Workers in “green” offices may think better, a new study suggests.
Offices with enhanced ventilation and low levels of chemical air pollutants were linked to better employee performance, researchers found.
“These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers,” said lead author Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment in Boston.
Allen and team members from SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University, both in Syracuse, N.Y., assessed the mental performance of 24 people—including architects, designers, programmers, engineers, managers and creative marketing specialists—while they worked in a controlled office environment for six days.
Participants were subjected to various simulated office air conditions, including: conventional conditions with relatively high levels of volatile organic compounds emitted from common materials in offices; green conditions with low chemical levels; green conditions with enhanced ventilation (green-plus); and abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide.
Although the study couldn’t prove a cause-and-effect link, mental performance scores were two times higher for people working in the green-plus setting and 61 percent higher for those working in green environments, when compared to those working in conventional conditions.
In both green and green-plus settings, tests of crisis response skills, strategy and information use showed dramatic score improvements. For example, scores on information usage were 172 percent higher in green conditions and 299 percent higher in green-plus, the study found.
The researchers also found that average performance scores fell as carbon dioxide levels increased to levels that commonly occur in indoor settings, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“We have been ignoring the 90 percent. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and 90 percent of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” Allen said in a university news release.