Next time your boss hollers at you for botching those quarterly reports, you can take comfort knowing that (maybe) it isn’t your fault: The air in your office could be to blame.
Employees who work in sustainably-designed buildings with better air ventilation are able to think more clearly and respond faster than those who don’t, according to new research from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University.
For the uninformed, Green buildings are those that incorporate sustainable materials in their construction, reduce water usage and create healthy indoor environments with minimal pollutants. As of 2012,approximately 41 percent of all nonresidential buildings in the United States were green.
For the study, researchers observed the decision-making skills of 24 participants from all different backgrounds, including architects, engineers, programmers and managers. The participants were placed in a controlled environment for six days, where they did their usual tasks.
While they worked, researchers piped in variety of different quality air: that with volatile organic compounds (VOC), the kind typically emitted in an office; that with low VOC concentrations as are in green buildings; that with low VOC concentrations and enhanced ventilation (referred to as green+); and that with artificial levels of carbon dioxide.
After a series of simple tests, those in the green environments displayed significantly higher performance in crisis response, strategy and information usage. Scores were especially strong when the participants were in the green+ environment, suggesting that better ventilation goes a long way.
Back in the ‘80s, it was determined that buildings can take on an (unhealthy) life of their own. The World Health Organization Committee designated the term “Sick Building Syndrome” in 1984, defined as when occupants of a building experience general feelings of illness after time spent in, well, a building.
The reasons are generally attributed to things like indoor air pollution — caused by VOCs that spread throughout the building environment and lousy ventilation So, yeah, you might want to find out if your office building is up to green standards. Otherwise you might be better off working from a well-ventilated coffee shop a few blocks away.
While we’re on the topic of air quality, be sure you have a HEPA-filter equipped air purifier in the bedroom. Dust, pollen, dander and other particles floating around are easily sucked into your airways while you sleep, exacerbating asthma, allergies and other conditions.
By Jeremy Grossman