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CO2 and Employee Productivity

co2 job performance

Studies show a direct correlation between high concentrations of CO2, employee productivity and health in office settings.

While many of us work in poor indoor air quality, few understand the problems and direct negative impact it has on our well-being.

Reduced cognitive decision-making functions, higher levels of sickness and increased employee absenteeism have all been linked to high concentrations of CO2 at work and in the classroom.

The Problem

For more than a century, published research studies have demonstrated the health effects of high indoor CO2 concentrations, specifically in productivity. However, the increasing cost of energy in the 1970s led to a change in building practices throughout the United States as buildings were increasingly constructed to be airtight and energy efficient.

While recent changes in codes for new office buildings have resulted in increased fresh air flow per office worker, older office buildings continue to have an impact on overall worker health and productivity.

CO2 and Employee Productivity Studies

study by a team of Harvard researchers measured a 15 percent decline of cognitive ability scores at 950 ppm and 50 percent decline at 1,400 ppm. Joseph Allen, a Harvard School of Public Health professor stated that his team received multiple inquiries from officials at the Navy and NASA following the study as they became concerned about their crews’ environments after hearing of the research findings.

In understanding the findings from the Harvard study, one can view the demonstrated negative impact that high levels of CO2 can have on ones level of concentration.

Do high levels of carbon dioxide impair decision-making performance According to researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the answer appear to be that it does.

A paper titled "Is CO2 an Indoor Pollutant? Higher Levels of CO2 May Diminish Decision Making Performance" documented the results of research on a group of test-takers subjected to different levels of carbon dioxide in an enclosed chamber. The research found that the increasing CO2 levels alone, without any other variables, had a direct impact on the results of tests designed to quantify decision making performance.

In their conclusion, they write:

"The dramatic direct influence of CO2 on decision making performance was unexpected and the study needs to be replicated. The findings of this study, if replicated, have implications for the standards that specify minimum ventilation rates in buildings, and indicate the need to adhere more consistently to the existing standards."

Read the entire paper here.

Building occupants and facility managers consistently rank poor indoor air quality as one of the top 10 complaints of building occupants.

See the IFMA Survey on Top 10 Office Complaints.

According to another study conducted by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the cognitive impairment due to poor indoor air quality is clear. 

Research by Lawrence Berkeley Labs (LBL) found that “Moderately high indoor concentrations of carbon dioxide CO2 can significantly impair people’s decision-making performance. The results were unexpected and may have particular implications for schools and other spaces with high occupant density."

The best cognitive scores occurred at 600ppm CO2, and as LBL noted, "In classrooms and office spaces, concentrations frequently exceeded 1,000 ppm and occasionally exceeded 3,000 ppm."

Despite the uncertainty about which concentration of ambient CO2 levels will be at their peak, the overall research on increased carbon dioxide levels in correlation to an individual’s cognitive influence and productivity levels, is a topic that can not be disregarded or ignored.

In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that "On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day (p < 0.0001). VOCs and CO2 were independently associated with cognitive scores."

People working in buildings with below-average indoor air pollution and carbon dioxide showed better cognitive functioning than workers in offices with typical VOC and CO2 levels.

What managers can do

Would you want to undercut your ability to think at the fullest potential? Clearly, the Navy and NASA are concerned about the operational performance of their crews. Are you any less concerned about your employees or students?

No matter your environment, whether it be office, home, or classroom maintaining and controlling proper indoor air quality cannot be ignored.

Knowing and controlling the PPM (parts per million) of CO2 in your space has become increasingly simpler and more cost effective in the last decade with the creation of smaller and more cost-effective CO2 monitors and data loggers – specifically for Indoor Air Quality.


iaq devices


for more information on indoor air quality in the office contact us.

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