Greening the Workplace as a Means to Increased Profit

Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
Greening the Workplace as a Means to Increased Profit

image by: qimono

Over the last century workplace designs have moved away from nature. But contemporary evidence suggests that reversing this trend would benefit employee well-being and the financial bottom line.

German publication The Local puts it at #3 in their “Top ten weird German rules and laws,” while it tops The Telegraph’s list of “Ten crazy German rules.” What they find so strange is the portion of Germany’s labor law (as codified in the Arbeitsstättenverordnung) requiring that all workplaces “have a visual connection to the outside.”

In practice, this means a window that opens. And while that may seem wacky to some, there’s a body of evidence suggesting that human are both happier and more productive when not cut off from the natural world.

The “right to light,” a concept found in ancient Roman law, was applied to Victorian England as easements preventing new buildings from obscuring the sunlight on certain other buildings. The unspoken reasoning was common sensical: humans feel better when not shut away from the nature.

The Romans and Victorians didn’t need fancy studies to tell them this, but if they time traveled to the 21st century, they would see that our science supports their instincts. In the early 20th century scientists discovered vitamin D and its dependence on sunlight light. At mid century came the discovery of melatonin—also dependent on sunlight—and its role in regulating our circadian rhythms. In the 1970s, researchers reported on sick building syndrome (SBS), a generalized adverse health reaction experienced by workers in many “modern” buildings. In the 1980s, mental health practitioners officially recognized a correlation between depression and months in which there is less sunlight, coining the term seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Despite these findings, mass production of the fluorescent light bulb and mechanized ventilation systems meant that the 20th-century office trended away from its reliance on windows, resulting in an increasing number of workers being shut away from the sun and open air for almost all of the daylight hours five or even six days per week, 50 or more weeks per year. For example, in 2014 Human Resources Review noted that 42 percent of office workers in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East of have no natural light whatsoever in their workplaces,

But it seems profit-driven designers of the modern workplace miscalculated the effects of such designs. Rather than creating a model of increased efficiency, the latest evidence continues to suggest that depriving workers of exposure to the outside world hurts productivity. Last year Work Design Magazine reported on several pertinent studies, including research from Human Spaces “demonstrat[ing] that proximity to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, was associated with a 15 percent increase in improved well-being and creativity, and six percent higher productivity.”

The reasons for the connection between natural light in the workplace and productivity may be not only direct (access to nature makes for a better work experience) but also indirect. In 2013 Psychology Today reported on a Northwestern University study comparing workers in offices with windows with those who are completely cut off from the outside world. “Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows in the workplace received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night,” writes Christopher Bergland in the Psychology Today article. “Workers without windows reported lower scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality. They also had poorer outcomes in measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction.”

Another way to bring nature into the workplace—and thereby improve productivity—is via plant life. A 2014 University of Exeter study found that introducing flora into an office space could increase productivity by as much as 15 percent. Allowing nature into the workplace also seems to cut down on employee absenteeism. Last year Forbes noted that green-certified offices (a designation that generally includes high air quality and a strong natural-light component) report 30 percent fewer sickness-related absences. “Simple steps like improving air quality, increasing natural light and introducing greenery—those which typically have environmental benefits such as using less energy—can also have a dramatic impact on the bottom line by improving employee productivity and reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and medical costs,” says the International WELL Building Institute, one of the world standard for green building certification.

Maybe it’s hippie talk or bleeding-heart liberalism to question the ethicality of any practice that supersedes people’s well-being. But since it seems cutting employees off from nature hurts the financial bottom line, it’s just good business to tailor workplaces accordingly.

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly,, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information:

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