What is Sick Building Syndrome and How Do Plants Help?

175520006_8a9a6e176bSick building syndrome is something that afflicts many employees that work regularly in indoor office complexes. It can affect productivity, health and well being of employees and ultimately business profits.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sick building syndrome accounts for up to  61 billion dollars a year in health costs, productivity and absenteeism.

Sick Building Syndrome Defined

The Environmental Protection Agency defines sick building syndrome as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” These health effects can include headaches, mild nausea or dizziness, and dry throat or cough. The symptoms tend to go away when those that suffer from them are no longer exposed to the building space.

Potential Causes

Sick building syndrome can be attributed to indoor air pollutants known and Volatile Organic Chemicals also called VOCs. VOCs come from wood products, adhesives, carpets, disinfectants and other common items found in office buildings. Sick building syndrome can also be caused by poor air circulation or ventilating outdoor air pollutants, such as exhaust, into the building. While sick building syndrome is a problem for many companies, interior landscaping can help.

Plants Can Help

SBS-01Living plants can help combat sick building syndrome by purifying the air in indoor environments. Tropical plants are particularly good at removing VOCs from the air through natural processes. Studies preformed by NASA have found that at least one living plant per 100 square feet of floor space can help clean air in an office building. More concentrated living plants will remove VOCs at a higher rate.

Common indoor plants such as the peace lily, bromeliads, philodendrons, pothos, English ivy, Dracaena and more are efficient at removing VOCs. These VOCs include formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene. Indoor plants concentrated in problem areas can help relieve the symptoms of sick building syndrome.

Positive Psychological Impacts

Not only can plants physically improve the environment, but they have positive psychological impacts as well. A recent article from Real Business sites studies performed by Roger Ulrich that suggested exposure to living plants significantly benefited overall health.

Value of Interior Landscaping

By providing a healthier environment for employees, businesses can cut back on costs related to health concerns. Healthier employees have better morale and are typically more productive.

Potential clients that have employees affected by sick building syndrome will be pleased to know that an investment in interior landscaping can improve their work environment and ultimately have an impact on their bottom line. When clients understand that interior landscaping, not only adds to the professional ambiance, but also makes the office space physically and mentally healthier they will place more value on your interior landscaping services.

Be sure to include in your portfolio the economic impact of sick building syndrome and the solid evidence that living plants can improve the situation and contribute to higher profit margins. How do you show clients the benefits of interior landscaping?


Indoor Air Facts No. 4 (revised) Sick Building Syndrome.” Environmental Protection Agency.
“Clean Air Plants & Sick Building Syndrome.” Plant Lady.
“Is interior landscaping worth the cost?” Real Business.
Photo “Office Buildings” courtesy of modery. 

Melanie is a plant enthusiast and expert contributor at Bromeliads.info and OrchidPlantCare.info. Melanie's experience in internet marketing, business management, and horticulture allows her to bring a unique perspective to the community. Melanie received a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership from Purdue University and is the Marketing Director at NewPro Containers.

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