A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments

Monday 26th October 2015

Published in Environmental Health Perspectives

By Joseph G. Allen, Piers MacNaughton, Usha Satish, Suresh Santanam, Jose Vallarino, and John D. Spengler

Background:The indoor built environment plays a critical role in our overall well-being, both due to the amount of time we spend indoors (~90%) and the ability of buildings to positively or negatively influence our health. The advent of sustainable design or green building strategies reinvigorated questions regarding the specific factors in buildings that lead to optimized conditions for health and productivity.

Objective: To simulate indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions in “Green” and “Conventional” buildings and evaluate the impacts on an objective measure of human performance – higher order cognitive function.

Methods: Twenty-four (24) participants spent 6 full work days (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) in an environmentally controlled office space, blinded to test conditions. On different days, they were exposed to IEQ conditions representative of Conventional (high volatile organic compound (VOC) concentration) and Green (low VOC concentration) office buildings in the U.S. Additional conditions simulated a Green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate (labeled Green+) and artificially elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels independent of ventilation.

Results: On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day (p<0.0001). VOCs and CO2 were independently associated with cognitive scores.

Conclusions: Cognitive function scores were significantly better in Green+ building conditions compared to the Conventional building conditions for all nine functional domains. These findings have wide ranging implications because this study was designed to reflect conditions that are commonly encountered every day in many indoor environments.