Would You Believe: Importance of Plants in the Office

Did you know that it’s scientifically-proven that plants positively impact health and wellness in the workplace? 

At Nano, we have a plethora of plants in our Austin, TX HQ, and they’re looked after beautifully by our green-fingered friends at Interior Gardens. We like plants – they make the place look and feel great – but we’re not that gifted at keeping them alive (overwatering, anyone?) So our contract with Interior Gardens allows us to “rent” plants, and their gardeners come and look after them on a regular basis. 

If you’re currently dwelling in cubicle hell, and looking for a persuasive argument to get the boss to import greenery into your office, let us educate you in the realm of biophilic design.

What’s Biophilic Design? 

Gensler, the largest design firm in the world, famous for designing Etsy’s new Brooklyn HQ, is committed to improving city life through the use of nature within built environments. Think beyond spider plants in big pots to large scale “living walls” of verdant plantlife creeping up to the ceiling.  

In partnership with NewPro Containers, and the WELL Building Standard, which puts people’s health at the center of workplace design, architecture firm, Gensler did an experiment in their Shanghai office. They wanted to: “Test the effect of a living wall on indoor air quality and thermal comfort of occupants in a real-life working environment,” according to their researchers. While not a wide-scale academic study, the findings were still enlightening. 

They set up two conference rooms – one as a “control” with no plantlife, the other with a living wall that had plants known for targeting indoor air pollutants and improving indoor air quality (IAQ) levels. Over six months they monitored IAQ (indoor air quality), regularly recording levels of CO2, PM2.5 (particulate matter), TVOC (total volatile organic compounds), RH (relative humidity) and temperature. 

Results from the “living wall”.

Was the experiment a success? Yes, according to researchers who found:

“The living wall showed significant, positive improvements to IAQ over the course of our study. The greatest observed effects were on overall levels of CO2 and PM2.5, which showed overall average reductions of 24 percent and 21 percent respectively compared to our control.”

There was also a marked positive effect on employees: 

“Two-thirds of users surveyed (65 percent) preferred the green room to other conference rooms, noting that they enjoyed the presence of plants and found the greenery relaxing. Users also felt the air quality in the green room was superior, and four in five (79 percent) believed the room was an overall benefit to their health,” the researchers concluded.   

Plants on Mars?

In 1989, NASA conducted a study in partnership with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. Dubbed the “Clean Air Study,” its goal was to see if plants could remove chemicals including benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and formaldehyde from indoor environments. 

These chemicals, found in many office spaces, have a detrimental effect on humans. Trichloroethylene causes drowsiness and nausea; benzene leads to dizziness and headaches and xylene can affect kidney function. 

After the NASA trial, its researchers identified specific plant species that were most effective at purifying the air. These include spider plant, dwarf date palm, weeping fig, and english ivy. 

It’s clear NASA were already plotting best practices for future off-world workspaces because their researchers concluded that: “[If we] move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, [we] must take along nature’s life support system.”  

If you want to know more, there’s a great infographic on the subject here (hint: to share with your boss).