What makes air and sound quality so important?

Aspiring to build the ‘Great Indoors’ can make a huge difference to people’s health and wellbeing as well as work efficiency and creativity. Take just two issues: air and sound quality.

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The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 2 million people die every year from breathing in tiny particles present in indoor and outdoor air pollution. Better indoor air also boosts worker productivity. A Californian study by William Fisk from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory demonstrated that the economic impacts of increased productivity from improved IAQ, can improve office worker productivity by 0.5 to 5 per cent, with an annual productivity increase of $20 billion to $200 billion.

The European Environment Agency estimates that bad air quality costs €630 billion for health care and €169 billion for lost productivity every year (Euractiv.com, 2012).

Noise can also have an adverse impact on people in offices, classrooms, hospitals and other commercial buildings (European Agency for Safety & Health at Work, 2005), interfering with their daily activities at work or school and at home. People’s performance levels and ability to concentrate can be negatively affected by noise and it can make it harder for them to share knowledge with one another.

It can also reduce their levels of comfort and wellbeing, and even cause health problems (WHO, 2011) such as hearing impairment (e.g. tinnitus or hearing loss), voice problems, cardiovascular diseases, sleep disturbance and increased stress levels.

The World Health Organisation even indicates that at least one million healthy life years are lost annually from environmental and occupational noise in Western Europe (WHO, 2011). There is a commercial cost as well in not designing the right sound scape in the workplace.

A 2013 survey from Gensler Architecture found that 77% of US employees preferred quiet when they needed to focus and 69% were dissatisfied with the noise levels at their main workplaces. Overall workplace performance had dropped by 6% and the time spent collaborating had gone down by 20% compared to 2008.