Schools and colleges: Control CO2 to boost learning & improve cost-efficiency
January 14, 2021
Carbon dioxide could be clouding the minds of students and staff. How can you avoid this, boost performance, and save money?
It’s important that schools, colleges, and educational buildings provide the best possible learning environment for students and the best work environment for staff. As we understand more about indoor air quality, it has become increasingly apparent that the air we breathe is critical for the health and wellbeing of building users.
Carbon dioxide levels are a key aspect of indoor air quality in schools and other educational settings. As we will see, CO2 affects how students and staff feel, as well as how they perform. Find out how to take control of carbon dioxide in educational buildings, and optimize conditions in your school or college.
Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a colorless, odorless greenhouse gas, made up of one part carbon and two parts oxygen. The gas is harmless in small quantities, and it plays a crucial role in providing our food, by enabling plants to photosynthesize and produce carbohydrates.
Often, we hear about the problems associated with carbon dioxide outdoors. It builds up in the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels, trapping heat and driving climate change1. This man-made CO2 is emitted by various types of combustion, including industry and motor vehicle engines, but there are many natural sources including volcanoes, wild-fires, and, of course, the respiratory processes of countless animals and organisms2.
Understandably, there is a keen media focus on CO2 as an outdoor pollutant, so organizations are well aware of the need to reduce carbon emissions outdoors. However, carbon dioxide also creates problems indoors, where it builds-up in busy, enclosed spaces, like classrooms or offices, affecting the health and performance of building users.
Because we all breathe out CO2, it’s possible to use the gas to measure occupancy, unlocking cost savings by increasing operational efficiency.
As we breathe out CO2, it can accumulate in poorly ventilated classrooms, lecture theaters, or offices. Excess levels of the gas are linked to complaints like restlessness, drowsiness, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, and headaches3.
Researchers have found that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide can lead to building visitors becoming dissatisfied4. One study reported a 12 per cent decrease in sick days when indoor air quality in educational buildings was improved5. A review of many separate studies on the subject concluded: ‘There is evidence that reduced respiratory health effects and reduced student absence are associated with increased ventilation rates’6.
Many parents and students now put a premium on a healthy environment, when they choose an educational establishment. It was found that 80% of parents believe the quality of air children breathe will affect how well they are likely to learn7.
This is also increasingly a key consideration for staff. On average, people now spend a third of their lives at work8 and a third of employees value the quality of their working environment over considerations like benefits and salary9.
Providing great indoor air quality in education isn’t just an optional extra any more. Keeping an eye on pollutants like carbon dioxide has become an important duty of care for schools and colleges.
There is a wealth of evidence showing that both students and staff think more clearly and perform better in low carbon dioxide environments. The following studies showed that high levels of CO2 make people feel sluggish and compromise their decision-making ability.
Research by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that improved indoor air quality, including lower levels of carbon dioxide, resulted in a 100% improvement in cognitive scores10. In educational buildings specifically, researchers have uncovered ‘compelling evidence of an association of increased student performance with increased ventilation rates’11.
A study of U.S. elementary schools quantified this improvement, finding that mathematics and reading scores improved by 2.9% and 2.7% respectively, when ventilation was increased12. Similarly, scientists in Denmark found that boosting the ventilation in classrooms helped 10 to 12 year olds to perform number and language tasks quicker13.
When it comes to staff productivity, the results are comparable. A Harvard paper showed that investing $40 per person, per year in improved air quality produced a $6,500 productivity benefit for each employee14.
If CO2 in schools is high, it could be causing tiredness, lower concentration, and underperformance among students and staff. By tackling the issue of carbon dioxide, educational establishments can create a better environment in which to learn and work.
Dealing with CO2 not only improves wellbeing and performance, it also paves the way for budget savings. Gain valuable data on occupancy by monitoring the gas, enabling you to cut costs and operate more efficiently. When a classroom, office, meeting space, or cafeteria is busy, carbon dioxide rises. So, by measuring it in real time, the information provides an accurate picture of how your estate is being used.
For example, your school or college can match heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to occupancy, so that you are not wasting energy on classrooms or lecture theaters that are not being used. It is possible to integrate indoor air quality monitors with building management systems, so resources are triggered automatically when spaces are occupied.
The University of Alabama discovered that businesses can typically save between 20-40% on their energy bills, by acquiring a good quality source of occupancy data15.
The benefits don’t end there. You might decide to schedule cleaning to concentrate on areas of the building that are busier, to save money and maximize efficiency. Or you could discover that certain spaces are being underused, with the result that you can reorganize the timetable to exploit your facilities more fully.
You may even want to match meal preparation with demand, ensuring more food is available at busy times and avoiding waste when cafeterias are slacker.
The first step to dealing with carbon dioxide in schools, colleges, and educational buildings is having a quality source of information on levels of the gas. The Airthings for Business solution includes powerful indoor air quality monitors that are easy to install and provide real-time data. They now feature a special CO2 Alert that kicks in when levels get too high. Airthings monitors also measure other contaminants and conditions that affect how students and staff feel and perform.
With wireless technology and long-life batteries, no cumbersome or expensive installation process is necessary. And the data is available remotely through a user-friendly dashboard, showing all the important indoor air quality metrics, including information on occupancy.
With Airthings monitors, you will know where and when to take action — by investing in better ventilation, for example, or by smart use of rooms to avoid CO2 build-ups of the gas. Importantly, the occupancy data allows you to cut costs and operate with maximum efficiency, by deploying resources where they are needed and getting the best use of your organization’s facilities.
When you are responsible for educational buildings, there’s a duty to protect those in your care, whether they are students or staff. By controlling CO2, and supplying fantastic indoor air quality in colleges or schools, you have an opportunity to mark out your institution, look after the health and wellbeing of all building-users, and provide the optimum environment to work and learn.