The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function

Groundbreaking Study Conducted at SyracuseCoE Discovers Better Air Quality Improves Decision-Making by Knowledge Workers


In a pioneering study conducted at SyracuseCoE by collaborators from Harvard University, Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, improved indoor environmental quality was found to double scores of knowledge workers on cognitive function tests. The study was conducted in SyracuseCoE’s unique Total Indoor Environmental Quality Lab, which was configured to conduct a double-blind study of 24 office workers who experienced indoor air quality conditions found in conventional buildings, green buildings, and green buildings with enhanced ventilation.

The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function” study found that participants’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 percent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment.

Researchers measured cognitive function for nine functional domains, including basic, applied and focused activity levels; task orientation; crisis response; information seeking; information usage; breadth of approach; and strategy. The largest improvements in cognitive function test scores was found in the areas of crisis response, information usage and strategy.

  • Crisis response scores were 97 percent higher for the green environment and 131 percent higher for the green environment with enhanced ventilation and lower carbon dioxide levels compared to the conventional environment.
  • Information usage scores for green and enhanced green environments were 172 and 299 percent higher than in the conventional environment, respectively.
  • For strategy, green and enhanced green scores were 183 and 288 percent higher than the conventional environment.

A follow-up study was published last month that found that doubling the ventilation rate in typical office buildings can be reached at an estimated annual energy cost of between $14 and $40 per person, resulting in as much as a $6,500 equivalent in improved productivity per person per year. When energy-efficient technologies are utilized, the study found the energy costs to be even lower, with a minimized environmental impact of approximately 0.03 additional cars on the road per building.

The full studies are available at www.CHGEHarvard.org/COGfxStudy and www.theCOGfxStudy.com.

Researchers