Living with Biophilia

Docter Interior Plantscaping defines Biophilia: a condition of bonding with plants/nature…

biophilia.bannerWhat is this new Buzz Word in the plantscaping industry?  Biophilia!  It sure sounds like a disease and certainly, if not a disease, some chronic condition we need to better understand.

The term “biophilia” literally and simply means the “love of life or living systems”. There you have it. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living things.  A deep affiliation we, as humans, have with other life forms and nature as a whole is rooted in our biology.  Biophilia then – much more of a condition than a disease.  Unlike phobias, so often termed as conditions likened to diseases, which are the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward organisms, habitats and objects in their natural surroundings.  The biophilic connection to plants and nature is the fulfillment of a profound need.  A positive chronic condition impacting our overall well-being.

So, how then does this attraction, with all of it’s positive feelings, translate into the Plantscaping industry with such a powerful force?  Simply stated, live plants brought into an interior environment aid in the stimulation of all of the factors that impact the biophilic connection in all of us.  We are more productive, we lean toward better creativity and problem resolution, we are more alert, we have fewer health problems and we have a better sense of our well-being as a result of being surrounded by every benefit that live plants have to offer.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed just a few of the benefits that live plants provide for our health. For years, studies have been conducted starting back as far as 1973 with Dr. Bill Wolverton for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Skylab III mission.  Since 1990, Dr. Wolverton has been the head of Wolverton Environmental Services, an environmental consulting firm, dedicated to the study of the effects of plants and their root-associated organisms to treat indoor air and water pollution.  In 1984, Harvard biologist Dr. Ed Wilson, coined the term of biophilia and along with Stephen Keller, an advisor on prominent green building projects and a professor of social ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental studies, explained their theory in the book The Biophilia Hypothosis.  The experience of the benefits of live plants in our workplace has been studied worldwide for decades, producing scientific results that certainly cannot be disputed.

Here are some of the fundamental science facts:

Water drops on blue

How do live plants provide a natural solution to cleaner indoor air?  When plants transpire water vapor from their leaves, they pull air down around their roots.  This supplies their roots with oxygen. In this process, the roots draw down other substances in the air, such as toxic chemicals, and convert these into a source of food and energy.  Plant roots have microbes, or bacteria, that can rapidly adapt to a chemical contaminant by producing new bacteria that become resistant to the chemical.  As a result, they become much more effective at converting these toxic chemicals into food the longer they are exposed to the chemicals.  We now know that several common varieties of interior landscape plants have the ability to remove compounds such as tricholorethylene, benzene and hexane in the range of 50% to 75% of the total volatile organic compounds.  Dr. Margaret Burchett, Adjunct Professor and Plant Scientist at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, goes as far as to say, “It is expected that indoor plants will become the standard technology – a vital building installation element, for improving indoor air quality.”

How do live plants reduce carbon dioxide?  During photosynthesis, plants naturally extract carbon dioxide and exchange it for fresh oxygen.  It has been calculated that a minimum of ten ounces of carbon dioxide can be eliminated from an enclosed environment for every square inch of leaf surface in the area over the course of a year.  In this time frame, this amounts to the removal of 6 cubic feet of Co2 gas.  In areas where there is an abundance of natural light, this process is amplified to allow for even a greater amount of absorption.  Occupant concentration and productivity are adversely effected when elevated levels of carbon dioxide are present indoors.  Many busy people in one well-sealed building can amount to quite a few drowsy employees.

How do we know that we are less stressed and more productive when live plants are present?  In a study conducted by Dr. Virginia Lohr of Washington State University, people were asked to participate in a study to measure their responses when performing computer tasks. A computer program to test productivity and induce stress was specifically designed for these experiments.  Participants working in an environment with live plants showed significant response time and proved to indicated a more calm response than those without plant influence, just by having them placed at some point within peripheral vision.  Their reaction time was increased at a rate of 12% faster, indicating that plants contributed to the increase in productivity and less stress.

office-plants-creativityHow do live plants inspire our creativity?  Dr. Roger Ulrich, Behavioral Scientist and Professor of Landscape Architecture at Texas A & M University, conducted extensive research on the effects of environments on psychological well-being, stress and health. During his studies, both men and women demonstrated more innovative thinking, generating more ideas and original solutions to problems in an office environment that included live plants.  In these surroundings, men who participated in the study generated 15% more ideas.  While men generated a greater abundance of ideas, women generated more creative, flexible solutions to problems.   Dr. Ulrich states, “To businesses, it should be equally important to understand what features can improve performance at work and make employees more productive.”  The presence of live plants are the key feature to this rate of improvement based on these findings.

TopsidersSteppedHow are live plants an important contribution to a healthy lifestyle?   Real life office studies have proven a direct relationship between clinical health complaints and the installation of live plants.  “Sick Building Syndrome” is a serious and expensive issue, and the degree to which interior live plants can positively effect an employee’s health is an important issue in today’s workplace.  Dr. Tove Fjeld, Professor at the Agricultural University of Norway, carried out several conclusive crossover studies among over 50 offices.  Live plants were included in the first group of studies, however, not in the second group conducted.  All participants worked in identical, single 10 x 10 foot offices with a window covering most of the exterior wall.  Live plants were included in the office setting, including three planter boxes in the window area and a containerized floor plant in the back corner of the offices, totaling 13 commonly used interior plants. After she reviewed the 12 most frequent symptoms often related to poor indoor air quality and “sick building syndrome”, the results proved a 23% lower rate of complaints than when the live plants were not present.

So, is this a conclusive effect of Biophilia?  Do the scientific facts of live plant benefits prove out the theory of Biophilic connectivity?  Is this a bonding with the love of the living system of nature in the form of live plants in our interior environment?  We would suggest that it is very hard to dispute the facts.  For cleaner, fresher air quality, for less stress and increased productivity, for greater creativity and problem resolution and for a healthier workplace lifestyle, can you afford to ignore the opportunity to embrace the Biophiliac in you?

Visit our entire site for ideas to inspire how you might engage in being a part of this positive condition and creating a workplace environment that helps bring out the best in your employees.  To request further information or a site visit for custom ideas and quotes, visit our contact page and mention Biophilia!

Experience Live Plants for an investment that will scientifically reward you with many happy returns!



Cindy Doorn-Nylen is the President and Owner of Docter's Interior Plantscaping, Inc. and has been      working in the interior plantscaping industry since 1981.  A Biophiliac at her core, she is 
dedicated to a hands on integrity of providing clients with services that she would expect for 

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