Five Ways to Bring Nature to Work

Openplans
Photo: Michael Moran Studio

 

Research proves it again and again: access to outdoor views, fresh air and plants improves employee well-being. Integrating natural elements into the workplace isn’t simply an aesthetic move – it has monetary payoffs too. In one call center in California, for example, employees with views of the outdoors handled 6-7% more calls than those without those views. Contact with nature also reduces absenteeism and improves employee productivity and retention.

Human affinity for the natural world, known as biophilia, has been overlooked in building design until recently. Now hospitals, schools and workplaces around the world are beginning to incorporate natural elements into their design and seeing happier tenants as a result. Want to champion biophilia in your office? Here are some changes your workplace can make.

 

Bring in plants. Adding plants to the workplace is a great way to filter indoor air pollution, reduce stress, and muffle noise. You can go as simple as potted plants for employee desks all the way up to beautiful living walls. Some companies like Ambius and Good Earth Plants will maintain your office vegetation on a regular basis too.

Install a green roof. If employees’ windows face an empty interior roof, why not install a green roof to enliven the space? Green roofs also save building energy costs and keep runoff from overloading our sewer systems. Many EarthShare members have installed green roofs, including the beautiful courtyard providing employees at the World Resources Institute a green respite from the urban environment of downtown Washington, D.C.

Daylight the workspace. When Ford Motor Company redesigned its Rouge River assembly plant near Detroit, MI, it installed 46 skylights, the largest of which were 3,000 square feet each. Ford didn’t just want to save money on lighting costs (which it did, however). The natural light also reduces eye strain for people working on the assembly line and improves mood. Can’t install skylights? Consider rearranging the layout of your office to maximize window space. That’s just what the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Call Center did.

Circulate fresh air. Believe it or not, just sitting at your desk exposes you to some pretty nasty pollutants. It’s not uncommon to find things like formaldehyde, radon, mold, solvents, volatile organic compounds, lead dust, and pesticides floating inside homes and workplaces. While its best to choose products that avoid pollutants in the first place, proper ventilation can also keep the air clean. The US Green Building Council’s LEED program requires a minimum level of outdoor air enter its certified buildings. Smart ventilation can also cut down on air conditioning, even in a hot place like Mexico!

Mimic or include natural shapes, colors and materials. Nature doesn’t resemble a box, but that’s what most of our buildings look like. Varying textures (soft and hard) and ceiling heights can create a more welcoming space for occupants. Wood, water, and stone can be incorporated into design and furniture. Just make sure your materials are sustainably sourced or recycled.

 

Want to learn more about biophilia in the workplace? Check out these resources:

Featured locations, Biophilic Design

Economics of Biophilia – Is Your Commercial Office Space up to Snuff, IDO Incorporated

Milwaukee Sees the Light: How one rust belt city found the key to its rebirth: bringing nature and people closer together, On Earth/NRDC

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Ernie McLaney

Another great resource for incorporating nature into the workplace can be found in Richard Louv's book "The Nature Principle".

Louv makes a convincing case that through a nature-balanced existence—driven by sound economic, social, and environmental solutions—the human race can and will thrive. We must remember that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. Embracing this connection makes us more alert, creative and productive.

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