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21 Apr 2016

Greens are good for you

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Plants can bring more to the office than just a splash of colour, says Bob Capel, landscaping expert at facilities management company Mitie

Office plants are as varied as the companies that install them. From the humble spider-plant to grand tropical trees, greenery in the workplace is the latest must-have. Originally, office plants were merely decorative – a way to break up the stretch of office furniture and equipment by adding a splash of colour and a personal touch. People often livened up their desks with their own plants, whether flowers or unusual cacti. But there’s much more to consider when introducing plants to the office, including style, branding and staff wellbeing.

Breathe easy

We know plants are the lungs of the planet, but they have the same function in a contained space. Because of the lack of fresh air, air quality is often worse inside a building than outside. In offices, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from paints, furniture and equipment can quietly wreak havoc on your health. Toxins like formaldehyde are found in rugs, cigarette smoke and grocery bags, and substances like benzene and trichloroethylene can be found in man-made fibres and inks and solvents, which are particularly prevalent in places where books and printed papers are displayed or archived.

Contaminants like these contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’, the symptoms of which include irritated eyes, skin, throat, nose, chest tightness, wheezing, persistent headaches, fatigue or even irritability. Opening windows to ventilate the space can help, but this may not be an option – especially in winter. In modern, airtight or climate-controlled buildings, VOCs are more likely to be trapped inside.

Plants can act like filters, feeding off these toxic substances and producing oxygen as a by-product to help purify the environment. According to NASA’s report ‘Indoor Landscape Plants for Indoor Pollution Abatement’, plants remove up to 87% of VOCs every 24 hours. Some plants are more effective than others, so you can tailor planting according to your need.

Plants can also help achieve sustainability targets. A sustainability manager for a large office building once asked me to design a planting scheme for their office because carbon dioxide levels could escalate to the point where the roof vents would automatically open to ventilate the office, indicating a problem with air flow. The client wanted to explore environmentally efficient ways to address this, and plants were the obvious answer.

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The feel-good factor

Plants do not just bring physical benefits – various studies indicate they can improve the psychological wellbeing of employees. In fact, people tend to seek physical proximity to plants. Having plants nearby improves your mood and can be calming. According to a study by the University of Cardiff, well-planted offices make staff happier and 15% more productive. Other studies show lower absenteeism in offices with plants, as well as lower sickness rates. Sitting at a window with a ‘green’ view can help increase productivity and reaction times, and even lower blood pressure.

Brand management

For the most part, interior plant preferences are driven by the look a company wants to achieve, to complement its brand identity through colour or a particular style. One way of achieving this is through different coloured pots. A company we dealt with even requested recyclable pots made from crushed, old computer parts. A varied look can also be created through different coloured foliage, although this is more of a challenge.

Whether you want to beautify your space, strengthen your brand image or be more sustainable, interior planting should be regarded as a valuable asset, not an add-on. During the recession, plants were often high on the list for elimination. But, when you’re trying to save a business, it makes sense to safeguard items that encourage a positive atmosphere and productivity. Greens are good for you – and your business.

Bob Capel is operations manager of Mitie’s interior landscapes division

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