Greening up the office has great benefits!
Just walking into an office space where there are lots of indoor pot plants can be all it takes to give yourself permission to exhale an audible sigh from one’s pent-up workplace stress. We all seem to know inherently that being around plants (or close to nature) is good for us. In the past, office spaces have been more of a sterile, functional place to work. But these days offices can all be changed simply by adding some greenery into the space. In this article we take a look at the modern trend of “greening-up” the office and the amazing benefits of making such a change.
Research carried out in recent years has shown that adding indoor plants into the office workspace has many benefits not only for the environment but also for the staff who work there. These benefits fall into three categories:
1. Physiological benefits - improved air quality including increased humidity, reduction of dust, carbon dioxide, mould, bacteria and chemicals as well as better background noise management.
2. Psychological benefits - including stress reduction, increased mental agility and innovative thinking, positive perceptions along with increased motivation and productivity.
3. Performance benefits - including improved opportunities for collaboration and communication, positive impact on recruiting and retention, positive message about investment in staff and a morale booster.
Let’s take a look at some of these benefits.
1. How do plants in the office improve air quality and sound levels?
In any office there are “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) which are emitted from plastics/synthetics, furniture, fittings, computers and printers etc. For some people these can be a cause of headaches, eye, nose and throat problems. As well as these VOCs, staff naturally exhale carbon dioxide (CO₂). Too much CO₂ can lead to stale, stuffy air, and slow-working brains. Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney have proven the ability of indoor plants to reduce levels of VOCs (by 80%), CO₂ (by 10 – 25%) and carbon monoxide (by up to 90%). As well as this, plants will naturally produce supplies of oxygen during their photosynthesis process. Their research also showed that a plant-filled room contains 50-60% fewer airborne moulds and bacteria than rooms without plants.
It was found in the research that plants clean contaminated office air by absorbing office pollutants into their leaves and then transporting these toxins down to their roots, where they are then transformed into a source of food for the plant. Plants also have the ability to emit water vapours that create a pumping action that further draws dirty air down around the plant roots, where it is once again converted into food for the plant.
Regarding noise, in another study conducted by Costa and Lothian, it was shown that plants can reflect, diffract, or absorb sounds. Therefore, plants were shown to reduce noise under certain conditions. The effectiveness of the noise absorption was affected by many variables, including sound frequency, plant placement, and the specific room. Generally, the researchers found that plants worked best at reducing high frequency sounds in rooms with hard surfaces. Strategically placed plants, can reduce workspace noise by up to 5 decibels.
2. How do plants reduce stress and enhance productivity?
Studies conducted by Dr Virginia Lohr of Washington State University showed that plants significantly lower workplace stress and enhance productivity. In a simulated office setting, common indoor plants were used in a computer laboratory with 27 computer workstations. A computer program, specifically designed for this experiment, was used to test productivity and induce stress. Blood pressure readings recorded while using the program confirmed that the study participants were less stressed than those who worked in an environment with no plants. Visual exposure to plant settings was also found to significantly assist recovery from stress within five minutes of the stressors ceasing.
3. How do plants in the office improve performance?
In further research conducted by Dr Virginia Lohr, emotional states and pulse rates were measured and compared between two groups of staff. The only variable that participants experienced was that one group had indoor plants present while the other group did not have any indoor plants present. In the group where plants were present, they were positioned so that a cluster would be in the peripheral view of each subject sitting at a computer terminal, but would not interfere with the subject’s activity. In addition to demonstrating significant increases in their post-task attentiveness, subject reaction time in the presence of plants was 12% faster than those in the absence of plants.
“Green” buildings - the way of the future
A green building is one that is designed, built and operated in ways that reduce or remove any negative impact on the environment and the people using it. According to The New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), a not-for-profit, industry organisation, these buildings make more efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and provide healthier environments for people to live and work in. Green buildings have better indoor environment quality (measured by concentration of CO2 and level of toxins) and are designed to be pleasant for people to occupy. This has a positive impact on worker health and productivity. NZGBC quote international studies that suggest an 8 – 11% improvement in productivity as a result of better Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). So as well as being good for the environment and health, green buildings are also good for the bottom line.
Bothwick, G., Halle Stirn, M., Mozina, T., “Quantifiable Benefits of Access to Nature in Buildings” Perkins + Will Research Journal/ Vol 01.01 pp. 42-53 – www.perkinswill.com
Burchett, M., Tarran, j., Torpy, F., “Potted Plants Really Do Clean Indoor Air”, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)
Lohr, V., “What Are the Benefits of Plants Indoors and Why Do We Respond
Positively to Them?” Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Washington State University
New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), www.nzgbc.org.nz
Plant Culture Inc., Roanoke, Virginia USA, “Why go green”, www.plantcultureinc.com/whyGreen.html
University of Technology Sydney, “Indoor Plants Work” brochure:
Tips, training and resources
Staff training: Training for staff can motivating and help staff know that you care. Joyworkz offer a range of workplace wellness seminars on topics including stress management, that can assist staff to be healthy and happy at work.
A wellness programme: Consider developing a wellness programme targeted to staff needs. If you need help getting started, consider Joyworkz SimplyWell™ package, which takes the stress out of designing a workplace wellness programme.
Visual prompts: Visual prompts in the workplace can be useful. For instance, consider the range of free Alsco posters that encourage staff to manage their stress well.
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