A new Harvard University study has found that even small changes toward a greener work environment will improve the functionality of employees.
The ability to respond intelligently in crisis situations as well as the ability to develop creative business strategies in the workplace are invaluable skills that any business should foster in their employees, and now new research suggests that green office environments could improve both of these, among others. The study, conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, looked at people’s experiences in “green” vs. “non-green” buildings in a double-blind study, in which both the participants and the analysts were blinded to test conditions to avoid biased results.
What they discovered was that indoor environments in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function – and that, conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers. “These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and lead author of the study.
For six days in November 2014, while the participants performed their normal work, the researchers exposed them to various simulated building conditions: conventional conditions with relatively high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as those emitted from common materials in offices; green conditions with low VOC concentrations; green conditions with enhanced ventilation (dubbed “green+”); and conditions with artificially elevated levels of CO2, independent of ventilation. At the end of each day, they conducted cognitive testing on the participants.
They found that cognitive performance scores were 61% higher for the participants who worked in the greener environments – on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments. Measuring nine cognitive function domains, researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the areas of:
* crisis response (97% higher scores in green conditions and 131% higher in green+)
* strategy (183% and 288% higher)
* information usage (172% and 299% higher)
According to Usha Satish, professor, Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, “The major significance of this finding lies in the fact that these are the critical decision making parameters that are linked to optimal and productive functioning. Losing components of these skills impacts how people handle their day to day lives.”