Green is the Color

Green is the Color

We are all aware of the many benefits that interior landscaping affords us whether we are working in the space or watching the finances and performance of the business. From NASA research at the end of the 1980′s which showed how plants clean and refresh the air for us to breathe to the present day’s research, we know we cannot live without plants.

Seeing green

Recent research in Germany measured how the color green had a significant impact on our creativity. This research study did not actually involve plants at all, but offered a view of the color green before delegates carried out four different creative tasks such as creative ways to use a tin! Every time those who saw green rather than one of the control colors before the creative task, they performed better.

Of course Dr Roger Ulrich found that we are more creative by as much as 15% when there are plants around. Maybe the two are connected!


In other scientific reports we learn how we have an innate need to connect with nature. It is not surprising since we evolved in nature and we now live in a very different world that some feel we haven’t evolved sufficiently to cope with.

Many experiments have shown that a view of the natural world outside helps us to perform better, get well faster and generally feel better. Bringing nature indoors seems to have even better affects on our health, well-being and performance.

On-going research

In Scandinavia Tina Bringslimark found that office workers who could see a plant from their desk felt less stressed; in Australia Margaret Burchett found that even one plant made a huge different to mood.

 At the Texas State University Dr Tina Marie Cade found that having plants in offices and schools had a noticeable effect. Our perception of the space, of colleagues and of the boss or tutor is more favourable.

 Meanwhile in the UK Dr Craig Knight is discovering that plants in the workspace really elevate performance.

 A green wall

As a result of the recent German research, Johanna Phelps, a senior landscape architect at Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C in New York City relates in Metropolis, how they are making a green space at a ′through-block arcade at Park Avenue Plaza′. The space gets no sunlight so they will have to incorporate lighting to ensure the green facade grows. They are using a vine, Cissus tetrastigma and LED lighting for the job. The vine wall will stretch from 52nd to 53rd Street on an indoor plaza.

There should certainly be enough green there to encourage creativity and keep the air clean and fresh in that part of the city.

Image courtesy of Metropolis Magazine

Image courtesy of Metropolis Magazine

GPGB Rockstars to Present Living Wall Session at 2014 ASLA

Green Plants for Green Buildings is proud to announce that two of its supporters will be presenting at the November 2014 ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Annual Expo in Denver, Co.  Kathryn O′Donnell of Botanicus and McRae Anderson, ASLA, CLP, of Greenwalls /Vertical Planting Systems represent two members of the three person panel.  They will be joined by Scott Mehaffey, FASLA, of Sage Vertical Garden Systems to round out the presentation.

The presentation titled: Green Wall Case Studies: Comparisons, Advantages, and Challenges focuses on research gathered from several different living wall installations, both indoor and outdoor.  Project studies varied in plant matter, climate, and rooting material.

In order to collect the information needed for this undertaking, O′Donnell partnered directly with the inventors, manufacturers, and plantscapers installing and maintaining green walls.  She created an in-depth survey that detailed the advantages and disadvantages of various green wall systems.

′The ASLA presentation will feature time lapse videos of various installations.  Attendees will be amazed at how beautiful and magnificent a green wall can be,′ said O′Donnell.

Rarely does ASLA accept just one presenter, which is why O′Donnell reached out to Anderson and Mehaffey to co-present on the panel.  O′Donnell herself has over 40 years experience in horticulture.  She is a past GPGB treasurer and board member.  O′Donnell has presented the information learned in GPGB’s Train the Trainer Seminar to nearly 200 plant specifiers in 2013, and received a Platinum Award in 2013 from GPGB for presenting Living Walls and Green Roofs.

Anderson, a past GPGB president, is the principal designer and founder of McCaren Designs, in addition to being President of Greenwalls Modular Planting Systems.  Anderson has long been considered an industry leader and innovator in the development and design of indoor plant displays and containers designer.

Prior to becoming the executive vice-president of Sage Vertical Garden Systems, Mehaffey was the landscape coordinator for the City of Chicago.  In his role at Sage Vertical Systems, Mehaffey oversees the operations and project development of hydroponic garden systems.

If you are attending the 2014 ASLA this November, be sure to catch this session scheduled for Friday, November 21, from 8:30-10:00 am.

Are our workplaces killing us?

It seems that work as we know it may not be good for us. A recent report featured in The Huffington Post listed surveys and research papers concerning things that affect us negatively in the work space. There are even suggestions that noise pollution and the sedentary lifestyle of office workers could be the cause of premature deaths. Of course the other big problem is polluted air. A surprising culprit is also the open plan office which is shown as detrimental to our work capacity and creativity.

Death toll

New data published by WHO found that indoor air could be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, now reports that 1 in 8 deaths around the world in 2012 were caused by poor indoor air quality. That’s a total of 3.7 million premature deaths in that year.

Another life-threatening fact about work is that in offices we spend most of time sat down. This can really have a great impact causing higher risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A small experiment associated with a UK TV series found that asking office workers to stand at their desks for up to three hours in a working day made a big difference to simple things. For instance blood sugars lowered more quickly.

Stress factor

Stress levels in the modern office are high. Eight out of ten US workers claim to be stressed at work and 42% have left a job due to the stress it caused.

Noise is another factor that causes stress at work especially in the fashionable open plan offices that are everywhere these days.

Lower productivity

Not only that, these vast offices where everyone can interact so easily aren’t as productive as predicted. Too many distractions, too much noise and maybe, just too clinical.

We know some of the answers

There is one thing that hasn’t been mentioned throughout this article or the articles it references, and that is plants.

Here at Green Plants for Green Buildings we’ve known for years that the addition of green plants to a room has a positive effect on occupants. Overall plants answer some of our biophilic needs to connect with nature. If we don’t have as much time as we’d like in our busy lives to get out and about in nature, surrounding ourselves at work with plants answers some of this necessity.

Importantly of course, research tells us that plants filter and clean that polluted indoor air. Essential if these reports are anything to go by. We know they can also deflect and diffract sound so that a barrier of plants can reduce noise pollution.

Other research has shown us how working with plants really reduces stress and enhances our productivity and creativity.

Bring in the plants

Dr Craig Knight in the UK has conducted on-going research about the psychology of working in what he refers to as lean offices. These large open plan offices are often clean-lined and minimal. With more and more desk sharing, no one has a place to call their own. Knight has found that actually adding decorative features like plants, and better still, allowing the workers to have a say in the decoration has amazing effects on their productivity – 32% improvement –  and creativity – improved by 40%. See his discussion on LinkedIn and his blog.

Well GPGB has been telling everyone for years that the building isn’t complete until the plants arrive.

Prescriptions in a Pot

A few well-placed houseplants can help people recover faster from stress and feel less mental fatigue, research has shown. And another study suggests that simply being in a room with some greenery may reduce physical discomfort as well. When 198 people were asked to submerge their hands in ice water, 49 percent of those in a windowless room with plants were able to keep their hands immersed for the full 5-minute test, while only 30 percent of those tested in the same room without plants were able to do it (HortTechnology, 2000). “We suspect that the calming effect of plants is an internal response,” says researcher Virginia Lohr, PhD, professor of horticulture at Washington State University in Pullman. “We have evolved with plants in nature and are closely connected. Perhaps we’re more at ease when we’re near the things we need to survive.” Here’s how to enjoy the healing power of plants in a quiet corner of your home:

  • Check your conditions. Note sunlight as well as temperature and humidity levels in your prospective plant corner first. This will help you select plants that will thrive.
  • Then pick appropriate foliage that you like. Virtually all houseplants have the same calming benefits.
  • A few will do. No need to create a lush jungle. Filling as little as 2 percent of your room space with plants will make an impact on stress levels, Dr. Lohr says. For a 120-square-foot room, that’s three plants.
  • Enjoy. “The effect of plants is very strong,” says Dr. Lohr. Spending a mere 5 minutes a day in your plant corner will soothe the soul.

7-Aug-13 11:00 AM

The Building Happiness Metric: My Light Bulb Moment at Greenbuild

Each year, Greenbuild offers attendees more than 150 educational opportunities.

Beyond the practical learning and CEU credits, however, it’s the exchange of ideas, casual dialogue and new expo products that spark excitement and inspiration among attendees.

In fact, networking ranks among the highest-rated reasons for attending Greenbuild. As green building practitioners, we enjoy the time with like-minded professionals, and Greenbuild provides fertile ground for reimagining our world in new ways.

My light bulb moment came last year in a session on building metrics. Coming from a building operations background, I have long admired the ability of architects and designers to delight their clients and create a sense of place or engineer a moment of discovery.

Building operators often feel constrained by a common set of metrics by which our buildings are judged: energy and water consumption, materials purchases or occupant education efforts. While these indicators capture real performance, they fall short in genuinely accomplishing the goals of our clients — building owners and occupants. Owners want buildings that produce happy tenants while maximizing return on their real estate. Occupiers want a sense of place, a space where they can feel good about spending their day.

The goals of owners and occupants extend beyond the objective measures of consumption and point to a Building Happiness Metric.

After all, what good is an efficient building if no one wants to be in it? Or as an engineering friend once said, “We know how to make it more efficient, just brick in all the windows.”

Although no building happiness index exists today, it provides a fun exercise of the mind to move beyond a meter reading and into the interaction of the building with its occupants. If countries like Bhutan can apply a yardstick to National Happiness, couldn’t we learn to design and operate buildings in ways that grow happy users?

Commit to explore Greenbuild in new ways this year and take advantage of cross-industry collaboration. Sit in a session on a topic that may not be pertinent to your industry. Connect with the attendee next to you at lunch. You never know what may grow out of those brief encounters.

Be curious, be brave, explore and enjoy!

25-Jun-13 11:00 AM

Don’t Worry Be Happy: The UN Happiness Summit

At first glance, this Monday’s high-level event in the UN General Assembly would appear to confirm the worst suspicions of UN skeptics. Given all the crises engulfing the globe, what geniuses in New York decided to have the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan host a daylong special session on “Happiness.” What the heck is going on in Turtle Bay?

More than meets the eye, in fact. One of the hottest fields in development economics has been, believe it or not, happiness research. And it turns out that the government in Thimpu may have something wise to say on the subject.

In recent years, a small but influential group of economists has concluded that traditional measurements of national progress, typically couched in terms of per capita Gross National Product (GNP), don’t actually tell us much about the wellbeing of citizens. This is partly a critique of modernization theory, which suggests that human welfare advances in lockstep with material enrichment. In fact, as pioneering researchers like Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland have shown, there’s little correlation between national income and contentment. Some of the highest levels of happiness have been recorded in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example.

This comes as no news to the Bhutanese. Although one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income the World Bank estimates at $670, Bhutan is also, according toBusiness Week, the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world. Some forty years ago, the grandfather of the current constitutional monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, began popularizing the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to replace GNP as a gauge of national progress. Improbably, the concept has taken off.

Over the past decade, the 800,000-person kingdom has become a Mecca—or rather Shangri-la—for Western policymakers and development experts seeking enlightenment on the secrets of national happiness in an age of globalization. Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureates both, are converts. So too is Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and tireless campaigner for the Millennium Development Goals. On August 10-12 of last year, Sachs traveled to Thimpu to co-host with Prime Minister Jigme Thinley the Bhutan Conference on Happiness and Economic Development.

Two weeks later, Bhutan hit the big-time, when the UN General Assembly passedResolution 65/309 (PDF) titled, “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development.” Endorsing the monarchy’s basic point, the resolution conceded: “the gross domestic product indicator by nature was not designed to and does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being in a country.” More pointedly, it implied that public policies in many countries have encouraged “unsustainable patterns of production and consumption,” at the expense of “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of peoples.”

Monday’s high-Level meeting on “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” raises the GNH concept to new heights. Prince Charles will address the event with a pre-recorded message, and both Sachs and Stiglitz will speak, alongside national and international dignitaries, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The conversation will likely recapitulate themes from last year’s conference, which called on governments to integrate a “happiness agenda” into public policy. Some proposed stepsseem sensible, such as reducing extreme suffering and deprivation, focusing on education, empowering local communities, protecting ecological systems, and investing in mental health. But other proposals could prove more controversial, for instance building “awareness and avoidance of pure status goods,” to say nothing of “controlling the media in a way that doesn’t limit freedom but restrains the creation of artificial cravings.” Such aspirations could lend themselves to caricature, as blatant assaults on the free market by misguided social engineers seeking to escape modernity.

The champions of GNH have tried to inoculate themselves from this critique. “The happiness agenda should not be considered anti-technological or anti-material,” reads the conference summary from last August. “There is no going back to a simpler life, for a basic arithmetic reason. We are now seven billion people with a tremendous difficulty of provision, meeting the needs of people, being able to operate complex societies. Any attempt to turn back technology would lead to devastation.”

The Tea Party, in other words can breathe easy. The Buddhists of Bhutan have no designs on the capitalist system, or the rest of our freedoms. In fact, the Land of the Thunder Dragon may have more in common with the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave than you might imagine. After all, they share the fundamental aspiration enunciated in America’s founding document: the pursuit of happiness.

25-Jun-13 11:00 AM

Interior Landscape Plants for our Well-Being

We’ve all had the opportunity to be around interior foliage plants when we walk into businesses, malls, museums, hospitals and even our homes. They can be a single stand-alone plant in a decorative container or hundreds of plants grouped together in mass plantings.
Click here to read the entire article.

28-Jun-12 11:00 AM

Interior Gardens Increase Productivity

plants outside office

It is common knowledge now in this industry that interior design has the ability to influence an individual’s mood, attitude and even their actions. There is a deep and complex psychology behind the interiors that most of us take for granted every day, and by understanding this, designers can create spaces that are truly influential.

Oftentimes, however, colour and furnishings are the main focus that designers use to create a mood. This is only logical, due to the highly visible and high impact nature of these two interior design features.

However, one surprisingly subtle addition to our interiors is proving to lift both the mood and productivity of those in the space.

That is the common plant.

In the self-explanatory report ‘Interior plants may improve worker productivity and reduce stress in a windowless environment’ by Virginia I. Lohr, Caroline H. Pearson-Mims, and Georgia K. Goodwin of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State Unversity, this increasingly influential topic is explored.

The report covers a study that the authors performed by which plants were added to a college computer lab. Blood pressure and emotions were monitored of those participating in the study who used the the room both before and after the plants were added. The outcomes were incredibly surprising.

plants in office

They found that by including the plants into this confined, bland and incredibly function orientated space that the participants showed a 12% quicker reaction time in the computer tasks they were undertaking and their systolic blood pressure, on average, dropped by one to four points. They also reported feeling more attentive with the addition of the plants.

In essence, they were more productive and less stressed just by entering a room that had the small addition of plants.

This is however not the first time studies of this nature have been undertaken.

The report also explains studies that were undertaken in Germany in the 1960’s where employee morale was lifted, absences decreased and work efficiency increased all due to the addition of plants in ‘traditional, unplanted offices’.

Further studies have shown that including windows that show flora can actually improve our health, so it stands to reason that being in the presence of plant life would at a bare minimum improve workplace productivity.

Including a plant into an office’s interior is possibly one of the least invasive and simplest design additions that can be made. In order to get the  best out of these interior spaces long after the design and construction stages are over, designers have to truly understand the function of the building, and just what they can do to maximise this, especially if that can be achieved through the easiest of means.


By Jane Parkins

24-Feb-12 5:00 PM

A Superhero Scrubs the Air: The Mighty Houseplant

The humble houseplant is on the attack. Building on NASA experiments for air purification in space, scientists are pinpointing plant species—from the peace lily to the asparagus fern—that are particularly skillful at cleaning indoor air of pollutants that can cause a range of health problems.

A growing body of research suggests the humble houseplant boasts significant powers to clean the air in homes and other buildings of common toxins such as formaldehyde, ammonia & benzene. Wendy Bounds explains.

A growing body of global research is showing plants can reduce dust particles and contaminants, such as formaldehyde and benzene, that come from cigarette smoke, paint, furniture, building materials and other sources. Big growers such as Costa Farms, based in Goulds, Fla., and retailers Lowe's and Home Depot now sell plants with tags promoting their air-cleaning abilities.

"The advantage of plants is you can sometimes solve your problem with $100 of plants or propagate your own," says Stanley J. Kays, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, which is spearheading plant research with scientists in South Korea. In addition to studying existing plants, researchers there are trying to see if certain species could be bred to create super-efficient air cleaners.

Interest in plants as air purifiers—what's called "phytoremediation"—comes amid mounting concerns about the quality of indoor air. People spend more than 90% of their time inside, where levels of a dozen common organic pollutants can be two to five times higher than outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Associated health problems range from headaches and asthma to respiratory diseases and cancer. The agency says it is particularly concerned about air quality in homes that have taken steps to be more energy-efficient by adding insulation and other weatherization techniques.

That said, plants aren't yet recognized as a mainstream air-filtration tool. The EPA says "there is currently no evidence … that a reasonable number of houseplants can remove significant quantities of pollutants in homes and offices." The U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies buildings based on environmental standards, says while "using plants to help clean air is a great strategy…we've had difficulty quantifying the results."

That could be changing. Studies conducted over the past five years by the University of Technology, Sydney found that small groups of the Janet Craig and Sweet Chico plants placed in offices with high airborne concentrations of volatile organic compounds consistently reduced total VOC levels by up to 75%. Reductions to negligible levels were maintained over the course of five- to 12-week periods studied. "Potted plants can provide an efficient, self-regulating, low-cost, sustainable bioremediation system for indoor air pollution," researchers concluded.

In another study at Washington State University, dust was reduced as much as 20% when a number of plants were placed around the perimeter of computer lab and small office for one week.

Margaret Burchett, a professor who led the Sydney studies, estimates that six or more plants in a 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot house could achieve noteworthy contaminant reductions. At work, "if you have a couple of nice plants sitting on your desk, it will help purify the air you breathe," says Bill Wolverton, author of the new book "Plants: Why You Can't Live Without Them," and one of the NASA scientists who studied plants.

Indoor-air pollutants come in two primary forms: particle pollution, such as dust, pollen, animal dander and smoke, and gaseous pollutants such as VOCs that are emitted from sources such as building materials, dry-cleaned clothing and aerosol sprays.

Plants clean the air, researchers say, primarily by absorbing pollution through small leaf pores called stomata, and via microorganisms living in the potting soil or medium that metabolize contaminants. Scientists believe plants can begin removing pollution the moment they're placed in a room and can be particularly useful in spaces where there's little outside ventilation.

Pinpointing specific air quality problems can be tricky. Do-it-yourself kits and environmental companies can conduct air-quality tests at consumers' homes. But interpretation of the results can be confusing because there's no universal national standard for acceptable levels of many VOCs, according to the EPA.

As for remedies, ventilation often works best, but not every climate is suitable for open windows and doors. Mechanical ventilation units that remove stale air from a home and provide fresh outdoor air can cost $600 to upwards of $2,500, not including installation. Indoor air-cleaning devices using HEPA and activated carbon or ultraviolet-light technology have some limitations and may require filter changes.

That's why researchers see opportunity for indoor plants, which are inexpensive and relatively easy to find and maintain. In 2009, UGA scientists identified five "super ornamentals"—plants that showed high rates of contaminant removal when exposed in gas-tight glass jars to common household VOCs, such as benzene (present in cigarette smoke) and toluene (emitted from paints and varnishes). They are: the purple waffle plant, English ivy, asparagus fern, purple heart plant, variegated wax plant.

UGA's Dr. Kays and his colleagues aim to broaden their findings by developing a simple test kit homeowners can use to check for VOCs, as well as an expanded list of plants and their associated pollution-fighting abilities. The university also sees a potential market for enhanced potting soil and other media.

"I envision this research helping producers enrich plants' soil with microorganisms that are optimized to metabolize, say, five bad VOCs," says Bodie Pennisi, a UGA associate professor.

Plants were sidelined as minimalist architecture prevailed in recent years, says Mike Lewis, president of the not-for-profit Green Plants for Green Buildings advocacy group. "Now when you talk to architects and designers, they want plants back."

When designing the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan, the hospital's CEO Gerard van Grinsven says he placed $150,000 of live plants in the atria of the facility. "The plants are doing what they are supposed to do—produce oxygen and filtering all these bad elements from our environment," Mr. van Grinsven says.

International plant grower Costa Farms LLC, has spent more than $1 million in the past two years on its "O2 for You" marketing campaign touting plants' air-purifying abilities. In its Michigan store, Planterra Corp. touts plants as "low-maintenance air cleaners."

Dr. Wolverton, who continued his plant research after leaving NASA, has helped develop a $199 planter dubbed the "Plant Air Purifier," which uses an electric fan and activated carbon in a ceramic growing medium (no soil) to filter and trap pollutants around plants' roots more efficiently so microbes can metabolize them. It goes on sale in April. A similar product, the Andrea Air Filter, was co-developed by a Harvard University professor and has sold 8,000 units since its launch two years ago.

Norman Ankers, a 54-year-old trial lawyer in Beverly Hills, Mich., says he and his wife Janet have filled their 5,000-square-foot home with plants, such as ferns and orchids. "We don't pretend to understand the complex chemistry of it all," Mr. Ankers says. "But having something that's a cleaning agent or filter is an extra benefit."

Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at

Corrections & Amplifications
A photograph in a previous version of this article incorrectly identified two University of Georgia professors conducting plant research. In the picture, Mussie Habteselassie appears on the left, and Bodie Pennisi appears on the right.

12-Oct-11 2:00 PM