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New Study: Better Thinking, Better Health in Green-Certified Buildings

Benefits may extend beyond workday to include improved sleep quality

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Considering all the time we spend at work, have you ever wondered if the building you are working in is healthy? Or, could make you think better, or be more productive?

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University didn’t just wonder, they set out to answer those questions. Studying 109 workers at 10 buildings in 5 cities across the U.S., they discovered that working in green-certified buildings was associated with higher cognitive function scores, fewer sick building symptoms and higher sleep quality scores.

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 U.S. Green Building Council’s annual Greenbuild conference in L.A., employees in high-performing, green-certified buildings had 26% 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 had:

  • 73% higher crisis response scores
  • 44% higher applied activity level scores, which reflect ability to gear decision-making toward overall goals
  • 38% higher focused activity level scores, which reflect capacity to pay attention to tasks at hand
  • 31% higher strategy scores

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

“Certified green buildings not only deliver environmental benefits, they can have positive impacts on the productivity and thinking of the people in those buildings. That’s a powerful combination that can accelerate the green building movement globally,” said John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer, United Technologies.

Based on their latest findings, the research team believes a holistic approach is needed. “We’re advocating for what we call Buildingomics - a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment,” said Dr. Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 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.

“Through Buildingomics’ multi-disciplinary approach, we aim to better understand the factors that influence health in buildings and unlock the ability to optimize buildings for improved cognitive function and health,” said Dr. Allen.

The full report – “The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health” – will be made available at www.CHGEHarvard.org/COGfxStudy and www.theCOGfxStudy.com. Follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #TheCOGfxStudy.

Primary support for the study came from United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) and its UTC Climate, Controls & Security business.

About UTC Climate, Controls & Security
UTC Climate, Controls & Security is a leading provider of heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems, building controls and automation, and fire and security systems leading to safer, smarter, sustainable and high-performance buildings. UTC Climate, Controls & Security is a unit of United Technologies Corp., a leading provider to the aerospace and building systems industries worldwide. For more information, follow @UTC_CCS on Twitter and like UTC Climate, Controls & Security on Facebook.

About United Technologies
United Technologies Corp., based in Farmington, Connecticut, provides high-technology systems and services to the building and aerospace industries worldwide. By combining a passion for science with precision engineering, the company is creating smart, sustainable solutions the world needs. To learn more about UTC and its sustainability initiatives, visit www.utc.com or follow @UTC and @JohnMandyck on Twitter.

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