Alongside the optimisation of lighting, heating and noise conditions, effective CO2 management is now a priority for many building owners and their facilities managers – and with very good reason, says Priva UK & Ireland sales manager Gavin Holvey.

When you start to think about improving conditions in your workplace, what is the first possibility that springs to mind? Is it the adoption of a more consistent, LED-based lighting system, or the idea of taking steps to reduce the exposure of employees to unwanted background noise? Or are you one of the slightly more select group who have an awareness of issues related to CO2 and its effect on productivity?

‘Select’ is certainly the word as a recent study indicates that there is a great deal of work to be done in this area. With backing from EMCOR UK and Innovate UK, teams from Oxford Brookes University and LCMB Building Performance spent two years producing the first-ever practical study into UK indoor office environments. Workplaces involved in the study were equipped with Internet of Things-enabled sensors to monitor CO2 levels, with employees sent numerical, proofreading and Stroop tests via email up to three times each day. Researchers then used this data to calculate the impact of CO2 and temperature on perceived productivity.

The resulting report contains no shortage of insight. Our own attention was immediately drawn to the headline statistics. For example, with lower CO2 levels, employees’ test scores improved by up to 12%. In one of the buildings tested, people worked 60% faster with reduced CO2 concentrations, leading them to complete tests in a mean time of 8.2 minutes – compared with 13.3 minutes when more CO2 was in the atmosphere.

With the extent and quality of air monitoring and management varying considerably throughout the private and public sectors, few would deny that there is considerable room for improvement. As Keith Chanter, EMCOR UK chief executive, remarked in a statement to launch the report: “Monitoring CO2 levels and improving the indoor office environment is one solution that has been overlooked for far too long. These findings must serve as a wake-up call to business leaders that their workspaces are a source of competitive advantage and CO2 levels need to start being monitored as standard in offices across the country.”

The good news is that access to solutions that can help bring about marked changes to CO2 levels – as well as the specialists needed to support and install them – has improved significantly during recent years.

There are a number of practical and technological changes that employers who are serious about making real improvements can take. At the most basic level, changing room layout – including the removal of unnecessary partitions – can serve to improve air circulation. Similarly, employers and employees alike can make a concerted effort to close doors that lead to nowhere in particular (eg. storage spaces and bathrooms) so that air moves more effectively.

Beyond such relatively basic measures, employers are going to need to think carefully about ventilation and air conditioning. This issue is particularly acute in newer buildings where windows are often sealed and air conditioned as standard. All too often increased energy is expended on cooling via air-conditioning systems and the unnecessary creation of additional greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Indeed, close monitoring of CO2 levels during the study revealed that fan speeds could be decreased by up to 50% without negatively affecting CO2 levels in the workplace.

The importance of employers implementing effective air monitoring and management technology as part of their overall building controls should therefore speak for itself. At Priva this is an area of interest we have been developing for many years now, and which continues to yield flagship products for our range.

Specialist support

Tackling air quality can be a daunting journey for companies to embark upon, especially those in the SME category. Priva is among the vendors to have invested in its specialist support capabilities, making it easier to specify, implement and monitor cost-efficient systems that can deliver lasting improvements.

The recent advent of more unified building standards and codes of practice has also been beneficial. The International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard is a case in point. Increasingly regarded as the global tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings, the standard offers extensive coverage of air quality, including the stipulation that CO2 levels should be maintained at less than 800 ppm in all spaces 46.5 sqm or larger with an actual or expected occupant density greater than 25 people per 93 sqm.

With several recent studies highlighting the growing number of working days being lost to ill-health, and the UK in particular now moving into a more uncertain economic period, the need to address air quality issues is destined to become more acute. Engendering comfortable working spaces that can be optimised through the turning of the seasons is going to be vital to both retaining workers and making sure that their output levels are consistently good.

Along with lighting, heating and noise, reducing CO2 levels is now one of the most effective ways in which employers can make a real difference – and now, more than ever, the tools they require are firmly within their grasp.