have also become more airtight, therefore increasing the potential for poor indoor environmental quality.

Building-related illnesses and ‘sick building syndrome’ were first reported in the 1980s as ventilation rates started to decrease. In response, there has been a growing emphasis on sustainable, eco-friendly design with improved temperature control.

The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function study found that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101% higher in green building environments with enhanced temperature control in comparison to a conventional building environment.

The simulated office environment featured high concentrations of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds as carbon dioxide is exhaled by humans and volatile organic compounds are emitted by several indoor materials and products.

The double-blind study (where neither the participants nor those conducting the study knew who was exposed to which building), evaluated the cognitive performance of 24 participants who experienced the simulated conditions in a laboratory setting. The researchers then measured the cognitive function by testing basic, applied and focused activity levels; task orientation; crisis response; information seeking; information usage; breadth of approach; and strategy.

The largest improvements recorded during the study were in the areas of crisis response, information usage and strategy.

“This study suggests that indoor environments can have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers, which is a primary indicator of worker productivity,” says Dr Joseph Allen, assistant professor of Exposure Assessment Science at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, director of the Healthy Buildings Programme at the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School and principal investigator for the study.

The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function study found that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101% higher in green building environments with enhanced temperature control in comparison to a conventional building environment.

“These results are provocative because they suggest that the levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds that we commonly encounter in office buildings are associated with decreases in worker performance; that when we enhance temperature control and optimise indoor environmental conditions, we see improvements in the cognitive function of workers; and that these results fill important knowledge gaps in existing research about the relationship between green buildings and occupant health,” says Dr Allen.

Local partnership

“The LG/GBCSA research partnership is kicking off at the right time as corporates and consumers are expressing growing interest in working and living in environmentally friendly green buildings that are energy efficient. We look forward to working with the GBCSA to contribute towards the growing knowledge base on the full range of benefits of high quality energy efficient air conditioning systems that are capable of producing temperature controlled clean spaces and create optimal indoor environments,” says LGESA Air Conditioning general manager, Dale Snyders.

“The GCBSA is passionate about the social, environmental and economic impact of buildings and cities in our country and is committed to ensuring that buildings are designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable manner. Our research partnership with LG will prove fruitful as we’re both committed to developing solutions that allow our planet, and our people to thrive,” says Grahame Cruickshanks, GBCSA market development managing executive. 

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