Going green in 2016

Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at Ambius describes why and how to create a healthy and value-added indoor environment.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us appreciate greenery and the connection to the outside. Whether it’s an hour walking in a local park at lunchtime or going for an outdoor run in the evening, nature can provide a complete contrast to the minimalist white offices with strip lighting that we often spend our working day in. With so many of us enjoying the benefits that the outside can offer us, how can we look to bring some nature inside?

How to create the ultimate office environment

Creating a high-performing interior landscape requires a little more than a colourful plant in the corner of the office. To create the ultimate interior landscape we need to look at several key elements:

Ensuring health and wellbeing

Many factors in the work environment can affect employees’ health and wellbeing, and nature is considered to be particularly powerful. Since ancient times, having plants around us, or spending time in parks and gardens, have been acknowledged as ways of improving our wellbeing. Over the years scientists have spent a lot of time investigating exactly how beneficial plants can be in the workspace. We know, from scientific research, that plants can improve air quality, reduce background noise and cool the air around them. If you look beyond this, however, you will soon discover many other benefits.

Research shows some of the positive effects of having plants around us. Studies have consistently shown that when offices have plants, reports of symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)1 frequently fall – often quite dramatically. In addition:

  • Blood pressure reduced (lowered by 1 – 4 units)
  • Complaints about fatigue reduced by as much as 30%
  • Coughing reduced by up to 40%
  • Complaints of dry skin reduced by 25%
  • Quicker reaction times by as much as 12%

Furthermore, research conducted by Nieuwenhuis and her colleagues at the Universities of Cardiff, Exeter, Queensland and Groningen, and supported by Ambius has also demonstrated that productivity can be increased by as much as 15% (one study even showed a 32% improvement) as well as an improved sense of wellbeing in the workplace by up to 40%.

Creating a high quality design

Whether you are looking to improve the interior of a single office or a large corporate building, there are a number of factors that will influence your choice of interior landscaping design. Each space is unique and therefore elements such as light levels, temperature and air quality must be considered. This way you can ensure the style of interior landscaping is tailored to reflect your company’s brand personality, whilst guaranteeing that the chosen plants will thrive in each location. Beyond this, consider how other decorative elements and interesting materials can be incorporated to create a stimulating and engaging environment.

For some time now Nordic interior design influences have proved incredibly popular in design circles. While minimalist design is filtering down to the office, many companies are also looking for new ways to deliver on-brand first impressions, whether its colour co-ordinated plant pots or LivePictures that incorporate a brand logo.

Integrating green and sustainable products and services

It’s not just the plants that should be green. When setting out to create a new interior landscape, consider how to implement green and sustainable ideas throughout. It might be the way that the service is delivered or the products that are used, such as plant containers made from recycled materials or that rainwater or grey water is collected to be used to water the office plants.

Showing evidence of added value

While you may want to bring the outside in, you don’t want it to take up all of your workspace. The demand for workspace is pushing up rental values across the country, with an office in London costing as much as £70 per square foot. With space and cost front of mind, plants can often fall off the agenda. However, there are ways businesses can maximise the aesthetic and health benefits of plants without eating into space. This can include looking at solutions such as Live Pictures (wall-mounted, framed plant display) or event ‘Live’ room dividers. Open plan offices are often very noisy spaces and are frequently divided up with partitions or ranks of filing cabinets, but plant screening and ‘Live Dividers’ provide an effective and more attractive alternative. The tops of filing cabinets and other office surfaces can also be used for plants. For example, small bushy plants in narrow troughs take up little space, but still offer many benefits.

Many FMs across a range of sectors, however, are favouring a ‘stripped down’ office space that is depersonalised and ‘lean’ in a bid to boost efficiency. However, this is often a misguided approach as such un-enriched space has been shown to have a negative effect on employee wellbeing and can actually reduce productivity and colleague engagement. Instead, a small investment in plants and artwork to enrich an office workspace can pay dividends by improving wellbeing and productivity. Furthermore, the past decade has seen a 47% increase in flexible space management such as hot desking and while this can prove an effective way to manage space, traditional interior landscaping may not be suitable. Instead the environment can be enriched by turning to innovation in interior landscape design.

Showcasing innovation

While the concept of green walls dates back to the 1930’s, they are currently becoming ever more popular with companies that are looking to create an impact. Technology has improved making them reliable and easy to install and maintain. Indeed, it is now possible to fit green walls almost anywhere in a building. The benefits of green walls are significant. Not only do they provide a high density of decorative (and very visible) greenery without encroaching on valuable floor space, they are very effective at improving indoor environmental quality; such as humidity, noise attenuation and air quality. What’s more, prices have dropped considerably recently, so they are affordable as well as practical.

In addition, state-of-the-art innovations such as the biOrbAIR, which seamlessly combines a self-contained mix of nature and technology, can provide the perfect conditions for even the most delicate of tropical plants to thrive. The micro-climate created inside, replicates the conditions required by rainforest epiphytes and forest-floor species in a visually stunning 360 degree terrarium. Whilst you would be right in thinking plants need daylight and fresh air, this innovative product uses daylight-quality LED lighting with programmed day and night cycles, air circulation to prevent stagnation and condensation, as well as an automatic misting system that maintains ideal levels of humidity. So in essence there really is a solution for every type of environment, even those which are often left unlit.

Biophilia is the word that describes humanity’s innate need for connections with life and living systems and was first described by psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm in the 1960’s. The concept has since been developed and popularised by Edward O Wilson (a respected social biologist) in the 1980s and more recently by Stephen R Kellert (Professor of Social Ecology at Yale University). With high quality, nature-inspired design, working in cities does not have to mean that we lose our connections with nature. As humans, we have an instinctive affiliation with the natural world and, if we are granted this, whether that means being located near a window with a landscape view, or having a pot plant near our desk, we tend to feel calmer and happier, which can pay huge dividends in terms of productivity, engagement and comfort.

SOURCES:

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24759685?dopt=Abstract

2. http://www.ambius.com/news-and-media/2014-news-archive/plants-make-you-happy-and-more-productive.html

3. http://www.ambius.co.uk/working-with-us/prism/index.html Craig Knight: The Psychology of Office Space

4. http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2015/04/23/remote-working-will-boost-staff-productivity-say-hr-leaders.aspx