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
Since 2014, 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 the day.
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.
Google Super HQ Central Saint Giles, London
In 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 home
It has 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
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