“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist, and author E.O. Wilson developed the biophilia hypothesis — the theory that suggests that humans have an inherent propensity to seek and develop relationships with nature and other forms of life. The biophilia hypothesis argues that humans have a constant need to connect with nature — a concept that has long been absent from the workplace.
Recently, companies have begun adapting biophilic designs in their offices and are reaping the benefits. Scholars and literary elites such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau spent much of their scholastic pursuits focused on humankind’s reliance upon nature. It seems that the idea has lost traction in the bustle of our ever-evolving world, but it’s finally making a comeback that may just stick.
Biophilia in corporate America
One of the largest and most recent biophilic designs are “The Spheres,” developed by Amazon in Seattle, WA. Nestled amongst skyscrapers and city streets, The Spheres are full of luscious plant life coexisting with office spaces. Their website describes the three interconnected orbs as, “A result of innovative thinking about the character of a workplace and an extended conversation about what is typically missing from urban offices — a direct link to nature.” Touting more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries, the lush and abundantly green scenery is comprised of plants of all shapes and sizes, including a 49-year-old Ficus tree named Rubi and a 50-foot-tall “living wall.”
The grand opening of the spheres on January 30, 2018 welcomed visitors and Amazon employees alike. In addition to their new office space — located just a short walk from their headquarters — they have included a nature-inspired exhibit titled “Understory,” where visitors can observe and learn about the diverse variety of plants that comprise The Spheres.
Benefits of biophilic design
In a 2010 study, the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia found that having a biophilic office design results in a multitude of positive effects upon employees. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and hostility were just a few of the mental ailments observed to be significantly reduced after the introduction of plants.
A biophilic work environment proves to offer much more than an increase in focus and ability to complete tasks. The Nursery and Garden Industry Australia also found that having plants and sunlight in the office creates a greater air quality, which leads to reduced physical illness and improved cardiovascular health. More oxygen leads to a reduction of indoor air pollution, volatile organic compounds, and CO2. The natural lighting and fresh air that comprise a biophilic workspace also reduce fatigue and background noise as well.
So far, there do not seem to be any negative effects that come along with incorporating more natural, pastoral scenery in the workplace. Of course, many businesses cannot afford a $4 billion paradise that resembles the rain forest, like Amazon can, but small, simple plants will do the trick. Aloe Vera, ferns, Peace lilies, and succulents are plants that take little to no attention to maintain and can provide the same sort of result. You don’t need a green thumb to keep the plants alive, and your coworkers will probably be grateful for the health and wellness benefits.