Living Walls in the Workplace

Greening the workplace. As employees in today’s workplaces spend more time indoors and away from the natural environment, interest has grown into how the physical office environment impacts employee well-being and how any negative effects can be ameliorated. Answers to these questions have been found in the growing body of research into the beneficial effects of nature on humans, and how these benefits can be incorporated into office settings. One such method of incorporation is living walls. Living walls, also known as green walls or green façades, can be installed on outdoor and indoor walls, and offer measurable environmental and practical benefits on top of their aesthetic appeal.

A primary environmental benefit offered by living walls is an improvement in air quality; living wall plants help absorb pollutants, thereby reducing the level of indoor air pollution, and by emitting fresh oxygen. Common indoor air pollutants include formaldehyde, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, disinfectants, and radon. These pollutants come from a variety of sources, including: carpet materials, plastic products, adhesives, paints, and heating and ventilation systems. Furthermore, they contribute to ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS), which is a term used to describe the effects these pollutants have on a person’s health. Symptoms of SBS include allergies, headaches, and fatigue, and may cause nervous-system disorders and cancer.

Along with the reduction in indoor air pollutants, living walls expose employees to plants, exposure which has been found to improve worker productivity. A Washington State University study found that study participants who performed tasks with plants in the room had faster reaction times, as well as lower blood pressure, compared to study participants who performed the same tasks without plants in the room. Living walls also reduce noise pollution, which can have a positive impact on employee productivity. Plants can absorb, diffract, and reflect sounds waves; this capability means echoes, feedback, and other workplace noises can be reduced, resulting in a quieter office environment.

Alongside the benefits to employee health and productivity, green walls also offer economic advantages. Depending on the size of the living wall, the green wall can serve as insulation for the building, thereby reducing heating and cooling costs. Plants also promote natural cooling processes through photosynthesis and evapotranspiration. Other economic benefits include increased economic activity and increased property value. The quality of a building’s landscaping has been shown to be reflected in customers’ perceived quality of the goods being sold. Furthermore, green space helps increase foot traffic as well as the amount of time patrons may spend at a location. Property values are impacted positively by the presence of a green wall as a market premium is associated with buildings with high quality landscaping. Living walls would be especially beneficial for those businesses that do not have outdoor green space in their vicinity, as they can bring the green space to their employees and customers.

In conclusion, living walls offer multiple benefits to workplaces and their employees. Bringing the outdoors inside helps improve building air quality and reduce noise pollution, which has a positive impact on employees’ productivity; while economic benefits include lower heating and cooling costs as well as increased property value and a higher level of economic activity. Greening the workplace has multiple advantages, as highlighted above, and employers and building owners have numerous reasons for considering them a good investment in their employees, business, and building.

Christian Mahlstedt, President