Improving indoor air quality in offices to increase efficiency

07/02/2020


Following an American study by Harvard University in 2016, a French team went further to try to determine the cost of CO2 and VOC pollution for companies.

The American team replicated different indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions in offices and measured their impact on the performance of the people working there.

In this new study, twenty-four participants spent six full working days (from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm) in an office space with a controlled indoor environment. They were exposed to indoor environments representative of standard office buildings, i.e. high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Participants were then moved to a second "green" office environment with a low VOC concentration. Finally, a third environment was simulated, a "green" building but with a high ventilation rate with outside air (labeled Green+). Finally, the researchers artificially increased the carbon dioxide levels in these environments to assess their impact.


What is the impact of VOC pollution in offices?

On average, compared to a standard office with a high VOC level, cognitive scores were 61% higher in the low VOC (green) environment and 101% higher when measured in the Green+ environment.

VOCs act directly on cognitive abilities and these increase with decreasing VOC pollution.


What is the impact of CO2 on thinking abilities?

The level of CO2 present in the outside air is of the order of 400 parts per million (ppm).

In a confined space such as an office or meeting room, the CO2 level increases rapidly. With a CO2 level considered moderate, in the order of 945 ppm, the measured reflectivity decreased by 15%.
When the CO2 level becomes high, i.e. at a level of 1400 ppm, then the same cognitive functions would drop by 50%.

This effect is all the more important in meeting rooms and open spaces with a high number of people present.

    "The reduction of CO2 and indoor air pollution by VOCs improves the performance of companies".

What is the cost for companies?

By cross-referencing the results of employee performance reduction with CO2 level measurements in 42 rooms of a building (meeting rooms, closed offices, open spaces) and the average hourly cost of employees, a French research team specialized in data analysis came to the conclusion that the cost for the company was around €1000 per month per meeting room.

Of course this is all the more expensive as the hourly wage of the participants is high, so we are thinking here of law firms or consulting firms that hold regular meetings with a large team of high-wage participants.


In addition to the cost, there are health risks

While studying the cost to the company is a lever to make decisions on controlling pollution levels, it should not be forgotten that volatile organic compounds have very harmful effects on health (irritation of the eyes, mucous membranes of respiratory life, heart and nervous system disorders, headaches, nausea ...) and that some VOCs are carcinogenic (benzene ...) and others toxic to reproduction or mutagenic. They contribute to the absence of employees due to illness.

As for carbon dioxide, it is a potentially fatal gas at high concentrations and has rapid health effects as soon as its concentration increases.

It is recommended that employers and employees alike measure carbon dioxide levels using a real-time sensor, but also perform laboratory analysis to assess the level of VOC pollution, especially in meeting rooms and open spaces.

 


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Sources:

Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments : https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510037

Air quality in the office, an issue of health as well as productivity: https://www.10h11.com/qualite-de-lair-au-bureau-enjeu-sante-productivite/