Keeping our heads cool – immediate and future solutions!

The Netherlands, and large parts of Europe, are currently dealing with the second hot temperature episode of the year. Temperatures over 38 degrees will force many to find solutions that will cool them down. What effect does the temperature have on office workers, and which (sustainable) actions can be taken (now)?

Enduring hot temperatures for a long period of time is associated with significant health and well-being risks (WHO). In high-income countries, heat is the largest weather-related cause of death (Ebi et al., 2021). Heat could lead to strokes, dehydration, or escalations of preexisting diseases (e.g. cardiovascular disease). But even beyond the extremes, heat can influence daily wellbeing and the general ability to function at home or work. The most profound and general finding is that cognitive capacity is lowered by adverse temperature conditions (Wright et al., 2002). The good news is that, for a relatively short period of exposure, we seem to complain more than we suffer: we show not only that men complain more about hot temperatures, but that general performance does not suffer from heat up to 28 degrees (which is likely to be the maximum temperature at your office now). As long as it is only for a relatively short period, you can endure the heat better than you expect.

But what can we do about the heat if it endures? The most mentioned solution is air conditioning. Air conditioning is highly effective, but financially and environmentally extremely costly. Since we can expect these adverse heat conditions to happen more often, alternative means of cooling must be explored. Urban design (green landscapes, bodies of water) and building design play a crucial role in designing a heat-proof future (Jay et al., 2021).And most of the solutions fit nicely in the sustainable and healthy building goals we are currently developing: insulation and ventilation! Does that mean you have to wait until the next big reconstruction of your office until you can cool down? Luckily, individual cooling strategies are equally effective. Electric fans, feet cooling, mist fans, or ice towels (and more, see table below) are great and practical ways to get you through these hot days!

Table: Benefits and limitations of sustainable cooling strategies during heatwaves and hot weather at the landscape and urban, building, and individual scales (adopted from Jay et al., 2021).