Insights 29th September 2021 air quality

building wellbeing

What benefits does nature bring when it comes to health and wellbeing in the workplace? Can green spaces improve our mental health? Do indoor plants clean the air? Vicky Cotton Director of ESG sets out the impact of nature and Biophilia on businesses and their employees.

When the pandemic struck, usual human routines ground to a halt. Places of work, education and leisure closed their doors. Everyday life became radically curtailed and confined. Covid limited many fundamental sources of joy, but nature was still available.

Green space became a focal point for human interaction and a promoter of health, wellbeing and happiness. With the return to workplaces, even if only part-time, many seek to replicate experiences in nature. These experiences have often become habitual due to working from home.

The importance of nature for human health

The pandemic re-emphasised the critical importance of good quality green space for health and wellbeing, particularly in urban areas, where these spaces are rarer. Indeed, the role of nature in the context of the workplace is pivotal in terms of human health and wellbeing. The inclusion of nature within the built environment can contribute to happier, healthier communities, according to the UK Green Building Council’s report ‘Nature-based Solutions for the Climate Emergency: The benefits to business and society.’

Research into the impact of green spaces highlights their ability to: positively impact employees leading to a reduction in sick leave, greater employee retention and increased productivity, remove air pollution, provide exposure to nature that improves mental health, and provide green space for physical exercise.

Positive employee impact

According to MIND, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.  On average, 4.3 days per worker are lost due to sick leave associated with mental health issues.

However, exposure to nature can result in reduced staff sick leave, reduced staff turnover and an increase in worker productivity, says the UKGBC’s report. It highlights a 23% decrease in sick leave taken by employees with a view of nature, and a 15% increase in worker productivity when office spaces are enhanced with plants.

Employees with views of trees and landscapes took an average of 11 hours less sick leave per year than employees with no view. This equates to an average saving of around £1,600 per employee.

Improve air quality

The UK regularly breaches legal limits for outdoor air quality, which causes up to 36,000 deaths a year. Air pollution is the single greatest environmental threat to health in the UK.

Inside an office, poor air quality can lead to reduced productivity and low employee satisfaction. However, vegetation is widely acknowledged to be able to improve air quality through the deposition and trapping of pollutants on plant surface, absorption of pollutants and in some cases acting as a barrier to the spread of pollutants.

Mental health improvement

Around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, but there is a clear and well-documented correlation between exposure to nature and improved mental health. For example, visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more during the course of a week result in a 7% reduction in the prevalence of depression according to research carried out by Public Health.

Green space for physical health and fitness

Access to green space has also been demonstrated to have a huge improvement on physical health. It is proven to encourage physical activity, says the UKGBC’s report on “Nature-based solutions to the climate emergency“, which shows that people living in greener areas were 24% more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity. In addition, those living within a mile of green space are 38% more likely to exercise than those living further away.

How outdoor air quality is improved by nature

The UKGBC’s report also addresses the benefits to business and society of nature-based solutions such as green walls, street trees, green spaces and green roofs.

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