4 min read

Decreased productivity and increased health incidents? Poor indoor air quality is to blame


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We’ve all had the feeling -we’re sitting in a full meeting room, doors closed, no windows; at first you don’t quite notice the feeling of sluggishness, the drifting focus, the rising tiredness. As the meeting proceeds the discussion feels as if it’s becoming steadily less relevant and constructive and the air starts to feel thick and damp. By the time the end of the meeting arrives, you’re left wondering what was even discussed in the last fifteen minutes and whether or not you’d fallen asleep for any of it.

This is a common occurrence across indoor spaces and is directly related to decreasing air quality in rooms over time. Each year roughly 100€ billion is lost in the EU alone due to decreased productivity and increased health incidents from poor air quality. These issues range from inhibited focus due to the CO2 build-up in offices to the immune-compromising effects of fine dust particulates (like those that smog up our cities) to the increased cancer risks from elevated formaldehyde and benzene levels in newly furnished units. There is a range of possible pollutant sources, driving these issues, and the WHO has attempted to set thresholds for a number of them. Unfortunately, few buildings check to verify their compliance with these standards and those that do often fall short [1]. As such, the topic warrants increased attention from building owners.

The damages from the different pollutants is as varied as the types of toxic air compounds. As its affects are the easiest to measure and understand, technical analysis have until now been heavily focused on CO2; specifically, the role it plays on our ability to focus. As CO2 levels in a room increase, the relative amount of available oxygen taken up by the body per breath is decreased, and the brain’s metabolism is steadily slowed as it loses access to oxygen. Many analyses have found a range of impacts, starting with CO2 levels easily achieved from typical office spaces containing one employee per 10 m2 of space. These effects tend to increase dramatically and can inhibit factors like decision-making and overall strategizing. [2] By keeping levels close to outdoor levels, studies have demonstrated office workers to work up to 60% faster and with 12% greater accuracy than those in improperly ventilated spaces. [3] This issue will likely worsen in coming years, as the baseline CO2 level continues to increase, requiring more measures to maintain the same standard of oxygen quality in the rooms.

These concerns are, unfortunately, generally not as easily resolved as ventilating a room, as the shape, furnishings, and use of the room, as well as the specific compounds responsible for the toxicity, may form pockets within the room and provide unintended high levels of exposure to employees. [5]

Particulate matter, for example, which covers a wide category of compounds and particulate sizes, has been attributed to causing inflammation, respiratory and cardiovascular issues, and even linked to several cancers.[4] These particulates in their various forms are not always removed with standard air filtration methods and tend to move within air columns in atypical fashions. 

Poor indoor air quality is likely not only worsening our health, but, in a business sense, it is measurably driving down our productivity and the quality of our work. EVORA’s Health and Wellbeing team can provide strategies and suggestions to make sure the residents of your buildings remain healthier and are operating 12% more efficaciously than those in traditionally ventilated buildings.