We’ve all experienced it. Certain times of the year, someone in the office gets sick and everyone in the office eventually gets it. That’s usually due to poor indoor air quality. When training to be a Certified Green Building Professional from Build It Green, we spent a lot of time talking about a core curriculum component of theirs, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Did you know that the air inside your office is more polluted than outside your office? The reason is that all of the construction materials that make up your office offgas poisonous fumes for years after installation.
Where indoor toxic chemicals live
For many of us it’s hard to believe that there are toxic chemicals offgasing every day into our office environments. The reason is that they live in, around and under the things that are all around us. So where are they?
Indoor toxic chemicals exist in,
- Building Adhesives (Think formica counter tops)
- Paints and finishes (Walls, furniture desks)
- Carpet and fabrics (Office floors and drapes)
- Engineered Wood Products (Partical board desks, bookcases, tables)
- Pesticides (Ant spray, bug traps)
- Cleaners (Counter Cleaners, Window Cleaners)
- Humidity (Mold)
- Pets (Pet Flea Shampoo’s or Oils)
How to “green” the air inside your office
There are three main ways to “green” the air inside your office, Elimination, Ventilation and Filtration.
This is pretty straight forward, remove or replace any component that is harmful. What this means is paint with low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints, remove offgasing carpet and replace with recycled organic carpeting or flooring, trade out particle board furniture with metal or organic wood substitutions, use organic cleaners and ask pet owners to use organic pet spray’s.
Increasing air flow can be tricky. If your office doesn’t have any windows there is only so much that you can do. If you do have a window or door that can occasionally be left open, that would be ideal. Possibly have fans placed in certain areas that move the fresh air from the source throughout the office. If you don’t have any fresh air ventilation options, then focus on Filtration.
There is a great article by Matt Thomas who works for Automattic, makers of WordPress, where he describes in great detail how he “grows fresh air” in his home office. He points to a fantastic video on TED by Kamal Meattle, who describes how growing fresh air in his office in New Delhi has prolonged his and all of his employee’s lives. This is a must watch, here is the video.
Adding plants into any office creates a much more inspiring and motivated office. The plants that Kamal mentions above are,
Areca Palm – 4 shoulder high plants, per person
Mother-in-laws tongue – 6 to 8 waist high, per person
Money Plant – Removes formaldehyde and other volatile chemicals
Maintaining these plants can be a daunting task, so consider hiring an indoor plant service service and negotiating a price. Though many employers may think of this as an added expense, offsetting increased healthcare costs and loss of productivity due to absences, may well be worth the investment.
There is also a great book called How to Grow Fresh Air, by Bill Wolverton (Affiliate Link) that Matt mentions above, which highlights 50 other air filtering plants that are great for the home or office.
If moving offices or modifying your office to increase the quality of your indoor air is a problem, work with your landlord to see what options you have. They may have some experience on the issue or may pay for some of the modifications you are needing. In the end following through on each of these ways will significantly improve air quality, reduce the number of sick days by employees and improve overall health and well being of the office.