ROI: Healthier, more productive occupants

work group with plants and bike

At the heart of our built environment—whether homes, offices, schools, or other building types—are the occupants. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend 87% of their time inside buildings, making the built environment they inhabit critical.  

Businesses, individuals, and society benefit from better working environments. Key health benefits include improved air quality, thermal comfort, and access to daylight. A study found that high-performance design elements that address these key benefits produced a total net value of $55.47/sf for increased productivity and $9.03/sf for improved health and wellness, through reduced absenteeism and missed work time, over 10 years.1

See AIA's Framework for Design Excellence: Design for Wellbeing for more context.


  1. The Financial Case For High-Performance Buildings. Attema, J.E., Fowell, S.J., Macko, M.J., & Neilson, W.C.

Literature review completed by University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab for AIA in 2020.

Indoor air quality (IAQ)

Good IAQ ensures that building occupants are healthy and productive, leading to benefits for individuals, business owners, and communities. Building parameters that affect IAQ include indoor and outdoor sources of pollution, ventilation rates, airflow patterns and pressure, and air filtration.1

Key indoor air quality talking points:

  • Bringing fresh air into a space dilutes indoor pollutants, prevents recirculation of contaminated air, and ensures required outdoor ventilation rates are met.2
  • Building occupants generate pollutants and odors through their indoor activities, so it is important to regulate ventilation rates based on occupant density to ensure proper dilution of indoor pollutants.3

Improved IAQ improves occupant health:

  • Indoor pollutants can cause morbidity in building occupants, but diluting these pollutants through increased ventilation can reduce their effects on occupants’ health.4, 5
  • A LEED Gold-certified office refurbishment that enhanced indoor ventilation for 150 employees saw an annual savings of $85,000 per year due to a 44% reduction in absenteeism because of better worker health.6

Improved IAQ improves productivity:

  • Reducing indoor air pollutants through increased ventilation has been shown to increase productivity.5, 7
  • A study found that changes in CO2 concentrations from 550 to 945 ppm resulted in a 15% reduction in cognitive test scores. Changes in concentrations from 550 to 1400 ppm resulted in a 50% decrease in cognitive scores. Overall, the typical participant’s cognitive score across all nine cognitive function domains decreased by 21% with a 400 ppm increase in CO2 concentrations.5


  1. ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2019 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality  
  2. Building-Related Illness. Gerardi, D.
  3. Influence of carbon-dioxide concentration on human well-being and intensity of mental work. Kajtar, L. & Herczeg, L.
  4. Association of Classroom Ventilation with Reduced Illness Absence: a Prospective Study in California Elementary Schools. Mendell, M.J., Eliseeva, E.A., Davies, M.M., Spears, M., Lobscheid, A., Fisk, W.J., Apte, M.G.
  5. Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments. Allen, J.G., MacNaughton, P., Satish, U., Santanam, S., Vallarino, J., Spengler, J.D.
  6. Doing Right by Planet and People: The Business Case for Health and Wellbeing in Green Building. World Green Building Council.
  7. Room Temperature and Productivity in Office Work. Seppanen, O. Fisk, W.J. Lei, Q.H.

Image credits

work group with plants and bike