Harvard study finds that enhanced ventilation can boost cognitive function and health — and deliver bottom-line benefits

by Brianna Crandall — September 29, 2021 — New research on a global scale has found that healthy buildings with enhanced ventilation can improve the cognitive function and health of occupants, suggesting that ventilation and filtration are preeminent healthy building strategies. The study, COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings, was led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as part of the renowned COGfx Study series, which examines the impact of indoor air quality (IAQ) on how people think and feel.

Carrier-Harvard-COGfx3 ventilation study

COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings was led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and supported by Carrier. Image courtesy Carrier

This latest study supports the prior studies’ lab and U.S. findings and further supports that indoor air quality is not only good for people’s health and safety, it’s good for the bottom line — through increased productivity, fewer sick days and better cognitive function.

Results across the COGfx studies show that, with the right strategies in place, buildings can play a significant role in improving cognitive function, health and productivity, while delivering bottom-line benefits to businesses and health benefits to society.

Dave Gitlin, chairman and CEO of Carrier, which provided primary support for the study, stated:

As more people move toward returning to offices, schools and recreational activities, the health, safety and intelligence of indoor environments have come into greater focus. The COGfx Study continues to demonstrate that proper ventilation and filtration of indoor environments plays an important role across the globe in fostering a proactive health strategy. At Carrier, we are focused on delivering innovative solutions and services that positively impact the health, productivity and cognitive performance of occupants of all buildings.

The COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings examined the impact of IAQ on the cognitive function of office workers across six countries — China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The research found that cognitive function declines as the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO₂) increase. Higher CO₂ can be an indicator of poor ventilation in buildings.

Importantly, mechanical ventilation, such as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system with efficient filtration, can help to protect building occupants from the negative cognitive effects of PM2.5 and CO₂. In addition to acute impacts on cognitive function, reducing exposure to PM2.5 is associated with many other health benefits including reductions in cardiovascular disease, asthma attacks, and premature death.

While the research focused on office employees in commercial buildings, the takeaways are applicable for all indoor environments.

This latest research builds on previous COGfx studies that demonstrated better thinking and better health can be found inside healthier buildings. The first study found cognitive function test scores doubled when study participants were in simulated green building environments with enhanced ventilation as opposed to conventional building environments.

The COGfx Study 2 examined real-world building environments in the U.S. and showed that employees in green-certified buildings showed 26% higher cognitive function test scores and 30% fewer sick building symptoms versus buildings that were not green-certified.

COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings as well as the two previous reports are available on Carrier’s The Impact of Buildings on Cognitive Function webpage. Follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #TheCOGfxStudy.

Primary support for the study came from Carrier. The company offers numerous products and services that optimize IAQ, including a suite of advanced solutions through Carrier’s Healthy Buildings Program that serves key verticals including healthcare, hospitality, education, retail and marine.