Plant Walls in Offices: The Cure to Sick-Building Syndrome
Green Walls at Citi Bank
Updated 2 weeks ago by Planters
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Green Walls at Citi Bank“Sit still. Don’t move seems like the default mode of our lives these days, and the physical space we are in becomes a part of us. Keeping this in mind, more and more organisations are trying to make their office space greener and more humane. Enhancing the aesthetics of your building could cure employee unhappiness and fatigue at work, and even make it healthier to work and live in.

That is why more and more office managers and building owners in the Dubai commercial scene are going green with living green walls.

Sick Building Syndrome

Yes, a building can get sick too but not in the sense where they exhibit symptoms, rather you exhibit symptoms. Sick building sickness is the display of certain symptoms that affect the occupants of a particular space.

Ever felt the occasional or almost frequent discomfort that is associated with a particular building? Maybe it is your workplace, a place you visit or even your home. Ever gotten into a building and as a result, started experiencing symptoms such as headaches, a dry throat, sore itchy eyes or nasal allergies? Or maybe you experience rather vague symptoms such as sensitivity to odours, increased irritability, aches and pains on different parts of the body or even fatigue. Well, if your answer is “yes” then you are experiencing the symptoms of sick building syndrome.

Open Plan Office Plant Wall
In most cases, the building is usually the workplace whereby the symptoms begin as mild and develop to become more severe and persistent overtime. The sick building syndrome symptoms are easy to ignore since they only affect you within the confines of the sick building. As a consequence the sick building syndrome is not identified as a diagnosable and thus recognisable illness. However, its effects are as real as the sun. According to research, the sick building syndrome causes distress which in a workplace setting can be very detrimental to the workforce’s performance and subsequently the general productivity of an organisation.

That’s right – the syndrome is known for bringing about challenges such as reduced performance, increased absenteeism, high staff turnover, more time spent on work breaks, among other factors that are a general risk to the overall productivity of a business, which without a doubt becomes an accrued cost to the affected business.

Despite the commonality of the sick building syndrome it is important not to confuse it with other building related illnesses. Unlike diseases like legionnaires disease which are as a result of toxic exposure within a building the symptoms of sick building syndrome are only experienced while within the particular building. If the symptoms are similar within the affected population, which also occur seasonally, and are only significantly experienced while within the building, then the building is sick.
What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?

Despite the fact that sick building syndrome has been known to exist for as long as the 1970s, the answer to what causes it is not conclusive. Nonetheless, numerous researches on the matter have been conducted and certain aspects can be significantly associated with its cause. These aspects range from mostly physical and environmental factors to occupational factors.

The physical aspects primarily involve issues such as poor ventilation, exposure to certain chemicals, indoor temperatures, humidity and so on. These are things that can easily be avoided with the right procedures in place yet they are easily ignored. Take for instance the building’s structure and design which may have issues such as inadequate number of windows, poor air conditioning, or the use of materials that arouse chemical sensitivity. A building’s maintenance system may also involve the use of mildly toxic chemicals, poor layout organisation, and congestion, just to name a few.

On the other hand, occupational aspects include your routine as well as the time you spend executing this routine.

You will realise that these issues are interrelated especially in how they would affect an individual in arousing sick building syndrome symptoms. For example, the poor ventilation in association with an individual’s exposure to mildly toxic chemicals probably used in the cleaning or say paint. Add that to the number of hours this individual would spend within this interior environment, and it becomes clear how these factors work together to arouse symptoms of sick building syndrome.

So how do you counter these effects to restore the productivity of my workforce? You can come up with many solutions but we have a more creative idea – green wall!

Green Walls

Office Plant Wall
Green walls are simply vertical structures that entail a decorative detail of actual plants or any form of vegetation. They have a variation of names such as plant walls, vertical gardens, living walls, either of which you may have come across at some point especially in our previous posts. Nonetheless, green walls have become a rising trend especially in the commercial set up for offices and organisational administrative buildings across Dubai as well as other major cities around the globe because their functions surpass the decorative role. A plant wall gives your indoor space not only the visual appeal of artistic agriculture astoundingly hanging against gravity from the side of a wall, but also a biophilic effect, better acoustics and air purification. It is these benefits among others that make an effective solution to curing your building from the syndrome.

Benefits of Green Walls

We have written several articles about how beneficial green walls are to any type of business. Here we’ve summed up as to why more office managers, building owners, and employers in the urban setting are hopping on the green wall wave.

Progressive Health

People have an innate urge to connect with nature. This is evident by the health benefits that are experienced both physically and mentally with the introduction of plants within the office space. Here is how it works

Air purification

Plants tend to naturally filter and purify the air by absorbing toxic air through their leaves which then sends the toxins to the roots. The roots have microbes that convert these toxins to food for the plant, so everybody wins. It also improves the quality of air by constantly letting off oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide as a consequence of the process of photosynthesis. That does not only improve the quality of indoor air that you breathe, but also reduces the carbon footprint. This means that the more plants you have, the more significantly reduced your exposure is to airborne pollutants. This also means a significant reduction in symptoms such as headache and fatigue by 45% and 20% respectively according to RHS gold winners House of Plants.

Humidity regulation

An effect of the plants’ physiological process of transpiration is humidity regulation. To this effect, green walls play a vital role of improving the humidity levels within the room and consequently optimising the health of the people within it. It has actually been scientifically proven that regulated humidity within any setting reduces the rate of viral infections. Therefore plants within your interior space reduces the rate of issues such as sore and dry throats, coughs, and even parched skin by 30%, 40% and 25% respectively, also according to research by the House of Plants.

Stress relief

As natural purifiers, plants relieve the air you breathe from toxins. This is significant in the reduction of anxiety and aggression within the workplace. The stress relief effect of plants has been known to also cure mental fatigue. Plant walls are also known to reduce noise pollution which creates an ambience of tranquility.

Economic Advantages

A healthy work environment goes a long way in improving the economic performance of the organisation that facilitates this environment. That is why plant walls offer the following economic benefits to the office managers and employers that have adopted them.

Improved Productivity

It has been proven by the aid of various studies that indoor office plants have a significant impact on the productivity of the staff. The purified and humid air as well as the tranquil work environment all help in improving general concentration in the workforce. This reduces the possibility of error while enhancing performance in the general execution of work activities.

Reduced cost

As a consequence of improved humidity within the office space with the use of plant walls, firms are able to save on energy costs. You can count on plant walls for the reduction of temperatures within the office especially for offices with more sun exposure. This means that you do not have to spend immensely on air conditioning, not with the natural air conditioning that comes with green walls. Also the regulation of humidity by plant walls is significant in reducing costly structural damages such developing of mold, the condensation of windows and walls especially during winter, not to mention you will not need to bear the cost of using and maintaining a humidifier for that.

Reduced absenteeism and employee turnover

The reduced rate of workplace infections and stress among other sick building syndrome health effects mean reduced calls for sick leaves. Employee absenteeism has been seen to significantly reduce in different parts of the world as a consequence of the introduction of interior plants. A hospital in Norway once experienced a 60% reduction in absenteeism after introducing indoor plants. As a result of reduced employees complaining about health issues and stress at work, means an increased rate of employee retention.

Indoor Office Plants Myths

Plant Wall Maintenance
In case you are already sold on the idea of getting living green walls for your office space, you need to know how to protect them aside from the fundamental ways such as irrigation. Here are some myths you should know to avoid prematurely killing your green walls:
  • Indoor plants can survive in any environment.
  • The size of the pot determines how large the plant grows.
  • Yellow leaves indicate overwatering.
  • Plants have to be watered every week.
  • Succulent plants can grow without water.
  • Indoor plants can thrive without windows or glow lights.
Such myths can cost you your investment on plant walls. For the demystifying of these myths as well as other commonly shared myths, take a trip down to our blog on common myths about indoor office plants.

Types of Living Green Walls

Well now that you have the fundamental knowledge on what plant walls are and what they can do for you, how about you get acquainted with some living wall examples commonly used in Dubai. Basically, there are three types of plant walls commonly used in the industry which can be expounded in countless ways based on your office space and other design preferences.

Indoor fixed green walls

This indoor living wall type simply requires a steady water supply which will therefore require a functional drainage system. Some plants commonly used for this design include Philodendron scandens, the Boston fern plant and Epipremnum aureum marble queen just to name a few.

Plant Walls at Ladies Club
Indoor freestanding green walls

This living wall type is a preferred choice among indoor landscape contractors since it entails an inbuilt irrigation system. If you, however, decide to put it in an already built irrigation system, then very little maintenance will be required.

Outdoor system

Just as the name suggests, this living wall style is meant for the outdoor setting. Some of the plants that are ideal for this set-up include Alternanthera Amoena, Alternanthera ficoidea, Alternanthera versicolor and Asparagus Sprengerii, Carissa grandiflora.

Living Wall Design Inspirations

Edmonton International Airport

Plant Wall at Edmonton International Airport                                                                       Image Source: Edmonton International Airport 

This outdoor living wall style at the Canadian airport is a magnificent piece of art that uniquely combines 8000 plants from 32 different species. This huge living wall design is strategically set at Edmonton Airport’s terminal to not only furnish the place for the arriving and departing passengers with its beauty but also purify the terminal air. It sets precedence as a creative yet useful commercial landscape design.

Country Garden Sales Office Wing On Kln

Green Wall at Country Garden Sales Office                                                                               Image Source: Wikimedia Common

This living wall office design is ideal for any commercial landscape design. It’s set in the Country Garden office in Hong Kong which coincidentally happens to be a real estate company. This design expresses a professional yet artsy blend of office designs.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens Living Walls                                                                              Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Longwood Gardens is an American based botanical garden located in the state of Pennsylvania at Kennett Square. This garden has stayed true to the botanical theme which is evident by the brilliant 4,000 square feet wall that holds 33,000 plants. These plants are sustained through a drip irrigation system. The vertical garden design used in this botanical garden expresses a significant resemblance to office plants in Dubai.

For more living plant wall design inspirations, read more in our Green Wall Art blog

Alternative Measures to Tackling Sick Building Syndrome

Despite plant walls being the most significant modern solution to avoiding the sick building syndrome and generally improving the well-being of your workforce as well as their productivity, it is not the only one. Some factors that cause the syndrome actually involve the structural nature of the building alongside the design.

To begin with, the office design plays a significant role in the reduction of sick building syndrome. Reduced congestion by adopting a more favorable office layout is one way to go. A well-spaced office design helps in improving the air circulation as well as the general comfort of the people involved. Other aspects to consider especially for building owners, architects and planners during the construction phase include ventilation, lighting, temperature and humidity. Post-construction considerations towards office furnishing equipment and noise reduction would be useful in preventing SBS as well.

With these measures, you are bound to boost your office productivity in no time. In fact, according to the World Green Business Council’s research, improved ventilation significantly enhances workplace productivity to up to 11%. The same Council also found that improved lighting will enhance productivity to a magnificent 23%.

Battling Sick Building Syndrome

Though SBS is not that well-known among businesses and building contractors, it is very real. There are many ways this can be overcome and one of them is having green walls within the structure or within the individual offices.

If you do not have at least one of your office walls furnished with this magnificent phenomenon, then you are missing out on the benefits it can provide especially during this crisis where health has been a priority to many businesses.

Contact your landscape contractor to learn how you can incorporate these green wonders in your space, and in case you do not know who to call, get in touch with us and we’ll be glad to guide you.
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