The 1st of September is Arbor day, and in South Africa the first week of September is designated National Arbor Week, a week in which individuals are encouraged to plant trees and consider the importance of trees and plants in the natural environment. This year the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries took a resolution to extend Arbor Week to Arbor Month, which means that from now on the campaign will be celebrated annually from the 1st -30th September.
You may be wondering why - on a hygiene forum - we are talking about trees and plants. Well, in our Ambius business we are passionate about including plants in the interior working environment. We know that plants - like good hygiene practices - can have significant productivity and wellbeing benefits for employees, and can improve visitors’ perceptions of a business.
And you don’t have to take our word for it; there is a large body of scientific evidence that substantiates these claims. In light of the fact that the 1st of September is Arbor day, and that September is Arbor month, we’ll be looking at the benefits that indoor plants can make to the indoor environment in both our Ambius news section and on our Initial Insights page over the course of the week.
If you are interested in the history of Arbor day celebrations, take a look at the piece we published at the beginning of the week on our Ambius news section. We looked at where and when the first Arbor day celebrations were held (as far back as 1594!) as well as how the ‘holiday’ has evolved in South Africa from a single day to a month long awareness campaign around the benefits of trees.
Benefits of trees and plants:
Amongst the many benefits derived from trees are the number of products that we derive from them: building materials, paper, fibre, oils, gums, syrups, pharmaceutical products, fruit and nuts to name but a few. We also recognise the visual benefits we reap from trees as leaves change colour from season to season, and as small trees grow into larger trees. Trees provide more than just products and ornamental beauty; they offer an almost endless list of environmental and economic benefits, some of which are crucial to our wellbeing.
Hopefully we are all aware by now of the environmental necessity of trees and plants as a vital defence against climate change, due to their natural ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store the carbon as biomass. Trees are especially valuable because they produce wood, in which large quantities of carbon is locked up for many years. Trees in urban environments, as well as commercial forestry plantations, are generally quite fast growing and are therefore active “carbon sinks”. (A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period.)
But what about plants grown in an interior environment, such as an office? Are they still providing the same environmental benefits as their “natural” counterparts, and are there any benefits to having plants indoors that go beyond just the environmental?
There is a growing body of research of that answers these questions and looks at the advantages that plants provide in an indoors environment such as an office. These benefits are divided broadly into two categories:
- Environmental benefits which are mostly related to air quality, which impacts of employees’ physical wellbeing
- Psychological benefits which impact employee productivity and motivation.
In this post - part 1 - I’ll discuss briefly the environmental benefits of having plants indoors, and in part 2 next week I’ll look at the (not unrelated) psychological and wellbeing benefits of plants on employees.
Environmental benefits of indoor plants:
An extensive study undertaken by Dr B. C. Wolverton of NASA determined that the ability of indoor plants to improve the air that we breathe is now a scientific fact. In the study, indoor plants removed up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from an indoor environment over a 24 hour period.
VOC’s are commonly found in a wide array of building materials and cleaning products, and are the primary cause of both acute and chronic diseases. Products that emit VOC’s number in the thousands, making it extremely difficult to eliminate them. Paints and surface finishers, particle boards and furnishings are common sources, as are air fresheners, carpets and cleaning materials.
Skin, eye and upper respiratory tract irritation often result from the presence of VOC’s. Asthma, headaches and chronic diseases, including cancer; neurological failure and liver damage have all been linked to VOC’s. In a report tabled by the World Health Organisation in 2002, they state that VOC’s could be responsible for over 1.6m deaths each year.
The NASA report on the benefits of plants is fully supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which rates indoor air pollution as amongst the top five threats to human life. The EPA found that toxin levels in climate controlled or sealed buildings were anywhere from 10 to 1000 times more concentrated than levels experienced outdoors.
In a nutshell, the result of these, and many other professional studies, is the understanding that indoor air - which may be even more heavily polluted than the air outside - can be significantly improved with the inclusion of indoor plants. Thus interior plants contribute significantly toward a healthier (and by extension a more efficient and productive) workplace.
In part 2 of this post I’ll take a look at how plants impact employee wellbeing in other ways, and how the psychological benefits of having plants indoors can create a more motivated, engaged and productive workforce.
For more information on the benefits of interior plants, or to book a visit from one of our interior plant specialists, visits our website: www.ambius.co.za, or call us on 0800 77 77 88