We all love plants in the office. But why? What exactly is it about plants that we love, and is there an objective reason why a business or organization should allocate resources to purchase and maintain plants in the office environment?

According to multiple studies, there indeed are objective and measurable benefits to having plants in the office or workplace. Plants actually increase the productivity of workers and employees. In addition, plants also improve human health. Although not directly supported by evidence, it is tempting to speculate that the improvement in human health is one of the main reasons for the boost in productivity, since people who feel healthier are less distracted by health issues and can concentrate better on their work.

Office Plants Boost Productivity

Imagine what could happen if your workers can get 12 percent more accomplished by the end of each workday. In a first-ever study of its kind, “Interior Plants May Improve Worker Productivity and Reduce Stress in a Windowless Environment”, researchers at Washington State University ran an experiment on human participants in a windowless computer lab. The participants were asked to perform a computer task where graphical images were shown on the computer monitor screen and the participant must press a key on the keyboard that correctly identifies each image. The goal was to press the correct key as quickly as possible for each image shown on the screen. Each participant was graded and scored, and the results were analyzed. The participants were also split into two groups. The first group of participants was surrounded by plants. The second group was not surrounded by plants.

The result was an astounding 12 percent faster reaction time on the computer task among those surrounded by plants versus those who were not surrounded by plants. This was interpreted as a significant increase in productivity.

But that’s not all. The study also found a significant decrease in stress levels in the participants who were surrounded by plants versus those who were not. This was confirmed by systolic blood pressure and pulse readings measured before, during, and after the computer task performed by each participant.

A third finding from this study is that plants also increase attention. Before and after the computer task, each participant was asked a series of questions, one of which was whether or not the participant feels “attentive”. Before the experiment, both groups of participants reported the same level of attentiveness. After the experiment, however, those who were surrounded by plants reported feeling significantly more attentive, while those who were not surrounded by plants reported no increase in attentiveness.

The participants of this study comprised a total of 96 university students and employees.

Why Do Office Plants Increase Productivity?

One possible reason why office plants increase productivity is that office plants lead to better health. There are a couple of lines of evidence supporting a relationship between plants and human health as explained below.

Plants Purify The Air. As incredible as it may sound, plants actually improve the air quality of indoor environments. In the late 1960s, an environmental scientist named B. C. “Bill” Wolverton, while working with the U.S. military, discovered that plants actually clean up toxic impurities from the air. He found that swamp plants were eliminating the toxic chemical Agent Orange from water. Further followup investigation showed that plants can also remove toxic compounds from the air.

In addition, Wolverton worked with NASA in 1973 to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air inside the Skylab space station. NASA had previously found that VOCs were leaching from synthetic materials used to construct Skylab. These VOCs included formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, which are all known irritants and potential carcinogens. But after Wolverton’s plants were introduced into Skylab, most of the VOCs were gone. The symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome, which the inhabitants of Skylab were suffering, had also disappeared.

The mechanism by which plants remove toxic compounds from air, Wolverton explains, is that plants emit water vapor that pulls contaminated air toward the plant’s roots. The contaminants in the air are then converted into food for the plant. Wolverton also found that by circulating more air through the roots of the plants, the plants become more effective at cleaning polluted air.

Since those initial discoveries, Wolverton has teamed with a Japanese company named Actree Corporation to develop a product named EcoPlanter. This is a special pot that circulates air through the plant’s roots, which allows the plant to remove 200 times more VOCs than an ordinary potted plant.

Here are the best plants for removing contaminants from the air in your office:

Rubber Tree Plant (Fiscus Elastica)

Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

Aloe (Aloe vera)

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Plants Improve Humidity. The recommended range of humidity for human health and comfort is 30% to 60%. Since humidity affects quality of respiration, some people have a need for humid air. It is well known that plants release water into the air, thereby increasing humidity. But do plants release enough water into the air to make a significant difference to human experience and health?

To answer this, a study conducted at Washington State University found that interior plants placed around the sides of a room for a one week period increased humidity significantly. In one case, humidity without plants was 25% while humidity with plants was 30%. This study was reported in an article entitled, “The contribution of interior plants to relative humidity in an office” in the book, “The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-being and Social Development” by Diane Relf.

Conclusion

It is obvious that having plants in the office brightens people’s moods and makes us all feel better. What is not so obvious is the exact reason why. There is, however, a strong link between plants and human health. In particular, plants remove impurities from the air. This leads to a higher sense of well-being, comfort, and health. As a result, we can all concentrate better on our work and become more productive.

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