New research indicating that green buildings can dramatically increase the cognitive function and productivity of office workers is poised to have a profound impact upon attitudes in the property marketplace.

John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer for United Technologies Corporation, said the latest research emerging from Harvard University provides strong proof of the benefits that green buildings can bring to office productivity by improving indoor air quality.

“Harvard University has published some exciting new scientific research called the COGfx study, that examines the benefits of green building for how people think and perform,” said Mandyck, who will be delivering a presentation on healthy buildings at Green Cities 2016 in Sydney. “The study analyses the impacts of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by securing 24 volunteers who came to a special indoor air quality lab for six days over two weeks.

“They performed their regular office duties and took a standardised online cognitive test that’s been administered 75,000 times over the last four decades.”

According to Mandyck, the study provides a groundbreaking assessment of the highly positive impact of indoor air quality upon cognitive function in office environments.

“This is the first time the cognitive test has been used in a controlled environment that studies the impact of CO2 and VOC levels on the way people think, and what the analysis shows is that when people work in an optimized green building setting, cognitive scores across nine domains doubled, going up 101 per cent,” he said.

“In three particular areas, there were even larger spikes – in cognitive test scores attributed to crisis response, the scores went up 131 per cent, for strategic decisions the test scores increased 288 per cent, and for information usage the test scores surged 299 per cent.”

The counterpart conclusion to be drawn from the study is that poor indoor air quality can have a highly negative effect upon cognitive function, particularly given the ubiquity of those gaseous substances being assessed.

“The takeaway of the study here is that CO2 was thought to be benign at levels commonly found in offices, when in fact this study shows that at such levels CO2 does degrade cognitive performance,” Mandyck said. “By managing that CO2 and reducing it by even small levels, there can be a boost in cognitive performance that leads to a boost in productivity.”

Mandyck believes the conclusions of the research could have a transformative impact upon market attitudes towards green building, and the benefits they bring to office properties in particular.

Such studies could engender a shift in from energy savings to improved worker productivity as the primary focal point when it comes to the economic benefits brought by green building.

Because the economic benefits brought about by heightened productivity greatly surpass than those created by energy savings, this will serve as a much stronger incentive for office owners and tenants to pursue greener properties.

“Typically we base green buildings decisions off energy paybacks,” said Mandyck. “But if you look at the true cost of operating a building, energy is just one per cent of the true cost – 90 per cent of the true cost of operating a building consists of the salaries and benefits of the people in the building.

“So we’ve advanced the green building movement by chasing one per cent of the cost. I think we can go farther and faster if we chase 90 per cent of the cost, which is the salaries and benefits.”

The research could also engender a profound change in attitudes toward buildings themselves, with people viewing them more as tools for enhancing productivity as opposed to just static containers for staff.

“Research like this will change everything when it comes to how we think about buildings, because buildings now can become competitive assets and human resource tools,” said Mandyck. “If you optimize the indoor environment, you can get a competitive advantage over the building next to you that may not be doing that.

“I think it has the potential to change the entire way we think about buildings, and I also think it has the potential to accelerate the green building movement around the world.”

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