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28 Nov 2006

vegging_outPlants promote productivity and reduce anxiety, as Indigo Clarke discovers

By Indigo Clarke

We all know that they can brighten up the office, but there has been little scientific evidence to support a relationship between psychological well-being and the presence of plants. Until now. A number of recent studies have shed new light on the effect plants can have on the stress levels and productivity of office workers.
“Nature and greenery can’t lose, really,” says Professor Derek Clements-Croome of the University of Reading. Recently working on a PhD study at the University of Cambridge examining the effects of greenery in buildings, Clements-Croome has conducted research into various aspects of environmental design and edited the book Creating the Productive Workspace. “The health and psychological benefits of plants are numerous. They appeal to the senses, decrease air temperatures in interiors, absorb carbon dioxide, create favourable humidity levels and add colour and fragrance.”

Clements-Croome’s study found that plants stimulate employees’ intelligence and counteract excess carbon dioxide in the office, resulting in improved staff performance and work output. The study compared the performance of pupils in classrooms equipped with plants and those without; significantly better results were recorded in those spaces where plants were present. “We have an innate sense of oneness with nature,” says Clements-Croome. “When you bring plants into the office, you are bringing some of the natural environment inside, creating a more soothing, relaxing space.”

Another recent study at Texas A&M University showed that the presence of just a simple vase of flowers or leafy plant resulted in 15 per cent more ideas and innovations in an office. The eight-month study, carried out by Dr Roger Ulrich – a professor of landscape architecture and an expert on how our surroundings affect our well-being and health – established a positive link between workers’ creative performance and offices that include flowers and plants.

And the presence of plants is not only beneficial to workers psychologically and physically, but it actually has an effect on the physical workplace environment as well. When humidity in the office space is too low, materials such as wood can become damaged and crack; on the other hand, when it’s too high, condensation and mould occur, resulting in costly structural damage. Plants can keep humidity levels within an optimal range for human comfort and health, and reduce air temperatures by ten degrees.

What’s more, indoor foliage can also help to minimise the effects of sick building syndrome. Often, offices – without anyone realising it – have contaminated climate-control systems that do not manage the humidity levels of a space. These systems emit disease-causing micro-organisms, resulting in an increase in employee illness – generally eye, lung and upper respiratory problems, allergies, colds and viruses. Plant-filled rooms contain 50-60 per cent fewer airborne moulds and bacteria than rooms without any greenery; the plants clean contaminated air by absorbing office pollutants into their leaves and transmitting toxins to their roots.

Don’t rush off to the garden centre just yet, though. “Workspace interiors need to be properly landscaped,” says Clements-Croome. “If you want to make an impact, you need to think about it carefully, and for the best results, consider professional interior-landscaping services.”

If office landscaping is too big a leap, there is one low-maintenance alternative. The smart, self-watering Vitamin IV plant pot features a medical drip feed and is practically self-sufficient – only requiring
a water top-up when the drip is empty.

www.vitaminliving.com

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