Green buildings are designed to have low environmental impacts and improved occupant health and well-being. Improvements to the built environment including ventilation, lighting, and materials have resulted in improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in green buildings, but the evidence around occupant health is currently centered around environmental perceptions and self-reported health.
To investigate the objective impact of green buildings on health, the Healthy Buildings Team at Harvard Chan School, along with colleagues from Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical School, tracked indoor air quality, self-reported health, and heart rate in 30 participants from green and conventional buildings for two weeks.
Twenty-four participants were then relocated to the Syracuse Center of Excellence, a LEED platinum building, for six workdays. While they were there, ventilation, CO2, and volatile organic compound (VOC) levels were changed on different days to match the IEQ of conventional, green, and green+ (green with increased ventilation) buildings.
Participants reported improved air quality, odors, thermal comfort, ergonomics, noise and lighting and fewer health symptoms in green buildings prior to relocation. After relocation, participants consistently reported fewer symptoms during the green building conditions compared to the conventional one, yet symptom counts were more closely associated with environmental perceptions than with measured IEQ.
The findings suggest that occupant health in green and conventional buildings is driven by both environmental perceptions and physiological pathways.
“Environmental perceptions and health before and after relocation to a green building.” Piers MacNaughton, John Spengler, Jose Vallarino, Suresh Santanam, Usha Satish, Joseph Allen. Volume 104, 1 August 2016, Pages 138-144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.05.011.