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When we think of green energy as it relates to air quality, the majority of us jump to thoughts of outdoor pollution–smog, dust, and other types of air pollutants. But a new Harvard study has recently helped to raise awareness on the negative impacts of poor indoor air quality.

We spend about ninety percent of our time indoors, and buildings have the potential to dramatically influence our health, both positively and negatively. We’ve all heard of asbestos, but what about the impact of chemicals found in paint, furniture, and flooring? These “volatile organic compounds” are particularly harmful to your air quality, and therefore, health. The study also found that high concentrations of carbon dioxide can reduce cognitive functioning.

Poor air quality in office spaces is especially detrimental in three key areas: crisis response, strategy, and information usage. It is also harmful to basic activity level, focus, and task orientation. The effect of poor indoor air quality on the study participants was fairly large, which surprised the researchers.

The study took place at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems, an organization that accelerates development of innovations for a sustainable future. Twenty-four participants spent six full work days in an environmentally-controlled office space, where they were exposed to conditions representative of green office buildings with enhanced ventilation. They were not aware of the manipulations of air quality that were taking place. At the end of each day, the participants were administered a cognitive test to evaluate their decision making performance by simulating real-world scenarios.

The results were clear: working in green building conditions significantly improves cognitive function. On average, cognitive scores were 61 percent higher in green building conditions, and 101 percent higher in enhanced green building conditions. This study clearly shows that clean air quality is not only important for people’s’ health, but also their productivity. The cost of making a building “green” will be far outweighed by the added benefits of employee productivity in the long run.

We can only hope that the results of the Harvard study will serve to influence how architects and companies design their buildings and control the indoor environment. It is clear that improving air quality is beneficial for everyone involved: by increasing our use of green energy, especially as it applies to our immediate surroundings, we can not only work better, but improve our health and our lives.