Over the last few years, well-being has become a crucial aspect of contemporary office designs. What was once viewed as a luxury is now an essential part of a workspace. Functionality and comfort have taken precedence and modern workplaces now have biophilic design at their heart. A scientific field of research about the human connection to nature, Biophilia examines how incorporating nature into built environments can improve health and well-being of humans. But does it really work? How much does it cost to create a biophilic design? What does the economics of biophilia look like and does it provide results?
An administrative office building at the University of Oregon was the subject of a 2011 study where 39% of the offices had no outside view, 30% of the offices overlooked trees and landscape and 31% overlooked a street, building, and car park. The employees with the natural view took on average 57 hours of sick leave a year whereas the employees who had no outside view took 68 hours of sick leave annually. The employees in offices that overlooked a street, building, and car park ranked between both. The findings are hard to ignore since workplace absence costs economies billions of dollars every year.
In research by Giancarlo Mangone, Colin A. Capaldi, Z. Allen, and P. Luscuere, 64 knowledge workers were exposed to images of natural outdoor and constructed indoor workspaces to examine their preferences and perceptions of different natural and constructed (built) environments. The workers were told to select where they thought they would best and least be able to perform different workplace activities. Natural outdoor spaces were overrepresented as the best spaces for around 75% of the workplace activities and were underrepresented as the worst spaces across all workplace activities. Biophilic spaces are not just creative and productive but have been associated with positive emotional and physical health outcomes.
The human inclination towards nature has been recognized for several decades and providing employees access to greenery, natural views, daylight, water, and other natural materials involves a very small investment. And the returns it provides are incredible. According to The Economics of Biophilia, integrating views to nature into an office space can save over $2,000 per employee per year in office costs, whereas over $93 million could be saved annually in healthcare costs as a result of providing patients with views to nature.
Biophilic intervention in a public authority building in Sacramento was found to save three times the cost of its installation in an experiment. The office located in one of the upper floors had large windows overlooking the trees and the desks in the office were arranged perpendicular to them. The employees had to turn their bodies to see the view. By rotating the desks a few degrees towards the windows, movement in the trees outside became perceptible in the occupants’ peripheral vision. This meant that the employees could glance out of the windows, relax their eyes which provided them with brief mental pauses that restored cognitive focus. The desk moving exercise cost $1000 per occupant, but their call handling capabilities increased by more than 6%, resulting in savings of around $3,000 per occupant.
From boosting productivity in office spaces to allowing patients to heal quickly in hospitals, from improving test scores of school children to driving higher sales in retail environments, biophilic designs are not just improving the well-being of communities but are impacting productivity costs and bottom lines. Numerous scientific research have demonstrated the financial potential of biophilic designs.