Harvard University study confirms the connection between indoor air quality and decision making

Posted by Siru Heiskanen on June 9, 2017

The Green Building Certification can be seen as a sign of a building that enables people to work efficiently.

A study, which has spanned over 30 years, has proven the importance of buildings in relation to our health and wellbeing. They determine how much we are exposed to both outdoor and indoor air pollution, noise, different temperatures and their variation. Due to lighting, they also have an effect on our circadian rhythm, and in turn, our vitality.

The rise of energy efficiency lead to a decrease in human wellbeing

In 1970, the pursue for energy efficiency started due to the severe increase in oil prices: this lead to airtight buildings, where the level of ventilation was small, so that the amount of air coming from outside, and the energy taken to heat it, would stay as little as possible.

In terms of the environment, energy efficiency is worthwhile, but these changes have lead to negative effects on the health and wellbeing of the people using these buildings.

The pollution from outdoor air accumulates indoors, and the evaporative chemicals of furniture and building materials, for instance, are not efficiently removed. Sick buildings have developed into an entire syndrome that causes a wide range of different symptoms from headaches to asthma.

Better air, better decision making

The effects of indoor air quality have been researched by Harvard University, among others. In their 2016 study, Allen and his workgroup changed the quality of indoor air and monitored its effects on the cognitive abilities of test subjects.

They noticed that the improvement in indoor air quality had a significant impact: the best results were achieved when improving ventilation and reducing the chemical and carbon dioxide levels in the rooms.

Better air quality leads to better cognitive abilities.

The effects could be seen in the test subjects’ ability to plan, prepare, strategize and apply information in strategic decision making - in other words, in all of the skills required for efficient working.

Second time’s the charm - an extended study supported observations

In their most recent publication (MacNaughton et al., 2017), the research group reported similar results in a more extensive study conducted in real office spaces. They chose 10 buildings, from which a hundred employees answered to surveys about health and environment and took part in cognitive tests.

The research aimed to choose buildings that were as similar to each other as possible, but differed in relation to whether or not they had applied for the Green Building Certification.

Again, it was discovered that the best cognitive results were achieved with good quality indoor air: the results improved by 26,4% in buildings with the Green Building Certification.

The researchers also noticed that the employees working in buildings certified as green had an increase in the quality of sleep due to brighter lighting, which had an impact in their cognitive results. The employees also reported 30% less symptoms related to the building.

The Green Building standard aims to guarantee that a building is both environment and user friendly. For example,the LEED certification gives buildings points according to the factors affecting air quality, such as temperature, humidity and building materials.

Increase in productivity covers costs - investing in wellbeing is profitable

Researchers are convinced that significant benefits for the health and productivity of office employees can be achieved by efficient ventilation. Moreover, the cost of increasing ventilation would stay fairly little in comparison with the benefits achieved.

The researchers estimate  that, on average, doubling the ventilation would cost about $1-40 per person, whereas the benefits could be worth over $6500 per employee.

The calculations only took productivity into consideration. It is evident that investing in indoor air quality is profitable, especially when including reduced symptoms and absences in the calculations.

Wellbeing and efficiency with Naava

Reducing the percentage of chemicals and particles and upkeeping an optimal level of humidity are important for our health, wellbeing and cognitive abilities.

Unlike conventional air purification systems, Naava smart green wall does not use filters that need to be regularly replaced, but its ability of purifying air is based on a natural process: the microbes in the roots of the plants dissolve impurities in the air and use it for their own nutrition. In addition, Naava humidifies the air and brings nature to us.

Naava smart green wall purifies air naturally.

There are seven standardized factors affecting wellbeing in buildings. These factors have been determined based on optimization of human health and productivity. One of them is air. Together with ventilation, Naava helps to create an environment that supports human wellbeing and efficiency.


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