On average, we spend 90 percent of our time indoors – whether it’s at home, school, the office, or within another enclosed space. Research has shown that indoor air can have greater toxicity than outdoor (by up to 5 times).3 But, did you know that according to the EPA, indoor air quality could be ten times worse than the outdoor air on warm days in large smoggy cities?4
Considering the health warnings we receive on smoggy days, what happens when we go to an office everyday that has poor indoor air quality? The effects of poor air quality can range from a low-level headache to fatigue to respiratory problems4 – and their impact on the office is significant. It is estimated that employers in the U.S. lose approximately $15 billion a year to sickness and/or productivity loss as a result of inadequate indoor air quality.4
New, energy efficient buildings may even compound the issue. Improvements in construction practices mean newer buildings are virtually sealed. This reduces natural ventilation and airflow, potentially increasing indoor air problems.2
VOCs: an unseen danger
A major contributor to poor indoor air quality is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs include a variety of chemicals that are emitted as gases (known as off-gassing) and are linked to several health issues.4 VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products – everything from the paint on the walls, to the chair you sit in, and the permanent marker you use may off-gas. Importantly, products may continue to off-gas even after they lose their “new” smell.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
Despite the impact indoor air quality has on employee health and productivity, it is often overlooked when planning an office space. Product selection, application and planning can greatly improve indoor air quality in the following ways:
1. Selecting low VOC furniture
Many manufacturers offer low-VOC or no-VOC products as standard in their product offering.1 Look for GREENGUARD, BIFMA, or Scientific Certification Systems IAQ – to be assured that the furniture won’t contribute to poor air quality through off-gassing.
2. Maximizing workspace airflow
Maintaining airflow throughout a space will improve air quality. Opting for lower panel heights as well as panels that don’t extend to the floor will not only help create an open plan workspace, but also provide a light and airy feeling while enhancing air circulation.
Additionally, ensuring that vents and windows are unobstructed, and that areas are not overcrowded, will allow for better circulation.5
3. Using furniture efficiently
Gone are the days of needing a large desk that can accommodate a big bulky CRT monitor. Technology has also reduced many workplaces’ need for paper storage and filing.
Advances in technology and globalization of the workforce also mean that less and less workers spend all their time in the office. As a result, less permanent workstations are needed and there is more need for shared spaces that can be used for a short time by any number of people.
Incorporating furniture that can be quickly and easily reconfigured to adapt to changing work styles often means that less space and furniture is needed per person over time. This effective and efficient use of product mean less VOCs are created and released.
Offices that prioritize air quality benefit from improved morale and vitality. Tellingly, visitors to these offices reported a greater a sense of energy and wellbeing6. Through the careful selection and application of product in a space, organizations can realize a return on investment in employee health, wellbeing, productivity, attraction and retention, and ultimately the bottom line.
1. EcoEvaluator. 2008-2011. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Available: http://www.ecoevaluator.com/lifestyle/health-and-safety/volatile-organic-compounds-vocs.html
2. Kazawest Property Management. 2012. Indoor Air Quality: maintaining a healthy environment in offices and homes. Available: www.kazawest.com/indoor-air-quality
3. GREENGUARD Environmental Institute. 2012. Sustainability. Available: http://www.greenguard.org/en/indoorAirQuality/iaq_sustainability.aspx.
4. GreenBuilding.com. 2008-2010. Indoor Air Quality. Available: http://www.greenbuilding.com/knowledge-base/indoor-air-quality
5. Building Air Quality Inc. 2006. Tenants: Building Occupants and IAQ. Available: www.baq1.com/htenants.htm
6. Smith, Chris. (April 16, 2012) Do We Really Need Business Cases for Healthy Indoor Environments? Workspace Design Magazine. Available: http://workspacedesignmagazine.com/2012/04/do-we-really-need-business-cases-for-healthy-indoor-environments/