Office plants: nature’s air conditioners

Recently, more and more businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace. Most understand that a happy and healthy workforce is key to success, fuelling the desire to conduct research into the potential effects office plants have on people.

It is now widely accepted that having office plants around can improve the health, productivity and overall wellbeing of the occupants. Odds are that most of us will have worked in an office at some point in our career and will know they are not always the best places for encouraging creativity and productivity.

Office Air Pollutants

A major reason for this is that offices often contain lots of air pollutants. Now most of you might be thinking, “yeah right, how can my office space get polluted?” Well, for a start we are all pumping out CO2 just by breathing! There are also lots of chemicals given off by everyday products such as deodorants, hair products, perfume and even our dry-cleaned clothes.

All of these ‘pollutants’ fall under the category of ‘Volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs). According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.”

The term VOC is a general term used for any harmful compound. VOCs can be released unseen by numerous everyday objects found around the office. Objects such as electrical equipment (i.e. printers and photocopiers), plastics used in computer & TV screens, soft furnishings and carpeting, paper products, glues and adhesives, cleaning products and pesticides all contain VOCs.

This is where the brilliance of plants can help! Think of plants as nature’s air conditioners, that take in and filter harmful chemicals from the air. The plant will take in VOCs through the leaves and the roots change these into food to help the plant grow.

One of the main problems for businesses is that office air pollution is a major contributor to minor sicknesses picked up in the workplace. VOCs in the office have been shown to cause headaches, blocked sinuses, runny nose, dry throats, asthma and coughing. Thus, introducing plants into your office is likely to have great effects on the health of your colleagues!

Being nature’s air conditioners isn’t the only benefit of having office plants. They also provide psychological benefits to the people around them. Plants can reduce stress levels, increase worker productivity and improve attention span. We all have an innate need to connect to nature. This is called Biophillia and means we feel better when we are surrounded by nature (I know that’s true for me at least!). Research done into this area has shown that plants not only improve our health, they also help to keep us calm and happy.

What to do next?

But be careful, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that throwing a couple of potted plants into the corner of the office will suddenly improve you productivity. It’s important to understand your needs and how best to achieve them. There are so many options when it comes to picking plants. All plants help reduce air pollution to a greater or lesser degree, but some are better than others. As a general rule the greater the leaf surface of the plant, the more it can absorb. It’s not so much the size of an individual leaf that matters, but the overall surface area of leaves on the plant.

Like us, plants need to be fit and healthy in order to perform at their top level. Plants that aren’t getting enough sunlight or are being over/under watered will not give you the same benefits. For example, dust can gather on the leaves of the plants and this can prevent it from growing properly so it’s important to clean them every so often. Look after your plants and your plants will look after you!

Luckily, there are many companies that offer services to design, install and maintain plant displays. Many will even offer rental services meaning you can avoid the expense of buying the plants outright. This service also means that you are able to swap the plants if you want to change it up a little. Make sure that the company guarantees to maintain the health and quality of the displays for the life of the contract and don’t leave the upkeep to you. Responsible providers should replace any dead or dying plants straight away without fuss.

These companies will also be able to advise you when it comes to your interior plant needs and they should be able to assist with any special sustainability requirements you have. There are a lot of options when it comes to more sustainable plants and even green planters for your plants to go in.

Hopefully this has made you think about the effects plants can have on your office and how they might be able to help you. To put it simply, they make everyone healthier, happier and they look beautiful, what more could you want?

We have produced a handy infographic that shows some of the benefits office plants offer.