Harvard research proves ‘green’ offices with low VOC have higher productivity

Green offices painted using VOC Free or low VOC paints can boost productivity.

As an interior designer, being contracted to decorate commercial office spaces is often considered 'the ideal gig'. Why? Because it gives you a chance to showcase your brand, talent and personal style to mass audiences. The likelihood of word-of-mouth marketing is also high because businesses can recommend your services to other companies. Not to mention, it looks great in your portfolio

However, there are certainly ways of being even more impressive with your layout by taking tips from recent clinical research on productive design. For instance, a study by Human Spaces found that biophillic design (the use of organic elements such as plants and plenty of natural light) can boost employee creativity by 15 per cent and productivity levels by 6 per cent. 

Now, another study by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment, in collaboration with Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical University, has confirmed that office productivity can in fact increase by using more green design features. 

In particular, they found that offices with low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) levels are excellent for improving staff productivity and health. 

Here, we will delve into this juicy piece of research and offer some handy tips on how you can take advantage of it on your next project. 

Key findings from Harvard and co's research 

The cognitive performance of 24 participants was recorded over six working days, and these professionals included designers, programmers, engineers, architects and marketing consultants. 

Different working conditions were set up as experiments. Some environments had relatively high concentrations of VOC, while others were greener with low-VOC concentrations. There was also a Green + category, where enhanced ventilation was provided to the workers – a breath of fresh air, quite literally! 

The results?

Workers in the low-VOC test had 61 per cent higher productivity than the others! 

This academic work has been published in a recent volume of the Environmental Health Perspectives journal. The world is increasingly becoming environmentally conscious and sustainable design is at the forefront of the industry, so this research only adds fuel to the fire for choosing sustainable practises in interior design. 

"We spend 90 per cent of our time indoors and 90 per cent of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought," said Joseph Allen, lead author of the study and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment.

"These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers."

Tips for designing a low-VOC office space

Paint is typically one of the biggest contributors of VOC to any room – but not if you make clever choices. Select VOC-free paints such as those in the Resene Zylone Sheen VOC Free range. These come in both lighter white and pastel tones as well as mid, deep and ultra-deep hues – so no matter which colour you envisaged for your office design, you can tint it using a VOC-free sheen.

Want even more good news? Resene Broadwall Waterborne Wallboard Sealer is also VOC Free! For other parts of the room, such as the ceiling, you can pick from very low-VOC paints in the Resene Environmental Choice approved paints collection.

If your project is large-scale, for example if your contract is to deliver vast office blocks in CBD buildings, then you can take corporate sustainable responsibility to another level by hiring Resene Eco.Decorators.

This programme puts you in contact with a nationwide network of painting contractors who pride themselves on being environmentally responsible without compromising on quality. They can use low-VOC paint products and also apply them using sustainable, green methods.

In fact, you can even say this is a unique selling point of hiring you as a designer – many companies are 'going green' and would be interested to contract an interior designer who shares their passion!

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