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Biophilia and the Impact of Plants in the Workplace

  • 4 min read

You will probably have come across the word biophilia in articles about workplace wellbeing. The term literally means the 'love of life'. It is the notion that we have an innate connection to nature, a need to connect with the natural world, deep within our psyche.

Biophilia was first mentioned by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1960s. It was then used by biologist E.O. Wilson in a publication in 1984 to extend its meaning to the natural pleasure and need that we have to be surrounded by and interact with nature. The term has been picked up enthusiastically by workplace theorists, but now it is being seen in a wider context. Architects are looking at biophilic design as part of their brief to ensure that occupants of their buildings get this connection with nature.

Biophilia recognises our need to interact with nature. We function best when we have views of it or can be close to it. Researchers in this field have acknowledged that we evolved in the natural world, living in caves and hunting to survive for millions of years, but in a relatively short period from the industrial and later technological revolutions, we have come adrift from our roots.

The Power of Plants

It is not surprising that most of us react well to plants, even if we are not aware of it. Much research has been carried out over more than 40 years to prove this point.

In brief, it has been shown that plants

  • clean the air
  • relieve many minor health symptoms from headaches to blocked noses
  • relieve stress
  • improve both our productivity and creativity
  • absorb sound
  • make us happier

Clean Air

As with much in nature, plants work in harmony with other aspects. They provide food, shelter, medicine, clothing, cosmetics and energy but most importantly, they provide oxygen for us to breathe.

As pollution becomes a bigger problem in urban areas, you might be surprised to know that the World Health Organisation found that inside air can be more polluted than outside air, even in large cities. Most of us spend around 90% of our time indoors and as we breathe in 5 - 6 litres of air per minute, it would be good to ensure it is the cleanest it could be.


How do plants help? They naturally absorb toxins in the air and the CO2 which we breathe out via their leaves and their growing medium. These toxins are translocated to their roots where microbes feed on them. In return, a plant gives us oxygen to breathe during the process of photosynthesis.


As well as the CO2 we produce, toxins are released into the air by many man-made materials, including furnishings, carpeting, paint, paper goods, personal hygiene products and, of course, photocopiers, scanners, printers and computers.

The ability of plants to clean the air in your office depends on a number of things, most of which are rarely constant. These include the number of plants, the size of the room, the number of windows and doors, whether they are open or closed and of course the number of occupants. Most experts suggest that to provide enough plants to make a difference to your office air, you need a great many. The most effective way to do this is with a green, living wall.

There are many other reasons to include plants in your office for the sake of wellbeing.

Reducing Minor Ailments

A good reason to include plants in the office is that they help to reduce a number of minor ailments suffered by occupants such as:

  • Stuffy noses
  • Headaches
  • Dry skin
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

In return, absenteeism caused by these ailments is reduced.

Creativity and Productivity

Studies have found that including plants in a workplace also improves creativity and productivity. For instance a study carried out in offices in the UK, Netherlands and Australia found that including approximately one plant per square metre of space, so that every occupant could see one, improved performance by around 15%.

In the same study Dr Craig Knight commented, "What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk. If you are working in an environment where there is something to get you psychologically engaged, you will be happier and work better."

Another study also found that plants enhanced the mood of subjects. The recommendation was for three or more houseplants in a room and claimed that the bigger the plants, the better the mood of the occupants.

Workplace Wellbeing

As well as biophilic elements, there are many different factors that can influence the wellbeing of individuals. People spend a large proportion of their life at work and their workplace is a major contributor to their health and wellbeing, both mental and physical. Creating the optimum work environment will have a positive impact and contribute to managing the demands of everyday working life. Feeling well provides a solid base for being able to cope.

At Osmond Ergonomics, we are all about the bigger picture. We want to ensure that our products and advice contribute to the greater good of your workplace and your people. If you would like to talk to us about any of these points, please get in touch.


How to Grow Fresh Air by Dr Bill Wolverton

Dr Craig Knight's research can be found here.


Coll Smith, copywriter, blogger and digital marketer


Coll Smith has collated and disseminated research findings about plant benefits for 25 years including discussing their research with some of the researchers. Not surprisingly, she is a plant lover who has used this knowledge to write articles, web content and blogs about the subject.

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