Cole: Study linking improved cognition with green workplaces both timely and powerful

A recent study found that cognitive ability can be directly linked to a sustainable workplace. Now, I know what you’re thinking — “no way is an LED light or recycled hardwood going to make me smarter” — but the results say otherwise.

The study, partly conducted by Syracuse University researchers, found that a greener workplace could actually lead to improved cognitive functions. This is not the first study that has linked positive social improvements with sustainable workplaces, and it likely won’t be the last.

Studies of this nature hold power far beyond their immediate results. The ways these studies show the link between scholarship and sustainability run the gamut from workplace sustainability, as is the case here, all the way up to sustainable energy policy.

This specific study tracked 24 people for six days. The participants were blind to the external workplace conditions, and cycled through three simulations of different work environments: conventional, Green and Green+.

Specific details for these classifications, as well as the study as a whole, can be found in a previously reported news article by The Daily Orange.

This study is sure to be met with some skepticism, mostly because of the magnitude of its implications. Normally, arguments for and against sustainable architecture center around two things: the monetary cost necessary to build the proposed building and the efficiency to be gained or lost by building or not building.

Framed in this light, these issues become chiefly economic. It is easy to argue that the least expensive materials will be best for a business’ finances when the social impacts of these materials are not even part of the conversation. However, once the conversation is inclusive of potential cognitive benefits of adopting sustainable practices, suddenly the tried and true economic defense begins to deflate.

Now, the question that is normally framed as being a matter of money and energy is expanded to include the potential productivity increased or squandered as well. This improved performance correlates with environmentally sustainable work environments. In the near future, this correlation will hopefully evolve into a major talking point in any sustainable architecture debate.

This scholarship linking sustainability with social benefits is a summation of its parts, making studies like this essential building blocks as the conversation grows. For this, it will be important to expand on these specific results, in order to strengthen this linkage as a whole.

Environmental issues are often separated from their social impacts, but this new study adds an important layer of consideration that may prove powerful moving forward.

Studying 24 people should be seen as a jumping-off point. The conclusions of this study are impressive, providing means for optimism in terms of sustainable architecture and design in the future. Once this is replicated on a larger scale, its true potential will be realized.

Azor Cole is a senior public relations major and geography minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at azcole@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @azor_cole.


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