Study indicates the benefits of healthy indoor air quality in improving cognitive functioning by reducing VOCs and CO2.
A study published in 2015 from Harvard University about the benefit of healthy indoor air quality appears to say it all. According to the study, “people who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores—in such crucial areas as responding to a crisis or developing strategy—than those that work in offices with typical levels.”
Cognitive function refers to fundamental functions of the brain, including reasoning, awareness, perception, judgment, and intuition. As we will discuss later, cognitive functions play a key role when it comes to handling a crisis or planning of work and life strategies.
Essentially, the researchers were comparing “Green” versus “non-Green” work environments and their impact on indoor air quality (IAQ). To ensure the credibility of the study, participants and analysts were blinded as to the test conditions—referred to as a “double blind” study—to help avoid any bias of the results.
Researchers examined such contributing factors to healthy indoor air quality as the impact of ventilation, chemicals, including cleaning solutions, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—often found in traditional cleaning products and can also be released from carpets, fabrics, etc.—and carbon dioxide in the indoor work environment. You might be questioning why carbon dioxide (CO2) is a concern in the indoor environment. Isn’t carbon dioxide just found in the exhaust of cars?
Why Measure Indoor Carbon Dioxide to Ensure Healthy Indoor Air Quality?
CO2 is a natural component of air. The amount of CO2 in a given air sample is commonly expressed as parts per million (ppm). In most locations, air contains about 380 ppm carbon dioxide, with higher CO2 concentrations found near vehicle traffic areas.
However, here’s the catch: People exhale CO2. The average adult’s breath contains about 35,000 to 50,000 ppm of CO2, which is 100 times higher than outdoor air. Without adequate ventilation to dilute and remove the CO2 being continuously generated by building occupants, it accumulates and as it does, it can become a health concern, impacting worker cognitive functioning and reducing worker productivity. This problem—excessive carbon dioxide in the indoor work environment—has increased since the 1980s because so many facilities are now air-tight, with only small amounts of outdoor air entering the facility to help reduce energy needs.
Conducting the Healthy Indoor Air Quality Study
The study involved 24 people, including architects, designers, computer technicians, engineers, marketing professionals, and managers, working in a controlled environment. These people were selected because so much of their work is cerebral and requires considerable cognitive functioning.
The participants performed their normal work routines for six days. During that time, the researchers exposed them to various simulated building conditions such as:
• Typical conditions with relatively high levels of VOCs and CO2 • “Green” conditions with low concentrations of VOCs
• “Green+” conditions where VOC concentrations are low and ventilation has been enhanced
• Conditions of artificially elevated levels of CO2, with little change to normal ventilation standards. The researchers “scored” the participants, analyzing which environment produced the most satisfactory worker productivity results.
Accordingly, the following is what they found:
• Participants working in the “Green+” environment had scores, which on average were double those of workers in conventional environments.
• Those working in “Green” environments had scores that were 60 percent higher than those workers in conventional environments.
Further, analyzing the participants as to cognitive functioning, the researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the following areas for workers in Green+ and Green environments:
• Those in a Green environment had 97 percent higher crisis response when compared to those in conventional work settings
• • Crisis response scores jumped even higher with a 131 percent improvement for those in Green+ work areas
• • What was termed “strategy” improvements rose by 183 percent in Green surroundings—288 percent higher in Green+ surroundings
• • Information usage was 172 percent higher in Green work areas, jumping to 299 percent higher in Green+ work areas.
According to Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessments at the Harvard Healthy Buildings Program, these findings are very important because healthy indoor air quality and its impact on health and productivity are often considered an afterthought,” when new facilities are built or renovated. “These results suggest that even modest improvements to IAQ may have a profound impact on decision-making performance of workers,” he says.
What the IAQ Researchers Overlooked
The study did indicate the benefits of using such elements as Green-certified cleaning products and other products that have been independently tested and certified. However, in regard to proving these types of products have a reduced impact on IAQ when compared to traditional cleaning solutions, the study did not take the next step. That step is to indicate which of the certification organizations put the highest priority on protecting IAQ.
The leading Green certification organizations are now 10 to as much as 30 years old. What has happened during those years is that while they may share the same or similar standards and criteria, their focuses have evolved.
For instance, some leading certification organizations are very focused on the professional cleaning industry; others are involved with many different industries, and no one industry is singled out. Sustainability as it applies to products, such as cleaning solutions, is a prime concern for some organizations; for others, sustainability is a concern but not a core issue.
There is actually only one independent certification organization, GreenGuard, that specifically focuses on healthy indoor air quality issues and certifies those products from manufacturers that have taken significant steps to help reduce their products’ impact on IAQ. This suggests that if the researchers had taken the next step and analyzed products certified by the leading certification organizations, they likely would have developed another category: Green++.
This category would indicate that, for instance, the cleaning products used in the study were Green and the work setting was well ventilated; but, taking this a step further, noting if such products as the cleaning solutions were certified by GreenGuard. While we can only conjecture, since it was not part of the study, healthy indoor air quality would be elevated, which would likely result in the need for the Green++ category.
Avmor is very focused on healthy indoor air quality. For more information on healthy indoor air quality as well as effective, and cost effective cleaning solutions, contact Avmor.