Going green to strike gold
Being ‘green’ may not be as costly an endeavour as one first might think and is also one that generates high rewards. There is scientific consensus that sustainable work practices contribute to a healthier life and a healthier planet. Despite this, companies are consistently missing out on the multitude of ways that efforts in this field can contribute to improved workplace wellbeing. Investing in nature and by default, people, will result not only in more sustainable work practices and a more effective workforce, but also a more profitable business.
Our link with nature is not simply social, but biological, through evolutionary design. Yet, many of us have drifted away from our connection to nature; our environments instead being replaced by dense metropolises of concrete. Urbanization and industrial revolutions starting as far back as the 1700s have pushed more of us further into cities with the promise of better work and better wages. But this transition has also led to the monetization of green space, separating us even further from our innate bond with the outdoors. The introduction of high-rise buildings to cope with rapidly expanding populations and a growing demand for housing has highlighted how our ability to access nature is now, more than ever, related to wealth. However, fear not! Whilst many of us cannot afford to buy houses with big gardens, or even live near coveted green spaces, there are still ways we can bring nature closer.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and during the numerous lockdowns across the world, people have begun to appreciate green public spaces as a vital resource for the maintenance of our physical and mental health. This became evident as the sale of home-growing vegetable kits, indoor plants and flowers skyrocketed throughout 2020. It has furthermore renewed the need to reassess the workplace, and question why we tolerate poor working environments and wasteful practices. Bad air quality, inefficient heating and uneconomical uses of resources can be added to a growing list of workforce concerns and demands – ones that must be addressed as employees consider what benefits the traditional office environment now offers and at what cost to their health and wellbeing.
Planting ourselves in better soil
So, how can we redesign our spaces to bring nature to us? How can we combine and connect our spaces to provide more natural environments in which to work and live? How can we foster our innate human need to connect with the natural world, and in doing so, fuel our performance? There is undoubtedly a better way to bridge these realms and provide better working environments to improve peoples’ productivity whilst simultaneously enhancing their wellbeing.
One approach to design and architecture that has been credited with improving both wellbeing and productivity is biophilia. Erich Fromm, a German philosopher, sociologist and psychologist, is attributed as being the first person to present the word ‘biophilia’. In Fromm’s book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness from 1973, he declares biophilia as being the “passionate love of life and of all that is alive…whether in a person, a plant, an idea, or a social group”. The emphasis on living and animate entities reinforces the position that it is people who should be the focus of business, not inanimate elements like bureaucracy and finance. This recognizes that for businesses to thrive, more attention must be given to investing in and empowering the lifeblood of any organization – it’s people.
In more modern conceptions of the term, biophilic design is used to describe the way in which buildings are developed to allow greater connection to nature by the user. The approach focuses on the health and productivity of people, using different conditions to improve physical and mental wellbeing. Direct nature, indirect nature, lighting, and the placing of furnishings all offer a means to bridge our spaces to the outdoors. In turn, these changes are said to contribute to one’s health, fitness, mindfulness and presentness.
Reaping these benefits relies on continual and repeated encounters with the design to foster an attachment to the space, and ultimately encourage people to engage with it. Here at WellWise we forecast that this will be a significantly rising priority subject as organizations redefine the meaning and purpose of the office environment and how to gain the most from their investment in it.
“Biophilic design office interiors might represent a 5-10% increase in upfront CAPEX in the short-term but that is paid back in the medium-term via improved employee wellbeing levels, a reduction in staff absenteeism, enhanced workplace productivity and stronger talent attraction / retention credentials for the business as a whole, meaning an office interior project needs to take a 360-degree, 3-5 year view in order to maximize its strategic impact. That’s where the real value lies!”
Matt Morley – Biofilico Ltd
The level of biophilia can be adjusted depending on the practicalities of the space, ranging from architectural changes such as larger windows for increased sun exposure, to intricate interior details such as standing desks and plant walls; all with the aim of increasing holistic wellbeing through user-connection to nature. Biophilic design, however, is not just about putting a fish tank in the office or placing plants on the windowsills, it fundamentally seeks to connect our biological need for nature with the modern, built environment in which we inhabit. Its purpose is not simply bringing nature inside but aligning elements of the natural world to our spaces and in turn, contributing to peoples’ health and productivity.
For the protection of wellbeing and for the future of living spaces, we need to rethink the artificial and manufactured environments we surround ourselves with daily, and consider how they are hampering and demerging us as individuals and employee collectives. We should be emboldened to take advantage of the biological predispositions we have to natural habitats. This will encourage us to focus not only on the natural world as a source of stability in our increasingly hectic lives but redirect our attention to the sustainable wellbeing and success of people in the modern workplace.
All photo credits: Biofilico Ltd
Biofilico advises on creating healthy, sustainable buildings & interiors with style, be it an office, home, hotel or gym. The company’s services cover ESG strategy, biophilic interior design and wellness real estate certifications such as WELL, FITWEL and RESET Air.
Thanks to Matt Morley of Biofilico for supporting the development of this blog and for serving as a great mentor to our superstar- intern Lucy.