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What is Biophilic Design?

Biophilic design is the art of integrating nature into the built environment in order to improve human wellbeing and yield environmental benefits.

Employees spend at least 8 hours a day in an office or other confined work space. Working in a biophilic office environment nourishes employees’ physical and mental health in many ways such as reducing airborne pollutants, creating a calming atmosphere, among several others.

Benefits of a Biophilic Workspace

Biophilic design encompasses benefits for human health as well as for environmental sustainability and business productivity.

Indoor air quality can be impacted by printers and copy machines that emit toner particles and toxic gasses such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). From coughing and minor throat irritation to dizziness and respiratory damage, such pollutants can cause both short- and long-term impacts on employee health. Having plants and green walls in the office can improve air quality by removing airborne pollutants, reducing indoor CO2 and producing oxygen.

Biophilic elements can also act as noise buffers and cultivate a serene atmosphere, leading to elevated mood and lower stress levels, improved concentration and overall better performance on the job.

Creating work environments that employees enjoy and thrive in yields better employee morale and retention and attracts more potential workers – a win for employers looking to build a reliable team.

In fact, biophilic office environments can increase productivity by 6% -15%. More than 90% of operational costs linked to human resources and financial losses due to absenteeism and presentism account for 4% of this cost.

A mobile green wall integration into an office lobby

Holistic health factors in the workplace with biophilic design

Applying Biophilic Design to the Office

Biophilic design has many applications that could be used directly or indirectly. Direct applications refers to direct use of natural elements in space. Incorporating green walls, plants, water features, natural light and other natural elements into the work space are some direct applications of biophilic design.

Indirect application of biophilic design refers to the aesthetic aspects of nature. Using natural colors, pictures and materials are examples of indirect biophilic applications. While it has been found that direct application is more impactful on human health and wellness, designers implement indirect applications in a case that direct application is not feasible.

Biophilic Design Benefits in the Office Environment

The diagram below reflects the application of biophilic design on a small to midsize office environment with a focus on the mental and physical health of employees. Giving individuals the positive feelings of being around nature improves workspace satisfaction, their physical health and productivity consequently save money for the employer.

Benefits of a wellness space and biophilic design integration into the office environment, a case study

Planters and mobile green walls have been used as dividers for ensuring social distancing and noise reduction (Mental, Physical and Environmental). These green spaces can also serve as social areas for quiet conversation or give employees the opportunity to exercise their green thumb and help with plant care (Social and Educational).

The installation of mobile green walls and potted plants to create social distancing, reduce noise and offer employees direct contact with nature

Offering a Wellness Room To Employees

A wellness room is a designated space where employees can de-stress and focus on their mental and physical wellbeing. Incorporating biophilic elements into a wellness room will create a sense of serenity for employees resulting in reinvigoration for when they return to work. Providing workout opportunities, healthy snacks and incorporating natural elements in the recharge room could answer different needs of employees.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital built wellness rooms for their healthcare workers to ‘recharge’ after working long hours in a stressful environment. Healthcare workers reported a 60% decrease in stress levels after spending 15 minutes in these nature-inspired relaxation spaces.

Benefits of Biophilic Wellness Rooms

Enhancing employee mental and physical health through wellness rooms results in happier, healthier employees, increased economic value for employers and bettering the overall health of society at a community level. Biophilic designed wellness rooms can:

  • Increase employee productivity and concentration
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduce stress hormones
  • Elevate employees mood and support team work
  • Assist with your company’s sustainability marketing
  • Assist with LEED and WELL certifications for your building

References:

Burke, M., (2020) Coronavirus stress among hospital workers leads to creation of ‘recharge rooms’. NBCNEWS.

Browning B, Garvin C, Ryan C, et al., The Economics of Biophilia-Why Designing with Nature in Mind Makes Financial Sense. 2012.

Putrino, D., Ripp, J., Herrera, J. E., Cortes, M., Kellner, C., Rizk, D., & Dams-O’Connor, K. (2020). Multisensory, nature-inspired recharge rooms yield short-term reductions in perceived stress among frontline healthcare workers. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 3213.

Kellert, S., & Calabrese, E. (2015). The practice of biophilic design. London: Terrapin Bright LLC.

Mohora, I. (2019). Importance of Biophilic Attributes in European Coworking Spaces. Proceedings of INTCESS, 979-988.

Yin, J., Yuan, J., Arfaei, N., Catalano, P. J., Allen, J. G., & Spengler, J. D. (2020). Effects of biophilic indoor environment on stress and anxiety recovery: A between-subjects experiment in virtual reality. Environment International, 136, 105427.

About the Author

Asma Bashirivand

Product Designer, Biophilic and Sustainability Consultant
Ginkgo Sustainability Inc.

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