CRINews Article

Clearing the Office Air



Many office workers spend most of their week inside large buildings with no open windows and little natural light. Without fresh air, the office atmosphere ranges from being stuffy to ‘too air conditioned’, all of which is unhealthy, particularly in winter.

The sorts of ‘nasties’ floating around can be both bio-effluents (from us humans) and emissions from the surroundings (furniture, computers etc). They include carbon monoxide, methane, volatile fatty acids and phenols as well as secretions from synthetic fabrics, paints and glues.

Possibly the only down-side of an energy efficient building is that while it might be better insulated and sealed tightly to conserve heat or air-conditioning, pollutants from within may get trapped indoors without a chance to disperse, creating ‘sick’ buildings.¹

So how on earth can we counter all that toxic air?

This is where indoor plants come to the rescue. More than an attractive interior design feature, office plants can significantly improve air quality and even staff wellbeing.

NASA completed research in 1989 investigating the methods of cleansing the atmosphere in future space stations to keep them fit for human habitation over extended periods of time. The study found indoor plants remove significant amounts of harmful gases including benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Also, plant photosynthesis increases humidity in dry air.

How exactly does all of this happen? Stomata on the undersides of leaves transpire at night and give off moisture, attracting airborne pollutants which then leach through the plant to the root zone where microbial action renders the toxic chemicals harmless.²

Further benefits of office plants extend to increased productivity by workers, lower stress and even anger levels. A 2010 report by the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) showed evidence of the benefit of plants for occupant wellbeing.

In the first study of its kind in the world, researchers conducted a series of tests before and after plants were present in offices. The study showed a 37% reduction in tension/anxiety, a 38% reduction in fatigue, a 58% reduction in depression/dejection and a 44% reduction in anger/hostility.

The findings were the final part a three year study, "Greening the Great Indoors for Human Health and Wellbeing" conducted by UTS and supported by the Nursery and Garden Industry Austral (NGIA) and the National Interior Plantscape Association (NIPA).

With such obvious benefits to air quality, health and wellbeing, there is little reason not to fill your office with living, breathing plants. There are plenty of organisations which offer the service of providing the right plants to your office. Alternatively you can get some ideas as to which plants would be effective in your office space from the Gardening Australia Office Plants Fact Sheet here.

It’s worth considering that by simply adding indoor plants to your office environment, your company’s staff could be healthier and happier, clearing the air for better business performance.

¹ See Sick Building Syndrome definition at 6. 3 here Note; Green Star – Office Interiors awards points for indoor plants


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Categories: Energy Efficiency