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'A Big, Bold, Natural Element': Employers Are Bringing Nature Indoors To Increase Employee Happiness, Productivity

When it comes to building design today, a focus on environmental connection is taking precedence.

Humans have an innate need to connect with their natural environment and many companies are going the extra mile to bring nature indoors for employees' benefit.

'A Big, Bold, Natural Element': Employers Are Bringing Nature Indoors To Increase Employee Happiness, Productivity
Nike Communications office

Employers have gotten a head start on this trend by incorporating green terraces, green roofs, gardens and green walls in their offices. Beyond creating a more attractive interior, biophilic design can improve mental and physical well-being while also reducing CO2 emissions, leading to better air quality for all.

New York-based Nike Communications decided to upgrade its own office by bringing the external environment inside with a smart green wall, which works to provide fresh air, improve employee productivity, calm employees and reduce illness in the office.

“[We have a] big belief in the healing properties of plants and the attraction of nature and what living in nature actually brings from stress reduction and quality of life. By incorporating bits and pieces of nature to the spaces where we spend most of our time in, we can positively impact our health, happiness and productivity at work,” Nike Communications founder and President Nina Kaminer said.

Initiatives to connect people with the natural environment will continue to become more important, especially considering the fact that an estimated 70% of the population is expected to live in a city by 2050, according to MIT.

“In a high-stress city, bringing a big, bold, natural element helps deliver a sense of calm and centering, much like living in nature does,” Kaminer said.

Spurring Productivity And Innovation With Greenery, Natural Light

Green wall

AE Superlab, a Brooklyn-based design and development lab, has recognized the importance of incorporating nature into the office environment and as a result, placed great emphasis on both greenery as well as natural light when it completed an office revitalization project for home decor business One Kings Lane about a year ago.

The 50K SF space the company was occupying had formerly been used as an FBI impound space and was not initially created with employee happiness and productivity in mind.

“So our challenge was to turn this space, which was kind of unwelcome and foreboding, into something that a company like One Kings Lane would actually like to occupy and work in,” AE Superlab founder Ahmed ElHusseiny said.

While the company had previously incorporated a small plant room in the back-of-house photography studio, it was primarily used for props rather than improving employee health and well-being. 

The renovated project incorporated a plethora of plants in addition to freshly painted white walls, new flooring and the replacement of many dividing walls with glass in order to add more light for both the plants and people.

“It was like walking through a cave before and now it’s become welcoming, bright and really a place you want to be. [Since completing the project], we’ve gotten some really wonderful emails from employees saying how much they love working in the space," ElHusseiny said.

At the Nike Communications office, Kaminer said many of the employees have been naturally drawn to the green wall during collaborative interactions.

It is not surprising that all the brainstorming and interactive meetings take place in the spaces adjacent to the [green] wall. It seems to promote creativity and collaboration," Kaminer said.

Creating Better Workspaces Through Lessons From Nature

'A Big, Bold, Natural Element': Employers Are Bringing Nature Indoors To Increase Employee Happiness, Productivity
One Kings Lane Office, New York

While biophilic design is still a relatively new feature in the office environment, it is already beginning to evolve. Concepts like biomimicry, which imitates nature in order to create sustainable solutions to solve human problems, are being used to incorporate nature with architecture in order to improve the tenant experience.

“In the last few years there’s been a real shift toward integrating biophilic design in a more holistic fashion. So you’re basically trying to create an environment that is more comfortable and that learns from the lessons of nature,” ElHusseiny said.

The Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe, Africa, was created to mimic a termite mound and regulates temperature without any conventional air conditioning or heating. Similar to the way a termite mound functions, the building was created with a ventilation system that draws air in and then cools or warms it before venting it into offices and then sending it out the chimney to the roof, Inhabitat reports.

This cycle ensures fresh air is constantly coming into the building and replacing the stale air, which has been proven to keep employees alert and content throughout the day.

Not Your Everyday Farm

Other buildings are moving beyond green walls to incorporate vertical farms, which not only provide a natural aesthetic, but also produce organic food, natural heat and clean air for the tenants.

A 26-floor office tower in Stockholm is in the process of incorporating an urban farm into the building. The Plantagon CityFarm, which will begin production in 2018, will not only grow produce in its vertical towers, but it will also trap heat from the LED lights used to grow the plants and later use it to heat the building during the winter.

The plants will additionally be used to capture carbon dioxide produced in the building, providing fresh oxygen to office workers instead, Fast Company reports.

Regardless of the method in which nature is incorporated, each of these initiatives draw from the environment in order to ensure better employee health and well-being, productivity and overall satisfaction in the workplace.

"I think it’s helpful to think of biophilic design as a holistic philosophy. [Plants] need light, fresh air and water in order to flourish, just like employees," ElHusseiny said.