Winter 2023 Research Pages –

Resources for Biophilic Designers, Green Building Advocates, and the Curious


Hello plant people and biophilic designers, 

It’s that time of year when organizations publish their forecasts and trends for the coming year. Among the most frequently mentioned trends for commercial real estate are those related to mitigating the impact hybrid work has on occupancy rates and property values. Another common theme is the growth in the number of organizations adopting ESG policies and green leases. According to one study, 25% of global investors consider ESG to be central to their investment thesis and forecast a growth in the adoption of green leases from 34% to 40% by 2025.

Where do biophilic design and access to nature fit into ESG (environmental, social, governance) goals? Under the “S” for social, and the research on building occupant wellbeing and productivity can be found on the education tab on

How can green leases support biophilic design features? One method being used is to apply a portion of the operational cost savings being realized towards ESG-focused programs, such as employee health and well-being initiatives. (See the article O+M Meets ESG: Optimizing Your Buildings for Impact.)

Each quarter GPGB shares with you a curated selection of research papers, articles, and survey results. Articles added this quarter include

  • A study of the effect Zoom backgrounds that include plants have on first impressions of trust and competence.
  • Case studies of office workers performing tasks in an outdoor environment.
  • The impact that urban greenness has on epigenetic aging.
  • A comparison between WELL and non-WELL certified buildings on boosting occupant productivity, health, and creativity.
  • Gensler’s Design Forecast 2024.
  • Stok’s “High-Performance Buildings and the Evolution of the Workplace: Insights for a People-First Approach”.

I hope your thoughts are stimulated by this information! How do you see your company leveraging these survey and research results?

“Virtual first impressions: Zoom backgrounds affect judgements of trust and competence.”

Cook A, Thompson M, Ross P (2023) Virtual first impressions: Zoom backgrounds affect judgements of trust and competence. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0291444.

This study rated the assumed trustworthiness and competence of faces overlaid on different video backgrounds, including plants, a bookcase, a blank wall, and blurred and novelty backgrounds.

The findings revealed that faces presented on backgrounds with plants and bookcases were consistently rated as the most trustworthy and competent, while backgrounds with homes and novelty themes received lower ratings.

The study also rated the impact facial expression and gender had on first impression of trustworthiness and competence. Perhaps not surprisingly, smiling faces were more effective than unsmiling at generating positive judgements, and female faces scored significantly higher than male.

The study concludes ”For those regularly using videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom and Teams, the study implies a recommendation for a background with a bookcase or house plants. Novelty virtual backgrounds and showing your full living space should be avoided. Males in particular should be aware of their backgrounds. Individuals are also recommended to smile to elicit the best first impressions of trustworthiness and competence and negate the negative effects of back-ground, particularly for those who have no choice but to have their home in view.”

“Greenspace as Workplace: Benefits, Challenges and Essentialities in the Physical Environment.”

Lygum VL, Dupret K, Bentsen P, Djernis D, Grangaard S, Ladegaard Y, Troije CP. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Aug 31;20(17):6689. doi:10.3390/ijerph20176689. PMID: 37681829; PMCID: PMC10488277.

For those of you whose clients are considering creating spaces for their team members to work outdoors, the physical features mentioned in this study may be helpful.

To identify key physical features of a high-functioning outdoor workplace, this Danish study looked at the worker responses to working outside in six workplaces with adjacent greenspace. The themes identified in worker responses included a desire that the space be simple and easy to use, and that it be safe, for example, free from car and bike traffic. Also mentioned was comfort, that the space be free from direct sunlight, wind, and rain. Respondents valued contact with nature and felt increased social interaction, collaboration, and improved overall mental and emotional health.

At the same time respondents identified challenges to working outdoors as being dependent on digital tools and illegitimacy, the perception that working outdoors is not explicitly permitted or supported within the organization by leadership. This latter theme also appears in the paper comparing WELL to non-WELL buildings.

Inequalities in urban greenness and epigenetic aging: Different associations by race and neighborhood socioeconomic status.”

Kyeezu Kim et al., Sci. Adv.9,eadf8140(2023). DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adf8140

To better understand how access to nature promotes positive health outcomes, this study examined how 20 years of exposure to greenness affected the DNA of 924 people in four US cities.

Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression that are caused by external factors like our behavior or the environment, rather than by alterations in the DNA sequence. And epigenetic modifications to DNA are one possible molecular mechanism for the positive health outcomes associated with being in nature.

The study found slower epigenetic aging associated with living for 20 years within 5 km of urban greenness and suggests that long-term exposure to green spaces is associated with healthier aging at the molecular level.

The good news – this study provides scientific evidence supporting the health benefits, including healthier aging, of exposure to nature. The landscape industry, urban planners, and community organizations can use this data to advocate and prioritize the integration of green spaces into urban environments.

“The potential of high-performance workplaces for boosting worker productivity, health, and creativity: A comparison between WELL and non-WELL certified environments.”

Marzban, Samin et al. Building and Environment (2023)

This study analyzed results from 1403 post-occupancy surveys from 14 open-plan offices in Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. 10 of the offices were WELL certified and 4 were not.

The first aim of the study was to investigate what influenced occupant’s productivity, health, and creativity, and secondarily, to explore how occupants’ perceived satisfaction and health differed between WELL and non-WELL certified spaces.

Key predictors for productivity were found to be a connection to the outdoor environment and visual privacy. The key predictor for creativity was found to be layout and interior design, for mental health it was organizational aspects (leadership), for physical health it was privacy and indoor air quality, and for overall health, the key indicators were connection to the outdoor environment and privacy.

The five offices that achieved the highest satisfaction scores in four of the categories studied were WELL-certified so the researchers moved on to comparing WELL v non-WELL certified offices. There were no significant differences in the health category between WELL and non-WELL offices, but fewer Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) complaints and musculoskeletal discomfort were reported in WELL offices. More than 20% of the respondents reported they were dissatisfied with the physical environment regardless of the certification status.

Gensler’s “Design Forecast 2024: Ideas Redefining Cities.”

Based partially on survey results, Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm by revenue and number of architects, identified 8 trends that will shape design in 2024 calling them “the most important signals and key opportunities we see in the building industry today”.

These trends reflect the changing needs in the design industry and address crucial aspects such as workplace transformation, community inclusivity, urban planning, technological integration, experiential design, sustainability, and adaptive reuse of building stock.

Please read about the 8 trends in the paper but digging into where these trends intersect with biophilic design I found these specific trends that can influence the demand for biophilic design all of which relate to ESG policies and targets:

  1. The growing focus on ESG goals including the area of social responsibility (where occupant well-being and productivity goals live).
  2. Sustainability in workplace design and incorporation of biophilic design into workplaces.
  3. Long-term sustainability as a priority for tenants and investors.

Organizations are becoming better informed about the benefits of access to nature as Gensler and other A+D firms routinely survey the CRE industry, building professionals and urban planners and include biophilic design in their surveys and white papers. This growing marketplace awareness signals growing opportunities for the interior landscape industry.

Stok’s “High-Performance Buildings and the Evolution of the Workplace: Insights for a People-First Approach.”

In their 2018 white paper, “The Financial Case for High-Performance Buildings”, Stok calculated the financial impact of increased employee productivity, retention, and well-being, and found that by focusing on specific design elements, a gain of $3,395 per employee or $18.56 per square foot could be realized. Net present value calculations bring these numbers to $21,172 per employee and $115 per square foot over 10 years.

In this 2023 paper, Stok builds upon the work done in the 2018 paper and, out of 30 aspects, identifies five aspects of employee experience that survey respondents indicate have the greatest positive impact on their productivity, retention, and well-being.

In order of their impact, these aspects are access to daylight, increased flexibility in work hours, connections to nature, physical health programs, and a hybrid work policy.

The study also identified five aspects that had little-to-negative impact on productivity, retention, and well-being: increased cleaning frequency, emergency preparedness programs, touchless technology, antimicrobial surface treatments, and hoteling in offices (reserving your workspace/desk).

With these findings, Stok looks to address the reality of the redefined workplace and provide information valuable to corporate real estate professionals and company owners who are challenged with where to focus their efforts as they look to enhance the employee experience and optimize the value of office real estate.

Has this stimulated your interest in these resources? Visit the webpage soon and explore.

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Keep Spreading the Word

What can you do to accelerate the demand for plants and nature in the built environment? Share, retweet, and repost GPGB posts on your social media channels. Include links in your company’s newsletters and blogs. If you are an educator, share the channels with your students.

As always, thank you for reading.

#StayPlanted and be a catalyst for wellness, 

Mary Golden
Advocacy Incubator       

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