For a long time in the urban greening space, quantifying what the transformative impact is of incorporating plants in interiors held a conundrum – everyone knew plants made them feel better, but why and how could our industry persuade businesses to invest in interior planting in the form of living walls or bespoke planting solutions for their space?
The research into the powers of ‘biophilic design’ began back in 1984 – a biologist and university research professor emeritus at Harvard – E O Wilson wrote the book ‘Biophilia’. In this he outlined the fundamental tendency of human beings to be attracted to nature and emulate its processes and structures in everyday life. You can still find his book online!
Translated to design principles, especially in the office setting, this meant incorporating elements of nature into the built environment, using wood instead of concrete and Formica, incorporating natural light, using muted natural colour palettes, adding curved organic structures instead of hard lines, removing toxins from the very materials we built with, improving air quality and creating quieter more peaceful work areas and places to decompress and relax during breaks. The corporate landscape especially in a post covid world has embraced these principles with vigour, knowing that creating a productive working environment where people could be more human and perform at their best is crucial to the bottom line. But what are the tools that can be used to prove that metric?
In 2016 the global buildings engineering firm Cundall carried out that vital research. Refitting their offices following the WELL Building Standard. This accreditation system seeks to measure how building features impact on health and wellbeing. Cundall was the first project based in Europe to adopt this standard and the results have been astounding.
Compliance requirements to be awarded the standard fit into seven key areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Each category is scored out of 10 and, depending on the total achieved, silver, gold or platinum certification is awarded. An extensive fit out at Cundall was carried out, following the guidance which of course included plenty of plants.
To measure the evidence, absenteeism, productivity and building use were monitored prior and post fit out to provide the measurable outcomes, and what results they achieved!!
- Perceived wellbeing up 25% to 76%
- Perceived productivity up from 27% to 73%
- Sense of community up from 28% to 79%
- Enjoyment of the environment up from 48% to 82%
- Corporate image up from 38% to 88%
As you can see the evidence speaks for itself. Biophilic design which includes the natural benefits of plants goes a long way to improving the bottom line for business in reduced absenteeism, improved productivity of staff – because mental health and physical wellbeing is supported.
The Economics of Biophilia
‘The Economics of Biophilia – Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense’ from Bill Browning of leading consultants Terrapin Bright Green – has become a guiding document for the design industry to improve mental and physical well being in interiors.
In Bill Browning’s words ‘Biophilia – the innate human attraction to nature – offers a framework for creating spaces that improve productivity and wellbeing and boost the bottom line.
Green building practices traditionally focus on costs of energy, water, and materials – all important topics. Yet, sometimes these design criteria neglect the most important factor: us. Human costs are 112 times greater than energy costs in the workplace. Statistics like this are encouraging occupiers, landlords and developers to demand buildings that support health and improve occupant experience. Biophilia – the innate human attraction to nature – offers a framework for creating spaces that improve productivity and wellbeing, reduce stress, and therefore boost the bottom line.
Humans have evolved in the larger context of the natural environment, and therefore respond to the experiences of a place based on that connection with nature. As a result, we innately favour specific sensory interactions with nature and the spatial properties of natural landscapes. Whether one is engaging with nature by walking through a park, or simply opening a window to catch a breeze, biophilic design – the concepts of biophilia in practice – have many applications that help transform mundane settings into stimulating environments.’
How do Living Walls transform spaces?
Living plants bring nature indoors, grounding us and making us feel a bit more human.
Evapotranspiration of plants improves air quality, boosts oxygen levels and absorbs harmful toxics. Did you know that even the humble ‘mother in laws tongue’ plant has the power to absorb nitrogen oxide, xylene, formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene – all of which can be found in building materials, paint and bleached paper?
The beautiful peace lily which we use frequently in our indoor living walls is one of the power houses of toxin removal in interiors, deadening pollution from trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene and xylene and also reduces levels of ammonia.
Incorporating plants in living walls brings additional acoustic benefits owing to the volume of plants used, dampening localised noise and creating relaxed and ambient areas to work or recharge.
So nature, air quality and improved acoustics are delivered by a living wall in one fell swoop! In the event that a business is unable to undergo a full re-fit to the extent of Cundall, considering the inclusion of a living wall and other planting solutions will enhance workplace settings no end and create a wow factor like no other.