Harvard Research into Indoor Air Quality and Workplace Productivity

Can indoor air quality make people more productive? Research from Harvard University’s Healthy Buildings Program says yes.

Quantifying Productivity Improvements

In a study, researchers analyzed worker concentration and cognitive ability using various environmental scenarios, altering indoor air quality in a controlled lab setting. In one setting, the researchers lowered carbon dioxide levels, boosted ventilation, and removed toxic chemicals typically found in office settings. At the highest ventilation rate for the study, tests conducted on participants in the closed environment showed an 8% increase in productivity over participants who didn’t benefit from the improved conditions. This then was quantified as a $6,500 increase in productivity per employee.

Higher Test Scores

In another test scenario, participants were given a cognitive test. One set of participants was given the test in a typical office setting, while the other set was given the test in a “green space,” one where volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were removed. The test subjects in the green space scored 60% higher in the tests; when improved ventilation was introduced into the environment with no VOCs, the test scores were 100% better.

The resultant report, Economic, Environmental and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings, outlines the tests conducted in seven different cities and concludes that indoor air quality can be key to improved productivity.

Watch the report’s key highlights

Researchers believe that building managers need to be more aware of the potential gains made by improving indoor air quality. “There’s a little disconnect between the public health silo and those making decisions about buildings,” says Piers MacNaughton, a researcher at Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program. “I don’t think [the public health] field has done a good job of reaching out to the real estate developers, managers, and owners of businesses that can make this change. I don’t think it’s acknowledged that changing these factors can make a difference.”

Still, the report plainly outlines the gains made by improving indoor air quality. One way to do this, while eliminating VOCs, is to outfit workplaces with an office air purifier from AeraMax Professional, which removes harmful VOC and up to 99.9% of contaminants from indoor air.