When entering the job market, most people will find themselves in an indoor workplace. Indeed, we spend 90% of our lives indoors, in buildings with air quality that is, on average, five times worse than the air quality that can be found outdoors. According to the UN Urbanizations Prospects, 55% of the world population lived in cities in 2018. This makes one’s life easily disconnected from nature. Such disconnection has a heavy impact on wellbeing even though people are not completely aware of it. Yet, one does not necessarily have to escape from their city life to regenerate their soul with the help of nature: vertical farming technologies, IoT and biophilic design can bring nature directly into the workplace and thus improve productivity, as well as personal and professional satisfaction. It is still rare to think about employees’ well-being as something important to reach greater success for firms and businesses, which is why this article will explore the link between company performances and the environment that can be found in workplaces.
Employers and business managers are starting to acknowledge and embrace the importance of wellness at work and the economic benefits of working in a place that is somehow more connected to nature. The growth of such a connection can not only help create a greener future for businesses but also have a positive outcome on people’s wellness. When talking about their wellness, 76% of employees report a struggle with wellbeing. After entering the job market, people pass half of their waking hours at work. As a consequence, the office space is often perceived as being the biggest source of stress in a person’s life, thus impacting their health and lastly the business financials. When organizing their human resources, many firms do not take into consideration their employee’s wellbeing, even though they are connected to 90% of their expenses. On the other hand, many studies have shown that improvements in staff’s physical and mental health have a positive financial impact. In economic terms, the loss brought by an unhealthy employee is roughly €25K per year and on average there is a rise of 37% in the costs for an unhealthy workforce. On the other hand, the loss for an overall healthy employee is only of €5K per year. Healthy employees have more energy, can get more work done in less time and are more likely to be engaged and in a good mood when they are at work.
The theory of biophilia, created by Edward O. Wilson, demonstrates that human beings possess a biological need of being connected to nature from a physical, mental and social perspective. When people lose such a connection, then their personal well-being, their capacity to socially interact with others and thus also their job performance are all negatively impacted. Still, people are not aware of identifying these negative consequences straight away. Over the last few years, different case studies have demonstrated the advantages of incorporating nature into the work environment through biophilic design, including improved stress recovery rates, cognitive functions, mental health and focus, better mood, and an increased sense of belonging along with higher learning rates and bigger productivity. These metrics can be easily linked with monetary values and thus can be translated into cost savings for every business. As previously stated, 90% of businesses’ expenses are linked to human resources: biophilia and biophilic design can recover the losses from unproductive behavior, which comes from the workplace, and also eliminate health-related issues which undermine the total profit per year of a business or firm.
Hence, studies show that when employees are happy, there is an increase in the company’s overall productivity by 31%; the increase in sales is by 37% and the capacity to achieve goals goes up by 19%. The presence of plants and edible nature improves self-reported wellness by 15%, productivity by 6%, and creativity by 15%. Lastly, absenteeism goes down by 10%, thus biophilic design stimulates workers to show up at work and allows businesses to save up to €1.8M every year. The presence of natural elements increases wellbeing by stimulating each of the five human sense, reducing stress levels, blood pressure and Sick Building Syndrome symptoms, the latter being a disease, where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or become infected with chronic disease from the building in which they work or reside.
Best practices – Italian and international companies investing in corporate gardens
Timberland Headquarters, New Hampshire
Timberland created Victory garden; a 112 square meters garden run by its employees. The garden is operating since 2008. The employees are welcome to purchase the fresh produce in exchange of a donation. All Victory Garden donations support the NH Foodbank, a food bank that distributes food to more than 425 non-profit organizations throughout the state.
Unicredit Tower, Milan
there are two vegetable gardens located on the terraces of the two towers.
Here, the bank’s 50 employees who have joined the ‘Coltiva il tuo spazio’
initiative can cultivate a small plot of land and follow it throughout its
entire life cycle, from sowing to harvesting. Everyone can grow what they want
managing their space in total autonomy and can go to the garden at any time of
Bottega Veneta Eco-Food garden, Milan
In 2014, the
company created a green area of 2,400 square meters designed to offer employees
a relaxation space in contact with nature and at the same time to supply the
house company restaurant with fresh products at zero kilometer.
HQ Central Saint Giles, London
the Giant created a garden on the 9th floor of a building designed
by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. Staff can sign in on the waiting list to
grow their own vegetables. Once they are in, they can nurture root vegetables
and herbs in small tubes made from responsibly-sourced timber and cook them at
been demonstrated that a healthier workplace, in terms of the presence of
natural elements, brings many evident benefits
That is why a start-up, called Hexagram Urban Farming SRL, was founded in Milan in 2017 by a team of professionals coming from different work fields, such as engineering, agronomy, design, marketing, project management and gastronomy with an innovative idea: the Living Farming Tree. This team designed and developed the Living Farming Tree: an automated vertical garden characterized by a stylish biophilic design, which was made in Italy, that can be adapted and customized to any interior. Their system allows medicinal plants and aromatic herbs to grow three times faster and reduces water consumption by 90% thanks to aeroponics, which is the most advanced and sustainable indoor farming technique in the market. Thanks to the combination of IoT technology and indoor farming, their products offer a holistic experience to interact with the natural world. All of this is possible even if a person is hardly a green thumb type of individual.
This article has been written by the students of the Luiss new Msc in Law, Digital Innovation and Sustainability in the context of the class of Law and Policy of Innovation and Sustainability taught by Professor Christian Iaione. The cluster “Life and Human Kind” is composed of the following students: Julie Bernès, Chiara Cirucca, Julianne Heusch, Mothas Anwar Modier, Lorenzo Murgo, Desideria Pezzella and Francesco Trombetta
Truth is, no one could have ever imagined living in such an unamenable historical moment. And yet, in this unprecedented historical moment, our crusade for normalcy must be akin to something outstanding. As the global pervasiveness of the Coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage economies across the world, one popular perception that has sustained is that the virus doesn’t discriminate. As rich and poor are equally vulnerable to this contagion, within urban landscapes core and periphery stand the equation as well. Hence, an egalitarian perspective would most probably denote it as a double-edged sword as well as a mixed blessing. In like manner, I admit having particularly noticed this oddness in my own city landscape, Rome.
A swift gaze at the current state of affairs helped me to formulate this research’s heuristics: we will try to infer whether there is a presumed homogeneity in destinies or otherwise a broadening gap between rich core neighborhoods and poorer and less-equipped peripheries in the city of Rome; data retrieval will be almost entirely satisfied by the national statistics released on a daily basis.
The idea of city space has become a quite redundant one throughout historical narratives. We are used to considering cities as ageless and primordial entities, antecedent to human beings. This statement is, obviously enough, false. “Before the city, there was a land” (Cronon,1991). Cities are not structures, cities are people, or better, they are the people who live them. This is why their destinies are so dissimilar one from the other. And yet, the current health crisis has radically altered the picture without discrimination. Normally chaotic and busy, with its roads characterized by the screeching rumble of cars, buses, or motorcycles, in the latest Spring also the city of Rome appeared suspended in a limbo between the Dark Ages and a sci-fi future. A disheartening scenario that is most likely repeating itself. Nonetheless, when we talk about destinies, the partitioning of goods and bads is ofttimes neither equal nor fair. The temporary curtailment of liberty and the impact of generalized lockdowns surely varies significantly across sectors, skills, and economic strata in an unequal world. Evidently, statistics do not constitute an index for human suffering, but still, they can give us instruments to enrich and refine our inferences. During last Spring, a densely populated city as Rome seemed surprisingly blessed from the massive and brutal spread of the virus; markedly, a more fortuitous destiny than the one reserved for cities of Northern Italy. However, such a narrative reflects how things can change quite rapidly too.
According to data updated to the 21st October, at the summit of the top five of the districts at risk of contagion within the Great Ring Road is Primavalle. Here, the number of positives reaches 253. They follow in order: Centocelle (249), Trieste (226), Torpignattara (220), Val Melaina (219). For Primavalle a significant increase with 62 cases more than last week. The increase in the other four zones, at the top of the negative classification of the virus spread, is definitely more contained: in Centocelle +38 positive cases; in Trieste +43; in Torpignattara +30; in Val Melaina +40. But it is just outside the Gra that there is a greater incidence with Torre Angela at the top of the ranking and conquers the black jersey at a galloping pace of 320 total cases, and an increase, compared to last week, of 54 positive cases. Hence, if we frequently tend to describe a quite heterogeneous and scattered trend among outlying areas and city center/rich areas, these cold figures seem to describe a virus running in the periphery and slowing down more in the center.
The virus has been de facto a great equalizer in its incipient semester and still is in terms of absolute risks of local community spread. Ergo, we need to question what is changing the ongoing trend.
A major factor of incidence is represented by the plight of public transports in Rome. Even in an ex-ante Covid-19 scenario, Rome’s public transportation system has always been deemed to be poorly organized and overtly under-equipped to sustain the phrenic rhythm of the city and its inhabitants. The scarcity of buses and personnel has unceasingly led to ramshackle overcrowding of passengers which obviously nullifies personal space and mutual distance. To couple with the aforesaid quandary, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Italian Government set a general rule for establishing a maximum accepted capacity of buses (80% of its full capacity, ndr), a rule which has nonetheless been almost entirely ignored.
The idea then is that peripheries are not only poorly connected but also its residents may find no other valuable alternatives to reach their workplaces. Hence, forced travel on public transport, the harshness of living and working conditions, the complexity of social relations, and the radical changes in lifestyles, all contribute to tip the balance in this regard. Even so, somehow, the virus increases inequalities. A fact that also springs to mind when looking at the incidence of contagion compared to the resident population. And with a trend that, broadly speaking, maintains the gap.
In 2016 five European universities of applied sciences, located in Frankfurt, Ghent, Edinburgh, Oslo and Amsterdam, set up the U!REKA consortium. In 2020 partners from Lisbon and Ostrava joined Universities involved in the U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons are Frankfurt Hochschule, Metropolia (Helsinki), Hogeschool Gent, and Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Ostrava and Lisbon will join soon. More information on U!REKA: www.ureka.eu.
The universities partner in various ways to educate, shape and empower the European professionals of tomorrow. One of the key elements within this network is the joint program U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons, which kicked off its online curriculum at the beginning of this year.
In search of an actual, relevant and interdisciplinary topic that
would ‘fit’ and ‘make a difference’ in all the U!REKA partner cities, the
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) suggested Urban Commons as the
main theme. Amsterdam has had the privilege of hosting Christian Iaione and
Sheila Foster several times and several urban professionals, including myself,
got inspired by their work. Other cities, except for Ghent (Bauwens, 2017),
were not yet familiar with the term Urban Commons. This of course does not mean
that they do not have commoning initiatives.
The U!REKA cities are united in searching for (new) answers to
complex and persistent challenges, like poverty, mobility, housing, energy, and
so on. To deal with these challenges, they create innovation hubs, transition
grounds and democratic renewal spaces. But, how do we keep our cities and
neighborhoods livable in a situation of growing economic polarization and
social fragmentation and how do we create a transition towards a truly
democratic and sustainable society? (Majoor, et al., 2017; Raworth, 2017).
Behind these challenges is an underlying governance question: what
kinds of arrangements are needed to ‘guide’ these transitions? In most cities,
like the U!reka ones, there is a growing interest in (and practice of) new
forms of governance that aim to work from the principle of common ownership. A
shared community garden, a local car-sharing program, a program of local
neighborhood assistance, a local currency, etc. How are they organized? What
kind of values will be added to the community and place, when a more
collaborative governance is introduced? How does this kind of cooperation
support the societal and ecological transitions and foster the Sustainable
In the U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons, we want to find out how Urban Commons
manifest themselves in the different cities. We will not only identify, study
and critically assess these initiatives in the context of changing economic,
social and political settings, we also aim to create co-learning between these
practices to optimize their performance. An important perspective is for
example how these initiatives are connected to, or interfere with, existing
local and national government and market regulations.
For the U!REKA universities, this forwarding international
cooperation and the exploration of new e-learning methods help to contribute to
the important political, cultural and economic role of the practice-oriented
universities in the respective cities and countries.
What happens in the lab?
Since the concept of the common applies to many sectors and issues,
the U!REKA Lab has decided to integrate it into already existing courses from
participating lecturers, ranging from social work to art, urban governance,
urban planning and housing, on both Bachelor and Master level. In this way,
students not only learn more about Urban Commons, but they also experience how
it appears in other fields and disciplines and develop new interdisciplinary
The lab is set up in two interlinked streams: education and
research. The education aspect consists of interdisciplinary blended learning
through screencasts from each university of applied sciences and online forums.
Each screencast consists of a few fixed components, including basic commons
theory, an introduction of the city, university and course, local policy on
citizens’ initiatives, and a showcase of a local initiative.)
The research aspect focuses on joint assignments and projects by
students and researchers to study and compare local initiatives in the
participating cities. Since the U!REKA Lab is a university-based initiative we
want to focus on the role of knowledge institutions in the development of Urban
Commons and our future cities. As universities, we can not only do research on
urban commons and co-creation, we can also play a role in initiating,
facilitating and monitoring these practices. Also, we can train our students,
the future (urban) professionals, on co-ownership, sharing and collaborative
governance and educate experts in this new sustainable and truly democratic
form of collaborative governance.
The results of this year U!REKA were presented during the digital
U!RCommons Day, which was attended by 70 students from our universities. Part
of the program was a presentation of student’s field research. These videos
were also shown in the Forum of the Deutsche Werkbund in Frankfurt (summer
2020) and in November will be part of a virtual exhibition during the U!REKA
The U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons will continue its approach of
co-learning, co-teaching and co-researching
and expand with more transnational partners and online exchanges between
students, lecturers and researchers on different aspects of the Urban Commons.
Looking forward, the project team is participating in the Erasmus+ virtual
exchange advanced training course to gain the skills needed to further develop
the program and preparing a U!REKA Summer School on Urban Commons in 2021 in
Bauwens, Michel, A Commons Transition Plan for the city of Ghent,
Sheila, Iaione, Christian (2016) ‘The city as a commons’ in: Yale Law &
Policy Review vol. 34 (2).
stands for “Sensing for Justice”. The project was born after a landmark court
decision released in Texas, on June 27th 2019, in which a judge found the
petrochemical company Formosa Plastics Corporation, liable for violating the
Clean Water Act because of plastic discharge into local waters. The case was
brought by a civic group based in part on citizen sensed-evidence which
involved volunteer observations performed over years. This practice entailing
grassroots-driven environmental monitoring could be qualified as ‘Citizen
Science’ and, more specifically, ‘Citizen Sensing’. The contamination could not
be proved through existing data held by competent authorities since the company
never filed any record of pollution with the competent authority. Rather, the
monitoring and data collection was almost entirely conducted by local
objective of the Sensing for Justice project is to fill the knowledge gap to
avoid a possible scientific and legislative vacuum and provide newly required
research capacity in the EU. The research will be hosted by the European
Commission Joint Research Centre, currently the leading actor in the research
on Citizen Science for environmental monitoring and reporting, which will allow
us to play a crucial role in the enactment of measures to release Citizen
Science for litigation and mediation’s potential across the EU.
it is essential to redefine Citizen Sensing as a manifestation of the broader
Citizen Science practice having a potential source of evidence acceptable in
environmental litigation, as an exercise of the right to contribute to
environmental information and even as a method to foster environmental
look to SensJus website to discover the news and upcoming actions of the
Science Initiative aims to strengthen how science and research can help address
the urban challenges and to develop a structured approach to evidence-informed
policy-making at cities’ level.
the report reflecting on the CSI pilot phase has been finalized and published,
by the name of ‘City Science for Urban Challenges’. The report of the mission
board for climate-neutral and smart cities is accessible through this link.
introduction of a Climate City Mission is a radical new way of achieving
climate neutrality – and of doing so faster, by 2030. The Mission aims to
promote system innovation across the value chain of city investment, targeting
multiple sectors such as governance, transport, energy, construction and
recycling, with support from powerful digital technologies. As such, it
requires a change in regulations, approaches and instruments combined with the
willingness to go beyond existing schemes and habits. The Mission also demands
a change of attitude towards practical aspects of implementation, but also as
concerns people and organisations working together: citizens, local
governments, central and regional governments, and European institutions. We
expect citizens, city administrations and political leaders to show commitment,
imagination and determination. We expect you to implement this Mission with the
same determination as the Americans did with their Moonshot. The climate minded
transformation of cities goes far beyond the idea of the Man on the Moon. This
is The Mission of our times!” (Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Chair of the Mission
Board for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities)