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Study underlines impact of green buildings on cognitive function

Conducted by researchers at the Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University, primary support for the study came from United Technologies and its UTC Climate, Controls and Security business.

A new study has found that improved indoor environmental quality doubled participants’ scores in cognitive function tests.

Conducted by researchers at the Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University, primary support for the study came from United Technologies and its UTC Climate, Controls and Security business.

The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function study found that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 per cent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment.

John Mandyck, United Technologies’ chief sustainability officer, said: “When it comes to the decision-making ability of green building occupants, intelligence is in the air. We know green buildings conserve natural resources, minimise environmental impacts and improve the indoor environment, but these results show they can also become important human resource tools for all indoor environments where cognitive abilities are critical to productivity, learning and safety.

“The payback for improved indoor environmental quality far outweighs the investment, considering that more than 90 per cent of the costs associated with a building are related to the people who work within it once construction is completed,” he added.

The double-blind study evaluated the cognitive performance of 24 participants who experienced conditions in a laboratory setting that simulate those found in conventional and green buildings, as well as green buildings with enhanced ventilation. Researchers measured cognitive function for nine functional domains, including basic, applied and focused activity levels; task orientation; crisis response; information seeking; information usage; breadth of approach; and strategy.

The largest improvements in cognitive function test scores occurred in the areas of crisis response, information usage and strategy.

Crisis response scores were 97 per cent higher for the green environment and 131 per cent higher for the green environment with enhanced ventilation and lower carbon dioxide levels compared to the conventional environment. Information usage scores for green and enhanced green environments were 172 and 299 per cent higher than in the conventional environment, respectively. For strategy, green and enhanced green scores were 183 and 288 per cent higher than the conventional environment.

The study was conducted in the environmentally controlled, world-class Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems in Syracuse, New York (pictured above), and took place over the course of six work days spread across a two-week period.

The full report is available at www.CHGEHarvard.org/COGfxStudy and www.theCOGfxStudy.com.

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