Improved Air Quality Boosts Building Occupant Health & Productivity

By Sue Minichiello

Office-IAQThe days of being able to open an office window for some fresh air are nearly gone. The overwhelming trend in office building design is for tightened-up, well-insulated interiors. And while such design is better for energy savings and the environment overall, it can be worse for trapping indoor pollutants and harming indoor air quality (IAQ). Poor IAQ has both health and cognitive implications.

As buildings become more and more energy efficient, the concern over IAQ, and its impact on the health of building occupants, grows. But, there are ways to mitigate the problem. Janitorial routines and cleaning products can make a difference in reducing the existence and spread of indoor pollutants, as can the addition of interior elements such as living walls. The chief contributor to IAQ issues, aside from faulty HVAC systems, is volatile organic compounds.

These compounds, known as VOCs, are emitted into the air by building products, materials, and furnishings; cleaning products; and other sources. They can cause such symptoms as fatigue; headache; dizziness; nausea; and eyes, nose, and throat irritation. The severity of the symptoms typically depends on the extent of the exposure, but everyone has different tolerance levels, which means some individuals are more susceptible to the effects of VOCs than others. And science shows that all such symptoms contribute to diminished cognitive function, which translates to lower productivity and less-effective work product.

Adhering to certain cleaning practices and using particular cleaning products can help, and AffinEco is committed to both.

According to, a leading industry resource, “Cleaning happens at two levels. The first is the physical process of cleaning, which is also known as ‘labor.’ Applying labor effectively is called workloading. … The second level of cleaning involves the chemical process.”

One type of workloading involves having staff function as specialists, for example, a worker who focuses on just restrooms. That focus enables the development of task-centered skills that increase the quality of the cleaning.

“Almost all of our cleaners have a specific area they clean each night,” said Samantha DeMagistris, Director of Account Services for AffinEco’s Boston office. “In our synchronized cleaning program, we have cleaning teams that are grouped according to vacuuming/dusting, trash/recycling, and bathroom/mopping. Rather than start, for instance, on the top floor and work their way down, they clean specific areas at certain times for efficiency purposes.”

As a green cleaning pioneer, AffinEco has long adhered to the strictest of policies when it comes to the cleaning products its crews use. Today, AffinEco partners with Spartan Chemical Company, Inc. for all of its chemical supplies. They tend to not use any product that contains or emits VOCs. In rare cases, such as dealing with an exceptionally difficult floor stain, they may have to use a product with low VOC-content when they have exhausted all other green options.

“All products have some kind of VOC rating,” said Justin Eisenschmidt, Regional Manager for Spartan and AffinEco’s chemical representative. “That being said, AffinEco crews exclusively use products that meet Massachusetts and Rhode Island VOC restrictions – which are among the strictest regulations in the entire U.S. – and that comply to the Green Seal Certification standard.

In addition to cleaning products and practices, interior elements like living walls can help improve IAQ.

Today’s true living walls are a whole new ballgame. They are far more than simple structures that house potted plants. They essentially act as air scrubbers, purifying the air and reducing VOCs and other pollutants.

A living wall can be “active” or “passive.” Active walls actually pull air through the root zone of the plants. Passive walls cannot pull air, so – while both feature root environments – passive living walls work much more slowly. Multiple recent scientific studies have shown that true living walls dramatically surpass the pollutant reduction capabilities of static green walls and traditional potted plants.

Beyond improved IAQ, living walls deliver biophilic design (i.e., design that integrates elements of nature in the modern built environment), optimized indoor humidity, and acoustical benefits – all of which support building occupant wellness. So when you’re looking to renovate or reinvigorate your office space, a living wall could be just the thing to make your building more attractive while also boosting your bottom line by increasing staff attendance and performance.

(photo courtesy of