Sharing Your Space – Why Plants Matter
There’s always somewhere it fits. (Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash)
Why plants matter
The modern workplace is going through multiple changes.
We moved from the ‘traditional’ office plan with visible hierarchy and cubicles for focused work, then to an open plan scenario with flattened hierarchy and a distinct lack of privacy for collaboration. With questions of effectiveness arising in both office plans, the rise of the ‘agile workspace’ has applied the idea of multifunctional spaces, social and quieter areas to cater to all working styles and needs.
As work needs change, so will our preference for how we design workspaces. However, notwithstanding the surge in remote working, the office workplace is still somewhere that you may still spend 40 hours a week in, and that means whatever the design, it needs to be a healthy environment that facilitates productivity and wellbeing.
Innovative design and appropriate orientation or lighting create inviting spaces, but indoor planting can radically alter the welfare of building occupants.
It sounds obvious, but why do plants matter?
‘Biophilia’ suggests that we innately love the living, or more specifically the vitality we sense from the living systems around us. It’s the connection we subconsciously look for as a counterpoint to our highly designed, man-made surroundings, an energy that helps to feed us.
Within the built environment this innate need for connection with the elements can come in various forms; vista from a window, the nurturing hand feel of natural textiles and materials, or the proximity of vegetation.
If we do not foster a regular connection with the natural, then we sever our link with the world. This can lead to an ‘environmentally impoverished’ habitat, if that’s what we can call the human workplace.
Our biophilic response, if consistently nurtured, can do wondrous things. It can, in the workplace, help us to define an emotional attachment of wellbeing that can focus our minds, increase productivity, and even promote more meaningful engagement with colleagues that ‘pays forward’, or mutually reinforces to improve group functioning. And of course, stress can be significantly reduced.
Various studies have repeatedly indicated the benefits of plants in the workplace, starting with NASA’s exhaustive research back in 1989 that set the precedent for understanding how, in certain enclosed conditions, plantings can improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by removing the trace organic pollutants found inside even well-designed, energy-efficient modern buildings.
Great, but how exactly is this important for your workplace?
Well, the NASA approach was notable because it dealt with ‘closed systems’, the sealed environment you find on a spacecraft. It’s a very simplified analogy for the Earth and how it is closed off to the void. It set a baseline for our understanding of what goes on in a controlled environment in terms of pollutants, gases, and generally how things can change with the introduction of plants to manage things in a way that permits human survival within that closed system.
No, your office is not quite a spacecraft.
But, with many workplace environments using well-sealed doors and windows together with internal air-conditioning systems, the analogy is somewhat close. People commonly spend up to 90% of their daily lives indoors, qualifying our buildings as our natural habitat. Cleaning chemicals, off-gassing furnishing and surfaces (especially with new renovation), dust, office appliances, even your colleagues’ perfume or sweat, these can all be generated in volumes that are at a greater rate than the building’s systems can adequately dispose of.
So, we seal ourselves inside, artificially replicate air, sit for hours on end in a funky brew of substances, and expect to be normally functional when we work for a third of our lives within such environments?
Together with opening a window, plants are the simplest first step to changing this.
The NASA experiments used nine different plants to outline how effectively internal air quality can be improved. However, subsequent research has shown how to pare down this complexity and opt for the simplest possible mix of plants that endow maximum effects for your enclosed space.
In short, the ‘lite solution’ is to populate your workplace with the following, readily available green cleaners:
1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
2. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sanseviera trifasciata)
3. Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum)
Cite the fun latin names at your local plant shop if there’s any confusion, then bring in as many as you can into your space.
To break it down, the Areca Palm is fantastic at removing C02 during the day and converting it into oxygen. Its bushy green volume is appealing and fits well into semi-lit corners.
The Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, so named for its sharpness, is probably the easiest plant to take care of. It works like the Areca, but nocturnally. So, when you leave work it busies itself freshening up the workplace air overnight to create a fresh morning entry.
Finally, the Money Plant can be suspended in baskets or left to creep along surfaces, providing a simple way to green ‘clad’ your space while being an extremely effective scrubber of volatile chemicals (VOCs) and other nasties such as formaldehyde.
Where’s the Rub?
These indoor plantings are simple, easy maintenance, and low cost. The main consideration comes down to quantity = quality. The more plants you have in your space, the more noticeable the effects of growing your own fresh air.
This planting rationale was tested in New Delhi under particularly polluted conditions, but can be applied to any circumstance. The research calls for 6-8 plants per person, so if at first, that seems rather ‘jungly’, consider how different planting strategies can create pockets of planted density within your workplace to optimise overall space use. If you have densely packed people, this could be a tough sell. However, using vertical surfaces and ceiling supports can multiply the places your plants can thrive, stay ‘out of the way’, and enhance the aesthetic design of your space.
There’s no real ‘rub’, rather some interesting results that could seriously improve your bottom line:
• 13-20% uptick in general human productivity.
• 42% chance blood oxygen levels will rise by 1% after 10 hours.
• 52% eye irritation reduction.
• 34% fall in respiratory complaints.
• Headaches drop by 24%.
• Asthma down by 9%.
Additionally, employee wellness isn’t the only impacted area. By helping to modify air quality, humidity, and ambient temperature, indoor plantings can decrease your building energy needs by up to 15%.
The upshot is that using plants within a workspace will improve air quality conditions for occupants. Going from zero plantings whatsoever to a significantly planned indoor plants cape based on providing a considered ratio of greenery per occupant will show marked results, whatever climate you operate in.
There will always be some form of planting solution that can benefit your particular circumstances. The plants advised here are the simplest, but indicative of the qualities you can find in many other varieties that may fit your aesthetic more.
Making it neat and manageable, as well as in accordance with your design principles and branding, these are aspects that can be managed by professional interior design direction. Thinking biophilic means providing an environment for your people that helps them stay grounded, enlivened, and motivated. And with the minimal intrusion and costs, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make plants matter.