Bill Conley 2018-01-24 22:48:08
Back before sustainability became a fact of life in the facility arena, to some people a “green” building evoked images of Ivy League colleges or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — vines creeping up building walls and facades covered in plant life. At that time, the concept didn’t make sense. It sounded like aesthetic or historical affectations, not modern construction. “Green” buildings are now part of the normal vernacular in today’s facility management world. The concept entails energy efficiency, conservation of resources, quality of life, and the ways and means to sustain business and ecology over time. However, if the word is taken literally and early preconceptions are revisited, sustainable buildings can be viewed from a much different perspective. Buildings can be literally green … festooned and designed with living plants as part of the facility. Integrating plant life and natural elements into the workplace to stimulate the senses is called biophilia. The term means “love of life or living systems.” Its premise is that people’s tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes might be a biologically based need, integral to humankind’s development as individuals and as a species. Research shows that subtle, sensory aspects relating to the outside world have a significant impact on the perception, collective well-being, productivity and profitability of a company. As society becomes more and more divorced from the natural world, biophilia provides a powerful argument for the conservation of biological diversity. More importantly, it implies serious consequences for mankind’s well-being. Nature has served as an indispensable part of human development. An “out of sight, out of mind” mentality could result in continuing environmental destruction that would have a significant impact on quality of life, not just materially but psychologically and even spiritually. BIOPHILIC DESIGN The rationale that encourages biophilic design is based on attributes in the workplace that are critical to people’s health and productivity, as well as their emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being. The intent is to make buildings biologically lively and to incorporate nature into the built environment. It takes local climate into consideration to evaluate lighting and ventilation conditions and utilizes plants for cooling and refreshing the indoor environment while decreasing heat gain from the outdoors. Simple actions such as these can also reduce the need for mechanical climate control. There are many ways to incorporate plants into buildings, including green roofs as part of climate-proof construction. They provide insulation for the building as well as create a garden space or natural lounging area for relaxation. A green roof has benefits at the economic, ecological and societal levels. It provides a rainwater buffer, purifies the air, reduces ambient temperature, regulates the indoor temperature, saves energy, and encourages biodiversity in the city. Vertical green walls are another option. They can be installed both on the exterior and interior of a building. These green vertical surfaces can contribute significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the built environment. Exterior green walls and facades have been found to be energy cost effective as they provide an increase of insulation, reducing the overall temperature of a building when exposed to the sun. Exterior walls also mitigate outdoor climate through reduction in the urban heat island effect, they create a habitat for birds and insects and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate is adjusted through shading, wind shielding, evapo-transpiration and photosynthesis processes. Additionally, green walls help reduce the amount of heat escaping the building during cold weather. Interior living walls can make employees more productive, as they satisfy a primal need to be around nature. The appealing aesthetics and improved indoor quality have been shown to have a positive impact on the well-being of people within a facility. Introducing natural elements can lift the moods of personnel, helping them to be more alert and upbeat. As it happens on the outside, the transpiration process on plants can reduce temperatures during hot days, which works as an additional energy savings solution. Other environmental features can be introduced when modeling building interiors. The workplace can be enhanced with indoor potted plants, sunlight, fresh air, water, landscapes, natural colors and natural materials, such as wood and stone. Shapes and forms that mimic the patterns and processes found in nature can also be used, as light and space can evoke the sense of being in a natural setting. Visual access to the outside world is an important element of employee comfort. Allowing people to keep the sun in mind — via skylights, clerestories, solar tubes and windows with outside views — helps maintain circadian rhythms. Often referred to as the “body clock,” the circadian rhythm is a cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat — regulating many physiological processes. This internal body clock is affected by environmental cues like sunlight and temperature. When a person’s circadian rhythm is disrupted, sleeping and eating patterns become unsettled. A growing body of research is examining the adverse health effects of a disordered circadian rhythm, such as increasing the chance of cardiovascular events, obesity, and demonstrating a correlation with neurological problems like depression and bipolar disorder. FM FACILITATORS Facility managers should attempt to bring nature, buildings and human beings together in a higher unity within manmade spaces. People’s natural love and appreciation of nature helps sustain their existence, and biophilic design is about strengthening a connection with nature. Biophilia emphasizes the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. It helps supply an inborn need of connection to life and to vital organic processes. Defined as an environment that strengthens life and supports the sociological and psychological component, it provides a sense of calm that can help to unburden our cognitive system, supporting the ability to collect and recognize more information in the quickest and most efficient way. Research group Heschong-Mahone Group studied a Sacramento call center that had an office with large windows overlooking trees and nature. Some employees had access to the view from their cubicles. They found the employees with a view of nature were six to seven percent faster at handling calls. After rearranging the workspace to give every employee a view of nature, they calculated the productivity savings at $2,990 annually per employee. Cardiff University researchers reported a similar relationship between nature and productivity in a European study. Comparing productivity in two offices, one with natural elements and one without, they found that the offices with natural elements saw a 15 percent rise in output amongst employees after three months. Workers also reported a 13 percent increase in higher level of well-being. THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT Human beings have lived in the natural environment far longer than the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution introduced drastic changes in our lifestyles. Nature cannot be dismissed lightly. However, as lives have become increasingly urbanized, the connections to nature have diminished. Human divergence from the natural world appears to have occurred in parallel with technological developments, with advancements in the last two centuries having the most significant impact. Such “progress” fundamentally changed human interactions with nature. In its most literal sense, this separation from the natural world has been empowered by the construction of enclosed and relatively sterile spaces. As buildings developed over time, operable windows went away and HVAC systems became more prevalent. Air conditioning has taken the place of fresh air, artificially altering its properties to provide temperature and humidity control to create more comfortable conditions. This led to the encapsulation of employees in a building envelope completely isolated from the outside world. Cement took the place of grass to accommodate transportation needs for commuters. All in all, concrete and steel have replaced the earth as it existed over time. As cities continue to expand and high-rise buildings get ever higher, parking is, indeed, more and more part of man’s need to build more work and living space. Because of technological advances, and more time spent inside of buildings and cars, the lack of time spent in nature strengthens the disconnect of humans from the natural world. This engenders a stronger sense of disregard for plants, animals and open wilderness which could lead to further degradation of the eco-system. The introduction of plants and natural elements in the workplace creates an ambiance that resonates with workers. The integration of the living, organic systems evidenced by green walls and green roofs contrasted with the inorganic and lifeless structures that comprise cityscapes may pave the way for a new type of “living” architecture. INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY Biophilic design in facility management aims at creating strong connections between nature and man-made environments, and it has proven benefits, including helping office workers be more productive, encouraging children to learn and helping hospital patients get better. In studies, introducing plants in a facility substantially improved employee performance on memory retention and other basic tests. It has also been shown that a natural environment gets employees psychologically engaged and leads to a happier mind-set and increased productivity. It is estimated that a one percent increase in productivity across the board would pay the rent for leased buildings. A two percent increase could pay rent and utility costs. The algorithm is based on square footage, square feet per employee and salaries. In one study, participants who had access to natural accoutrements were 12 percent more productive and less stressed than those who worked in an environment with no natural design elements. Studies have also shown that natural elements can decrease negative behaviors, such as aggression and anxiety, and they have been found to alleviate mental fatigue. Visual exposure to plant settings has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes. These positive impacts are all attributed to the reaction on the human body to seeing and being around natural elements. Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is an important part of a facility manager’s responsibility, for good reason. HVAC reliant, sealed office structures are often 10 times more polluted than outside air. Plants clean contaminated office air. It has been suggested that 15 to 20 plants are enough to clean the air in a 1500-square-foot area. Plant material can also help reduce noise levels. Plants around the workplace can reduce noise by up to 5 decibels, which helps relieve the decibel distraction factor. AND, IN THE END… Numerous examples illustrate biophilia has a genetic component. After all, it’s not called Mother Nature for nothing! Humankind’s predilection to appreciate or fear aspects in nature as involuntary reflexes point to internal reactions to stimuli that are ingrained in the psyche. Mankind has a symbiotic relationship with nature that parallels existence. Life on earth wouldn’t be here without the birds and the bees. Every schmaltzy quote about living with nature, feeling the cycle of the seasons or being in harmony with the earth, happen to be biologically true. Bringing plants and other natural elements into the workplace serves a multitude of purposes and fulfills its own triple bottom line of physical, psychological and spiritual health. It reminds people from whence they came as well as serves as a reminder that there is more to life than a concrete jungle. It has been said that one touch of nature creates kinship through the workplace. This awareness of natural surroundings may lead to environmental consciousness and sustained resource management. Biophilia is a call back to peoples’ roots … and it’s only natural. RESOURCES 1) Work Design Magazine Biophilia and Workplace Design https://workdesign.com/2012/07/biophilia-and-workspace-design 2) Human Spaces report Biophilic Design in the Workplace http://humanspaces.com/report/biophilic-design-in-the-workplace 3) Terrapin Bright Green biophilic research www.terrapinbrightgreen.com Major Books on Biophilia Interested in reading more? Try these definitive guides. The Biophilia Hypothesis Edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson Biophilia By E.O. Wilson BILL CONLEY, CFM, SFP, FMP, LEED AP, IFMA Fellow, is facility manager at Yamaha Motor Corp. in Cypress, California, USA. Prior to that, he served as owner and chief sustainability officer of CFM2, a facility management and sustainability consulting company. Conley has more than 40 years of experience in the facility management profession and has been a proponent ofsustainable operations for more than 20 years. Conley has served on the IFMA board of directors, is a recipient of IFMA’s distinguished member of the year award and has received the association’s distinguished author award three times. He has been a regular contributor to FMJ for more than 20 years and has authored more than 60 FMJ articles.
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