The pandemic has changed the way we work in many ways, and one of these changes is the need for healthier offices. Living green walls have become increasingly popular in offices around the world, as more and more companies recognize the benefits of having plants in the workplace.
A study by Finnish scientists has provided fresh evidence that indoor green walls can have a positive impact employees’ health.
Conducted between Natural Resources Institute Finland and two major Finnish universities, the study is the first of its kind to link exposure to living green walls with improved skin integrity and enhanced immunity against pathogens and allergens. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports and is based on 28 office workers who were divided into two groups in urban office environments in the Finnish cities of Tampere and Lahti.
Eleven participants had their workspaces fitted with air-purifying green walls, while the 17 remaining participants formed a control group with no green wall exposure. Subjects in the test group were only exposed to the green walls of the office during working hours. Three skin and blood samples were taken from the experimental and control groups to study the effectiveness of the green wall.
Over the course of the 28-day study period, those working alongside air-circulating green walls experienced an increase in both the number and diversity of friendly bacteria on their skin, compared with workers in the control group. These beneficial bacteria help defend skin against harmful pathogens and inflammation. They also boost immune system responses, which indicates that working in spaces with green walls has a positive effect on health-supporting skin microbiota as well as the immune system.
“The results indicate that we can support people’s health with relatively easy nature-based solutions. However, urban societies need, in addition to these types of solutions, broader societal changes to maintain and increase healthy and useful contact with nature,” says Marja Roslund, environmental scientist at Natural Resources Institute Finland.
While it’s important to keep the workplace clean and hygienic, excessive cleaning which eliminates all bacteria and germs can often create an environment that is less healthy. Exposure to bacteria and other microbes can be beneficial for our bodies, as it helps to boost our immune systems and keep us healthy. Studies have shown that children who grow up in environments with more bacteria tend to be less susceptible to allergies and other illnesses. Likewise, office workers who are exposed to a variety of microbes may find that they are better able to resist illness.
“From an evolutionary and biological point of view, we are not meant to spend our lives inside concrete boxes – and that’s what most office spaces are like. Whether we humans know it or not, there’s an in-built need in us to be in the middle of nature. In Western societies – due to things like increased hygiene level and biodiversity loss – our natural exposure to environmental microbes has decreased. This is seen as one of the major reasons for the rise of autoimmune diseases and allergies,” says Aki Soudunsaari, co-founder at Naava, a Nordic indoor nature technology company who provided living walls for the study.
Soudunsaari founded Naava after falling ill due to poor indoor air quality and believes it’s important to find a balance between hygiene and health: “Science has told us that children should be in daily contact with microbes via dirt and soil to boost their immune systems—and it’s no different for adults. Isolating ourselves completely from positive microbes will only harm our health and well-being. Sanitization serves an important function in disease prevention and employee safety, but most workspaces have gone overboard with sterilization via chemicals.”
As someone who grew up in Lapland, surrounded by some of the most pristine surroundings on earth, Soudunsaari hopes more designers, office managers and decision makers will prioritize our human need for connection with the natural environment: “Our goal should be to flow in tandem with nature, not against it.”
Want to transform your office into a healthier and happier place to work?
At Benholm Group, we have a vast range of plants that allow us to design living walls to complement any setting and industry. We offer bespoke green wall design and installation across Scotland and the wider UK.
Read the scientific study in full here