ExclusivesPlacesThinkingBiophilia: Why we need nature in the workplace

Stephen Marks, a thought leader at the Global Wellness Institute, outlines the case for biophilia.
Sophie Barton8 months ago7 min

If you haven’t heard of workplace biophilia, the chances are you’ve seen examples of it without realising! In London and other major cities, live walls or green walls have been incorporated onto building design for some time. I’m not just talking about in trendy Hoxton offices either. Nowadays, many offices, and even some retailers and schools, are turning to Mother Nature for help.

Biophilia – or love of life and living things – is introduced through images, colours, textures and materials from the natural world. And as we become increasingly disconnected with nature – with two out of three of us estimated to be living in urban areas by 2050 – it’s becoming more essential than ever to incorporate these design principles into the built environment. 

Healing properties

Plants, natural materials, water and sunlight aren’t just pleasing on the eye, there’s compelling research to suggest they can improve productivity, lower stress levels and enhance cognitive function. That’s because the effects of nature have a calming effect on us. Our brainwaves can shift into alpha state from the every day high activity beta state. Alpha state is a problem-solving, resourceful and creative state. In addition to that, some live walls actually clean the air.

If you still need convincing, take a look at the stats. The Human Spaces research reported a 6% increase in productivity amongst employees working in environments with natural elements. In another study, ‘The relative benefits of green versus lean office space’, researchers found that employees in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% rise in productivity over a three month period, in contrast to those who had no greenery.

Healthier, happier people

Add to this, the results from a 2016 study found in CBRE’s ‘The Snowball Effects of Healthy Offices’. This suggests that those people exposed to nature murals and live or artificial plant perceived their work performance to be 10% better, while 76% felt more energized, 78% felt happier and 65% felt healthier!

So, it seems the evidence is hard to ignore. Where then, should you start bringing this to life in your workplace? Granted, biophilia is about more than plonking a pot plant on your desk, but introducing plants is nevertheless a great way to begin. And why not bring a clean air dimension to this? NASA published a list of plants that purify the air, such as the Peace Lily, Aloe Vera, Fern and Spider plant.

Go green

A workplace biophilia plan could also include water features or even patterns of nature – known as biomimicry. For example, the reception area at Cundall Engineering’s London office (the first office in Europe to achieve a WELL certification) includes a striking piece of art based on the design of a beehive. Likewise, Google’s HQ uses workplace biophilia design elements such as light, water, natural materials and patterns.

Consider incorporating a living wall into your communal area and, when it comes to décor, opt for floral or landscape photography. Invest in nature-inspired flooring and wallpaper, and make the most of access to natural light, even if it means the expense of repositioning desks. If you have outside space, provide seating and encourage employees to get fresh air during their breaks. Of course, all these measures have budget implications, but you’ll soon reap the rewards in the shape of happier, more productive staff, who want to stick around.

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Stephen Marks is the founder of Mind Body Building and a thought leader at the Global Wellness Institute

Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 199.

Sophie Barton

Sophie Barton is our Features Editor. She a journalist and editor with 17 years’ experience in the national media, specialising in wellbeing and lifestyle.

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