Anyone who has worked in an office knows the cooped-up feeling that comes from toiling under fluorescent lights all day and breathing in nothing but stuffy air. It can make a person feel downright debilitated.
In fact, “[m]ore time and creativity has gone into designing natural habitats for zoo animals, than in creating comfortable office spaces for humans,” noted one environmental psychologist who has studied workplaces and their impact around the United States.
Thankfully, this may be changing as an increasing number of studies show the benefits of working in greener environments.
According to a recent New York Times article, “Levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to be higher in enclosed spaces that are artificially lit and deprived of outside views. Poor ventilation – which is common in many older office buildings – raises the levels of carbon dioxide, which studies have shown can impair cognitive performance and dampen mood.”
Research conducted in the Netherlands and U.K. found that people who worked in offices with leafy green plants concentrated better and were 15% percent more productive than those who spent their day in more stark conditions.
Furthermore, notes the Times, another study showed that people in properly ventilated buildings did twice as well on tests of cognitive performance and decision-making as those in poorly ventilated buildings.
While most offices are lit from above, researchers note that humans need light from the side that strikes the back of the eye – preferably from a natural source like a window – to keep in tune with their body’s internal circadian clock.
“People who are deprived of this physiologically critical light can become lethargic during the daytime and experience sleep problems at night,” notes the Times article. Research has shown the disruption of our circadian system can contribute to illnesses like depression and, over the long term, increase the risk of heart disease and even breast cancer.”
To solve these issues, many are beginning to greenlight green projects. The United States General Services Administration in Washington, for example, is planning government buildings that include “day-lit offices with expansive views of the outdoors. It is also designing spaces that encourage employees to move around and engage with one another – adding healthy exercise to work days spent largely sitting behind a desk.”
Still others are adding more indoor plants, as well as terraces planted with trees, vines and grasses. To this end, Denver citizens recently voted to implement the Denver Green Roof Initiative, requiring buildings over 25,000 square feet to dedicate a portion of their roof to solar panels or rooftop gardens. Such gardens help lower heat on urban streets, reduce noise and air pollution, absorb greenhouse gases and can provide habitat for birds.
And let’s face it, looking down from a highrise onto a roof filled with trees and other greenery is a much more uplifting sight than a cement slab. Can better mental health be far behind?
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