Cooling tempers and improving academic results: impacts of temperature to individuals and communities


Cooling tempers and improving academic results: impacts of temperature to individuals and communities

Summer has (finally) arrived in Chicago, and prompted a discussion amongst GI Energy’s team: what are the societal implications of getting temperatures right? What are the outcomes of an energy system that works? Much of our time is spent assessing the financial implications of 3rd-party funded solutions for our varied clients; of course - this is vital for a project to move forward. Equally, most of us are passionately committed to furthering environmental sustainability, and care deeply about aspects of our work that reduce carbon emissions. We can be one step removed from the end-users though, our clients’ employees, their tenants and students[1]. What are the effects of temperature on them?

Work and Study

Rooms at the right temperature can improve many aspects of study, particularly in children. Drs Wargocki and Wyon[2] studied the performance of tasks that required mental concentration and included logical thinking, math, comprehension and language-based activity in environments from 68°F to 77°F. They found that reducing temperatures by 1.8°F improved performance measured by speed of task completion by around 2%. (The results trended in the same way but were less obvious in adults – possibly because deadlines and individual influences play a larger part).

A study from the Harvard Kennedy School of government last year put this into a socio-economic context, and demonstrated that air conditioning in schools all but completely eliminated the impact of heat. Their conclusion was that air conditioning in a classroom would “off-set $25,000 per classroom per year” in lost earnings later on.[3] Broadly, 1°F temperature rise equates to 1% worse performance.[4] 


Looking at Los Angeles Police Department data, researchers from the University of Southern California concluded that days with temperatures of 85°F or more had 2.2% more general crime and 5.7% more violent crime than an average day[5]. As is logical, evidence also suggests that the impact tends to be greater in poorer neighborhoods with less air conditioning. (Research from Chicago also suggests links between air pollution – particularly vehicle emissions – and crime[6]). Reducing carbon emissions to reduce climate change might have directly positive results. And whilst we wouldn’t suggest this could ever be an ‘answer’ to a deeply complicated issue, we do note that the type of heating and cooling systems that are being talked about at a district scale with our clients across the country would providecost-effective low-carbon cooling.

The conclusions we reached? Much is known about the impact of temperature on workers and academic performance, and more is being learned in relation to cooling down crime. The financial implications will continue to be a top priority to our clients, but the benefits of a great value energy system go far beyond that.

With thanks to Charlotte Dick, who was asked to investigate the academic research surrounding this.


[1] For healthcare - clearly vulnerable patients require specific hospital environments (as the elderly require more heat than the young and healthy) but there is a myriad of regulatory bodies at local, state and federal level overseeing those. For us, resiliency is the most interesting ‘non-financial’ aspect of healthcare energy, due to the life-or-death nature of a power outage or heating/cooling failure. We didn’t get into that discussion here.

[2] Pawel Wargocki, Ph.D. and David P. Wyon, Ph.D - ASHRAE Journal Vol. 48, Oct. 2006

[4] Joshua Goodman et al – Heat and Learning https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/joshuagoodman/files/w24639.pdf

[5] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/higher-temperatures-can-lead-to-more-violent-crimes-especially-in-poorer-neighborhoods-2019-06-18

[6] Evan Herrnstadt and Erich Muehlegger, National Bureau of Economic Research, Air pollution and criminal activity: evidence from Chicago microdata https://www.nber.org/papers/w21787