Living Wall Success Series – Part 2: Plants Make People Feel Good

There is no doubt that Living Green Walls are a hot design trend. Architects, Interior Designers, Building Owners & Managers, Construction Professionals and Plantscapers are all scrambling to educate themselves in order to capture business in this growing market niche. There is an abundance of information out there and my goal with the “Living Wall Success Series” is to sort through the clutter, eliminate the noise and get down to the details that matter. The Living Wall Success Series aims to be an informative, concise, unbiased and reliable source of information for you to effectively market, sell, install and maintain living walls.

 

Part 2: Plants Make People Feel Good

Numerous studies have demonstrated that indoor plants have an overwhelmingly positive effect on building occupants. These positive effects can be generally grouped into three categories:

  • Performance effects: improved opportunities for collaboration and communication, positive impact on recruiting and retention, positive message about investment in staff, which equates to trust building, alignment in key workplace initiatives and notable marketplace differentiator in leased environments.
  • Psychological effects: stress reduction, increased mental agility and innovative thinking, positive perceptions, background noise management, increased motivation and productivity.
  • Physiological effects: improved air quality, increased humidity, reduced absenteeism, dust, carbon dioxide, mold, bacteria and harmful chemicals & volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Living walls can actually help to amplify some of these effects because they have such a large concentration of plants and density of foliage. Even a small living wall only 10′ x 10′ in size can have anywhere from 500-1,000 plants, depending on the system. Larger living wall installations can have over 5,000 plants. That’s a lot of plants to help people feel better and work harder.
A great deal of research has been done on how plants affect building occupants. My goal isn’t to bore you with the scientific details of each study, but there are a few important pieces of research that you should definitely be familiar with.

In 1994, Dr. Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University published “Effects of Vegetation Views on Stress and Health Indicators” which found that views of plants and other nature can reduce stress and in certain situations may have beneficial health-related influences. Dr. Ulrich followed this up with a 2002 study titled “Health Benefits of Gardens in Hospitals” which found that hospital patient subjects with a “nature view” had shorter hospital stays and suffered fewer minor post-surgical complications. These patients also more frequently recorded positive comments about their condition and requested fewer doses of strong narcotic pain drugs versus the group with the “wall view.”

In 2003, Dr. Ulrich published the “impact of Flowers & Plants on Workplace Productivity Study” which found that problem-solving skills, idea generation and creative performance improve substantially in workplace environments that include flowers and plants. Dr. Ulrich stated that “Flowers and plants are not simply visual embellishments. They can contribute to better feelings in employees and a more productive work environment.”

In 1996, Dr. Virginia Lohr of Washington State University authored the study “Interior plants may improve worker productivity and reduce stress in a windowless environment” which found that flowers and plants reduce stress levels and increase productivity in an office environment. Study participants reported feeling more attentive when plants were present. This feeling was confirmed by the data which showed that subjects were more productive (12% quicker reactions on the computer task) and had lower blood pressure when plants were present.

In his research titled “The relative benefits of green versus lean office space, ” Dr. Chris Knight of Exeter University concluded that employees were 15% more productive when plants were added to the workplace. His research found that when plants were brought into the offices, employee performance on memory retention and other basic tests improved substantially.

These are by no means the only studies that confirmed the positive effects of plants. For example, researchers at Surrey University in England published the paper “The Psychological Effects of Plants on People in Office” which found that plants had the ability to lower stress and that if given a choice people preferred to work in an office with plants. Additionally, Professor Tove Fjeld of the Agricultural University in Oslo, Norway published his paper titled “The Effect of Interior Planting on Health and Discomfort among Workers and School Children” which found that health and discomfort symptoms were 21% to 25% lower during the period when subjects had plants present compared to a period without plants. Dr Fjeld presented some of his findings at a seminar in 2002 titled “Reducing health complaints at work.”

There are also anecdotal stories from companies that have added plants to their office and experienced the positive effects firsthand.

In 1999, BMW sponsored a study on the health benefits of interior plants in offices in response to ongoing health complaints from staff at their Munich headquarters. BMW collected and analyzed extensive data comparing productivity and absenteeism in the planted “green” and the unplanted “non-green” work areas. BMW found that the well-being of the work force clearly improved in the planted areas. Beate Klug, the health and safety officer for BMW commented, “once the planting was introduced, 93% of the employees working in these areas felt healthier and more motivated to work. They praised the reduction in noise levels and favored working in the “green” work place.” Once plants were introduced, employee absenteeism fell significantly. They also found that the plants contributed to better humidity levels, reducing airborne particles and generally making the office more comfortable.

For their new office, Genzyme Corporation selected a revitalized design that integrating a diverse range of sustainable systems. The bright atrium, surrounded by interior gardens, seating areas, and cafes is credited with the project’s success. Joan Wood, vice-president of leadership and organizational development, conducted a post-occupancy survey in October of 2005 to assess the impact of the design on employee productivity. 88 percent of employees responded that “direct views and access to the interior gardens improved their sense of well-being.” Wood  said, “We had an intuitive sense that it would be a nice place to work, but we didn’t think about these returns in investment. We’ve had a 5% lower sick rate and an 88% improved sense of well-being.”

Stay tuned for Living Wall Success Series – Part 3: Biophilia

Don’t forget to check out Living Wall Success Series – Part 1: Plants Clean The Air

Eric Westerduin is a co-founder of Suite Plants, a manufacturer of living wall systems. Eric is a registered Green Plants For Green Buildings trainer and presents the accredited Advanced Living Walls continuing education course to architects & interior designers across North America. Eric earned his Bachelor's degree from Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. To learn more about Eric or Suite Plants please visit www.suiteplants.com

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