Our offices are slowly killing us.
From the sitting around all day to the stale, faded air, long office hours are the bane of the balanced, healthy lifestyle, or so we keep hearing.
There is a way to make things a little better. Studies have shown a few plants in the office are good for far more than just aesthetics.
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For example, Dr Fraser Torpy, a lecturer in UTS’s school of the environment, has been studying how indoor plants improve air quality and well-being.
Australia benefits from relatively clean air. But air quality is almost always worse indoors than outdoors, even in busy city centres, he says.
That’s because Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from synthetic materials in office furniture, fittings and computers hang around in the air, causing headaches, loss of concentration and other health problems. High levels of carbon dioxide, another feature of offices, have been linked to drowsiness.
“Our research proves that plants can reduce potentially harmful VOCs by 80 per cent and CO2 by up to 25 per cent, so the health benefits are significant,” said Torpy, who has 15 plants in his office. “Plants can also reduce dust levels, refresh air and stabilise temperature and humidity levels.
“This cleaner air leads to clearer thinking which in turn promotes greater productivity and efficiency.”
It’s not just about the health benefits though.
Another study, conducted by the British University of Exeter in 2010, found employees in leafy offices felt more comfortable at work, identified more with their bosses, were more productive, and generally felt more positive about their job. That study reckoned there was a 15% productivity boost in a green office.
But plants cost money. And in the experience of Kate Levy, from Ambius Indoor Plants, they’re the first thing to get cut in hard times.
“They’re seen as a discretionary expense. This is why we focus on the fact that we’re not in the business of making pretty offices. Plants make people more productive, improve air quality, and make employees happier. It’s not about the image – it’s about your employees.”
Earlier this year, Ambius stopped 1500 office workers in the street in Sydney and Brisbane and asked them if they had plants in their offices. Only one in twenty said they had plenty, while one in three said there wasn’t a single bloom or leaf on the premises.
That could be because of the practical difficulties with plants.
Often, when businesses buy plants from a nursery, those plants, grown in sunlight, die when moved indoors, Levy says.
Another percentage die from overwatering – which Levy reckons is probably a more common problem than underwatering. For this reason, Ambius helps with upkeep as well as selling the plants.
“The thing about plants is that it comes down to connecting with nature,” Levy says. “Especially as Australians, we do that subconsciously. We go to beaches and parks on the weekend. And we don’t realise that’s what makes us happy.”