Cognitive Behavior and Green Building

The following is a summary from a recent meeting of the building health initiative group, sponsored by USGBC Norcal in San Francisco.  Thanks to Brenden McEneaney for arranging the meeting and recapping it so eloquently.  And also to Dr. Joe Allen from Harvard's Chan School of Public Health for raising awareness on a very important yet under reported topic.  

Summary of Harvard Lecture on Cognitive Function / Green Building:

Dr. Joe Allen of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health recently presented his work on green buildings and cognitive function. The groundbreaking study exposed office occupants to varying levels of CO2, ventilation, and VOCs and then measured subjects performance on critical tasks in areas like information seeking, strategy, and task orientation. On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher in buildings with low VOC levels and 101% higher in buildings that also had higher ventilation rates. Dr. Allen’s team has also done a cost/benefit analysis on providing extra ventilation, looking at energy prices and weather conditions in 7 different climates around the country. They found that on average, spending $14-40 per person per year in extra ventilation could yield an 8% increase in productivity. That means $6500 per person per year in salary productivity improvements, and those numbers look even better when an energy recovery ventilator is used to reduce the additional energy costs. These cost impacts do not include the multiple healthcare-related savings that come from providing better air quality. 

The study has indicated that CO2 levels affect human wellbeing at much lower levels than previously thought and it also suggests that we may need to rethink existing standards on air quality in buildings. Future work will dive deeper on real world office applications of this study and also on increasing use of sensor technology to improve understanding of space-level and individual-level environmental attributes.