Studies Relate IEQ and Productivity: Workers Perform Better in Facilities with Improved Indoor Environmental Quality

Studies Relate IEQ and Productivity: Workers Perform Better in Facilities  with Improved Indoor Environmental Quality

Clean air is not only good for your lungs, but also for your brain, according to new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

To help conserve energy, building engineers have made significant progress over the years designing airtight spaces that have seen a tenfold decrease in ventilation rates, dropping from 1.0 air changes per hour (ACH) in the 1970s, to 0.1 - 0.2 ACH in 2013. As ACH levels fall, the amount of indoor pollutants rise, jeopardizing the building’s indoor environmental quality (IEQ).  Researchers, therefore, wanted to test the correlation between IEQ and worker productivity.        

The 2015 study found higher cognitive function levels for office workers operating in green buildings with a high outdoor air ventilation rate (better IEQ) as opposed to conventional settings.

The Experiment

Researchers set up an environmentally-controlled office space where 24 participants spent six full work days. Participants were exposed to three different indoor environments:

  • A conventional setting which contained ~500 parts per million (ppm) volatile organic compound (VOC) levels and 20 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outdoor air per person.
  • A green setting which contained approximately 50 ppm volatile organic compound levels and 20 cfm outdoor air per person.
  • A green setting with enhanced ventilation which contained approximately 50 ppm volatile organic compound levels and 40 cfm outdoor air per person.

Participants were tested each day on their decision-making skills. Nine functional domains were tested—basic, applied and focused activity levels, task orientation, crisis response, information seeking, information usage, breadth of approach, and strategy. The goal was to discover whether the different indoor environments caused any difference in performance.

The Results

Researchers observed a 61 percent increase in cognitive performance in those participants working in the green setting vis-à-vis the conventional setting and a 101 percent increase in those working in the enhanced green setting.

What This Means

The study demonstrates a negative correlation between the presence of VOCs and cognitive performance, an indication that IEQ impacts not only how we feel and breathe, but also how we think.

One growing means of improving IAQ in both commercial and residential settings is the use of ultraviolet-C (UV-C) technology.  UV-C installations are a simple, effective, and relatively inexpensive means of reducing concentrations of airborne and surface pathogens that harm IEQ. UV-C lamps can be installed within HVAC systems downstream of cooling coils to keep coils clean and to provide supplemental kill ratios in airstreams and on surfaces.

In addition to boosting HVAC capacity, saving energy, and lowering maintenance costs, UV-C eliminates illness- and odor-causing organic material thereby boosting IEQ. This improves occupant productivity, boosts comfort levels and reduces sick time.  

In a recent position statement, ASHRAE recognized that UV-C can yield health benefits, as demonstrated by several studies documenting improved IEQ after installation of a UV-C lamp. Given the new Harvard Study, it now stands to reason that UV-C might also help boost cognitive performance.

As more studies like the above are released that emphasize the importance of IAQ for daily human functioning, technologies that improve our air, such as UV-C, will become more desirable.

UV Resources offers two types of UV-C technology:

  • UV-C when used in HVAC systems kills microbes that would otherwise degrade HVAC system performance. UV light in HVAC effectiveness translates to greater energy efficiency, lower operating expenses, fewer occupant complaints and better IEQ.
  • UV-C upper air systems interrupt the transmission of airborne infectious diseases in health care settings, homeless shelters, prisons and other public gathering spaces. Operating 24 hours a day, wall-mounted upper-air systems inactivate exposed microbes in under a second, and these units have been shown to be effective against airborne viruses and bacteria, including chickenpox, measles, mumps, varicella, TB and cold viruses.

Learn more about how UV-C technology disinfects air streams, cuts energy consumption, boosts performance and reduces maintenance.