Do you work in a “green” or a “conventional” workplace? Buildings span a broad continuum, from modern LEED® Platinum-certified skyscrapers, to those built before germs or bacteria were even discovered. While the daily use and energy consumption across this wide range of buildings may be well known, the conditions we can’t see within their rooms and corridors are poorly understood despite their drastic effects on our health and wellbeing. Given that we spend 90% of our lives indoors, the conditions in our built environments have shown to be critical to health, happiness, and job performance. In short, indoor environmental quality matters and the more we know about it, the more we know about our own health and wellbeing.
Where you work is a huge and important decision. Recently, a dozen preeminent epidemiological and public health researchers came together from Harvard, Syracuse University and SUNY-Upstate Medical School for a groundbreaking study. The purpose was to gain more insight into environmentally controlled spaces and their impact on building occupants. They were exposed to indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions in “Green” and “Conventional” buildings to determine how cognitive function is affected by our indoor environment.
The findings were published last October in Environmental Health Perspectives and showed that participants overwhelmingly had better cognitive performance when exposed to high outdoor air ventilation rates and a lower level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many products can emit VOCs into the air (also called “off-gassing”), from things like new carpets, paint, and furniture, to air fresheners and cleaning products — or even our own bodies (in which case the emitted VOCs are referred to as bioeffluents). In fact, humans contribute to many of the poor environmental conditions in buildings, from increased carbon dioxide (CO2) and relative humidity from respiration, to the introduction of dust and other particulate matter from outdoors.
This is all to say, we work better when there’s regular, fresh air flow. Our performance suffers when we are exposed to high levels of VOCs or CO2. What this means is that green workspaces with good air quality or ventilation, and low VOCs, enhance your work performance. Exposure to these pollutants could make you drowsy or feel foggy-headed, especially in enclosed spaces.
Companies and building managers are paying more attention to worker health and wellbeing, which is why studies like this are so important. At Aclima, we’re creating systems to measure environmental quality indoors and outdoors in real-time. With this new body of knowledge, we’re delivering a new class of tools for building managers and owners, as well as scientists and researchers to better manage the environments where we spend most of our time. It was in this spirit that we deployed a sensor network in our own headquarters in San Francisco.
Aclima installed 22 nodes detecting carbon dioxide across three office floors.
A snapshot of two of Aclima’s conference rooms over a few weeks earlier this year.
These illustrative weekly snapshots from two instrumented locations in Aclima’s HQ give us a view into patterns in CO2 across our spaces. Here we see a hotspot in a team meeting room during our Monday 4:00 p.m. group meeting that is matched by a drop on the 4th floor when people moved locations. We see an unexpected pattern of higher baseline levels after-hours on the 1st floor space compared to the 4th floor space; and the expected low levels on weekends when the office is unoccupied. Studies have suggested that CO2 might be harmful at levels as low as 1000 or 1400 parts per million (ppm).
The tools to decipher these environmental signals build on existing science, enabled by new technology. Imagine being able to see the vital signs of our tallest buildings and smallest spaces. We believe that sensor networks deliver a new form of environmental intelligence that will transform health and productivity.
Next time, we’ll bring you insights about enclosed spaces like conference rooms. We’ll be exploring how occupancy, ventilation, doors, windows, and room size impact carbon dioxide build up, and how we mitigate exceedances at our office.