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6 October 2016 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Working in green-certified buildings leads to higher cognitive function scores, academics have found.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University studied 109 workers at 10 buildings in five cities across the US, and discovered that working in green-certified buildings was associated with fewer sick building symptoms and higher sleep quality scores as well as leading to better cognition.

The study builds on the team’s 2015 COGfx Study – COGfx is shorthand for your brain’s cognitive function – which found significantly higher cognitive function test scores for office workers in “a simulated green building environment with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment”.

In the new study, presented pre-publication at the US Green Building Council’s annual Greenbuild conference in Los Angeles, employees in high-performing, green-certified buildings had 26 per cent higher cognitive function test scores than those in similarly high-performing buildings that were not green-certified, even after controlling for other potential explanatory factors.

Among the findings, participants working in green buildings showed a 73 per cent higher crisis response scores; 44 per cent higher applied activity level scores, which reflect ability to gear decision-making toward overall goals; 38 per cent higher focused activity level scores, which reflect capacity to pay attention to tasks at hand; and 31 per cent higher strategy scores. 

In addition to these statistically significant findings, the study also found that employees reported 30 per cent fewer sick building symptoms and had 6 per cent higher sleep quality scores compared with those working in high-performing buildings that were not green-certified – indicating that benefits of green buildings may extend beyond the work day.

Dr Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School, and principal investigator for the study, said: “We’re advocating for what we call Buildingomics – a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment. Through Buildingomics’ multi-disciplinary approach, we aim to better understand the factors that influence health in buildings and unlock the ability to optimise buildings for improved cognitive function and health.”