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The science behind healthy buildings

Each volunteer will have a sensor on their desk measuring CO2 temperature, humidity, particulate matter, light and noise

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Those in certified green buildings had an increased cognitive score, according to the study
Those in certified green buildings had an increased cognitive score, according to the study

Management, engineering and development firm, Mott MacDonald, is taking part in the first ever research study which aims to provide a rigorous and scientific understanding of healthy buildings on a global scale. The CogFx Study is being carried out by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and tests the correlation between building performance, cognitive function and productivity.


The first phase of the research began in 2015 and researchers found that many cognitive functions increase when working in a simulated green building, as opposed to a conventional building. This was due to enhanced ventilation and a lower concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from commercial products, such as new furnishings, wall coverings, and equipment such as photocopy machines, which can release VOCs into the office environment.


Phase two examined real buildings in the United States to determine whether people in certified “green” buildings had better cognitive function and health compared to high-performing but non-certified buildings. The results showed an increase of 26 per cent in cognitive scores in certified “green” buildings, due to better access to daylight and improved thermal comfort conditions.


The third phase, which Mott MacDonald is part of, is a study of the specific factors that influence human health and productivity in the built environment globally. Fifty individuals from the consultancy’s offices in London, Croydon, Cambridge, Sheffield and Birmingham in the UK, will take part in the study which will last one year.

 

Each volunteer will have a sensor on their desk measuring CO2 temperature, humidity, particulate matter, light and noise, which will transfer data anonymously to researchers working remotely. Fitbit bracelets will also be worn and will input feedback into an app called For Health.


“Previous studies and research on the influence of common indoor pollutants, have failed to objectively measure the impacts of internal environmental conditions on cognitive functions in a highly-controlled, scientific way,” said Eszter Gulacsy, sustainability and healthy buildings technical director at Mott MacDonald. “The CogFx Study is doing things differently as it is starting with laboratory results and then working towards real life applications. These findings will bridge those knowledge gaps that currently exist and improve the industry’s understanding of the subject and ultimately how we design and fit out buildings.”


Piers MacNaughton, associate director at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, commented: "As the UK deals with some of the hottest conditions on record, buildings will either mitigate or exacerbate the effect of outdoor temperatures.


“With buildings all over the world, the CogFx Study – Global Buildings is uniquely positioned to investigate the impact of climatic factors and building factors on the health and productivity of office workers."


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