Biophilic Design on a Budget: 6 cost-effective Biophilic Design methods

 Despite the fancy name and elaborate examples we see online, Biophilic Design is actually a pretty accessible concept, and you don’t always need to break the bank to feel its benefits.


Biophilic design can be most simply described as bringing the benefits of the outdoors, indoors. The benefits are undeniable, providing mental, social, and physical wellbeing for building occupants. This article will look at 6 cost-effective ways to bring nature into the workplace that can be scaled to fit businesses of any size.

Natural Light

In a research poll of 1,614 North American employees, HR advisory firm Future Workplace found that access to natural light is the most desirable attribute of the workplace environment, ahead of cafeterias, gymnasiums, and on-site childcare. Unfortunately, over a third of participants reported not having enough natural light in their workplace and felt tired and gloomy as a result.

These results are unsurprising when we consider the vital role that natural light plays in regulating our circadian rhythm. Adequate exposure to natural light supports a good night’s sleep allowing higher levels of concentration and productivity throughout the day.

The easiest and cheapest way to introduce natural light into an office environment is by ensuring blinds are kept open, and minimising obstructions in front of windows. In settings where this is not possible, SAD lamps and artificial ambient lighting can be used as an alternative to natural light to mimic the passage of the day. 

Sounds of Nature

Replacing the office radio with the calming sounds of nature is another budget-friendly way to engage the senses and there is an extensive list of playlists on apps like Spotify and YouTube that can be left to run all day.

According to a research review in the April 2021 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, listening to nature sounds can have profound health and well-being benefits.

For the review, the researchers looked at 18 studies investigating the health benefits of natural sound where study participants listened to recordings of outdoor sounds in laboratory settings.

Participants reported less stress and improved health outcomes, like decreased pain, after listening to recordings of nature sounds. Water sounds, such as that of a gurgling brook or a steady waterfall, tended to be the most effective  in promoting a more positive mindset, while bird sounds were best for lowering stress.

The study’s lead author, Rachel Buxton, PhD, was unsurprised by the findings commenting “From an evolutionary perspective, humans are hardwired to attend to signals of danger and security. And an environment that is filled with natural sounds feels safe and allows us to let our guard down.”



Perhaps the most low-cost and high-impact biophilic design element, plants instantly transform spaces and enhance the mood of inhabitants.

Various studies have shown that including plants in workplace design can have a positive effect on perceived productivity. One report, studying 7,600 offices workers in 16 countries, found nearly two-thirds (58%) of workers have no live plants in their workspaces. Those working in environments incorporating natural elements reported a 15% higher wellbeing score and 6% higher productivity score than employees whose offices didn’t.

To preserve your investment and eliminate the need for expensive replacements, we recommend a maintenance contract. High quality maintenance produces plants which look attractive, vibrant, healthy, and thriving and this has been proven to have a positive effect on staff and visitors. Conversely, poor maintenance will result in unhealthy plants that will provide a negative effect which is damaging to staff morale, motivation, and productivity.

Scents of Nature

In 2016, Savills and The BCO surveyed 1,000 workers and found that 75% said that scent was important to them in the workplace.

When we think about design, we instinctively think of the physical attributes of the space meaning more subtle elements such as scents are often overlooked. 

As the nature of the workplace continues to evolve, natural scents can play a central role in creating comforting environments which are conducive for productivity.

Popular scents such as lavender, rosemary and pine have been known to:

  • Improve concentration
  • Increase computational accuracy and speed
  • Enhance attention span, alertness, memory and task performance
  • Reduce blood pressure, anxiety and stress

Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation is achieved through opening doors and windows where possible. Not only is this generally more cost effective than air conditioning systems, studies suggest employees in naturally ventilated buildings are also healthier.

Office buildings are notorious for spreading common diseases like cold and flu. Bringing fresh air into a room and removing older stale air that contains virus particles reduces the chance of spreading respiratory infections. The more fresh air that is brought inside, the quicker any airborne virus will be removed from the room.

If it’s cold outside, it still helps to open windows even slightly for short, sharp bursts regularly throughout the day to allow the air to circulate.


Biophilia in the workplace does not only come in the form of physical, natural things – biomimicry is another popular way to bring some life into an office. Biomimicry is the imitation of life and the living, natural world.

Whenever we have the opportunity to interact with real, artificial or even implied sources of nature, we reap numerous psychological benefits. A 2009 study, titled The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature, found that simply viewing nature pictures improves executive attention in young adults.

In the context of an office, this may include using natural forms and colour palettes, or even murals and wallpapers which depict scenes of nature. These can be very simple ways to give a natural feel to the workplace, and it can be a very easy way to bring mundane areas of the office to life.

Implementing biophilic design may initially seem like a daunting prospect, however, at Benholm we have almost 30 years of experience in helping designers, management, and decision makers to enhance their workspaces. Get in touch to discuss your next project today.

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