Recently I met with an architect who designs healthcare facilities. He relayed how he absolutely detests the use of live plants in the properties he designs. “I don’t like that I can’t control the life cycle of the plant and how it continually changes its look,” he said with obvious disdain. I believe this obviously sedentary and obese architect has become, like so many people in this country, so far removed from nature and healthy living that he has forgotten the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and being in the company of greenery. Here is a man who designs for a population that is predominately sick and unable to control their own lifestyle that have been forced to rely on an out-of-touch designer who does not know understand the healing power of nature. I wonder when we lost our ability to appreciate the primal connection we all share with the natural world?
More and more companies today are reducing or eliminating plants in the workplace to save money. They fail to realize, however, that this cost-cutting measure is short-term thinking that will compromise their employees’ well-being. Just as plants oxygenate the environment and soothe the soul, obesity cannot be altered with empty calories but requires thoughtful nutrition to turn around a life that is heavily compromised and destined not to function optimally without those changes.
A growing body of research demonstrates that access to a natural environment indoors, where we all spend the majority of our waking hours, may improve health and well-being. As a design professional, I have seen first-hand the healing and calming benefits of plants in the workplace. Human beings are hard-wired to appreciate nature. Despite our “plugged in” and sedentary lifestyle since the 1950’s, humans were hunter gathers for over 10,000 years and living as part of nature.
Today we have become so far removed from nature that some of us are unable to appreciate the beauty of a living, breathing plant within our workplace. Being around plants reduces stress and engenders a feeling of well-being and improved energy in most people; a benefit that is even more acute if correct lighting is in place. Because plants have a large surface area and exchange water and gases with their surroundings, they have a unique ability to tackle and improve many environmental problems.
“A pleasing and positive workplace that is presented as a spiritually satisfying sanctuary with natural light and greenery is enormously beneficial for a person’s well-being,” says Dr. Gilda Carle, psychotherapist, author and professor. “Being able to access and enjoy surroundings that reduce stress and engage the senses is highly therapeutic for people.”
Here are my selections for the top five plants, which not only heighten and satisfy our senses with their funky and trendy style, but also help to keep our workplace environments happier and healthier:
It isn’t necessary to fill every available space with a plant to achieve this; just a few good-quality specimens located in select rooms, and where employees work or take their rest breaks can be sufficient. “The reasons why this has a beneficial effect are a subtle but complex mixture of the physiological (improved humidity, reduced noise etc.) and psychological,” says Kenneth Freeman, International Technical Director at Ambius who has led many research initiatives on the benefits of plants in the workplace.
“Being around plants certainly seems to reduce stress and engender a feeling of well-being in most people, a benefit that is even more acute if correct lighting is in place. The fact that a workplace has been prepared to spend money on something that has no obvious function than to make the environment more attractive may also be a contributing factor, by sending a signal to staff that management cares about its employees and visitors.”
“There is now general agreement within the scientific community that plants improve the indoor environment, and are useful weapons in the fight against the modern phenomenon known as sick building syndrome (SBS),” says Freeman. “No specific cause of SBS has been identified, but poor air quality, excessive background noise and inadequate temperature and light control are thought to be important factors. Because plants have a large surface area and exchange water and gases with their surroundings, they have a unique ability to tackle many environmental problems.”
In particular, plants can reduce levels of carbon dioxide, which can accumulate in buildings from the breathing of its occupants and the by-products of heating systems and electrical equipment. Plants also increase the relative humidity, which should be between 40% and 60% RH for maximum human comfort. Plants reduce levels of certain pollutant gases, such as formaldehyde, benzene and nitrogen dioxide as well as airborne dust levels. Plants also reduce air temperatures and background noise levels.
Commercial buildings in large urban markets are often very large and easy to get lost in. In many office towers and hospitals, there is a need to channel pedestrian traffic towards significant landmarks, such as exits, check-in desks, escalators and common passageways. Plants offer an attractive and practical solution, providing a living barrier that gently guides people to where you want them to go.
Choosing the right plants and containers for this purpose is very important. Spiky plants or those with sharp-edged leaves would clearly be inappropriate in an area designed for heavy pedestrian traffic flow. Containers need to be robust, take up the minimum of floor space and in some situations be linkable to form an impenetrable wall.