There are numerous benefits to having indoor plants in your office or at home, but can they really clean the air? In our first Myth busters post, we explore this question and other ways indoor plants can benefit your business.
The modern lifestyle has changed the amount of time we spend outside. Gone are the days when people spent 8-12 hours working outside. These days we spend most of our working life (and often our leisure time) indoors. In fact, current estimates have some of us spending up to 90% of our lives indoors. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a lockdown-adjusted statistic, but in fact, that number was published before the days of social distancing, which means that the chances are good that the percentage would be even higher now.
My mother used to tell me to “Go outside and get some fresh air” a lot while I was growing up, and it turns out she was right. Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Association (EPA) show that indoor environments can have higher pollution levels than pollution levels outside. Indoor air quality (IAQ) can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Yes, you read that correctly – up to 5 times more polluted!
Why worry about indoor air quality?
Poor IAQ comes with a significant cost, as indoor air pollutants increase the risk of illness. The EPA estimates that poor indoor air may cost tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care, and that was before we knew that about COVID-19’s capacity to be transmitted through the air.
For office workers, the threat of airborne Coronavirus has thus served to further heighten air quality concerns in the workplace. An international office survey on air quality conducted by Rentokil Initial in 2020 found that 67% of respondents thought that there was an opportunity to improve air quality in their workplace. Even more interesting, 23% of respondents from Singapore would go so far as to decline a job if the air quality in the office was poor during their interview.
Causes of poor IAQ:
If we ignore the looming spectre of airborne Coronavirus for just a moment, the next most concerning cause of indoor air problems is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are emitted as gases from common household products such as paints, varnishes, cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and when they are stored. Inhaling VOCs can cause unpleasant symptoms and health problems, like headaches, nausea, eye, nose, and throat irritation and damage to your kidney, liver, and central nervous system.
At Ambius, we have always maintained that one of the ways to improve indoor air quality is with the use of indoor plants. But do plants really clean the air, and are there other, more effective ways of doing this?
Can indoor plants actually purify the air?
Frequently cited is the 1980s study done by NASA which supports the idea that plants can purify the air of pollutants and allergens. In the NASA study, plants were found to remove pollutants in a small, sealed chamber. However, some researchers believe that the number of plants you would need to truly purify the air in larger spaces is between 10 and 100 plants per square meter to clean the air, as well as a filter.
“Plants remove minuscule amounts of pollution from indoor air,” says Richard Corsi, PhD, a professor of engineering & computer science at Portland State University who studies indoor air quality. “You would probably only see effects from plants if you were in a small, airtight vessel like a spaceship or submarine”.
So should I bother with indoor plants?
The short answer is absolutely! There are many plants that have been shown to be successful in removing harmful toxins from the air we breathe. No plant will completely rid the air of any harmful chemicals, but they are certainly valuable soldiers in the fight.
Whilst plants may not be as effective at purifying the air as an actual HEPA filter air purifier, there are all sorts of other benefits that also come from filling your office with indoor plants. Humans have an instinctive desire to see and be close to nature. In fact, there’s a whole science around it — biophilia. We experience less stress when there are plants around us. Buildings are quieter and more relaxed but, at the same time, more stimulating and interesting.
A substantial body of academic research has shown conclusively that interior landscaping has dramatic effects on the wellbeing of building occupants. Indoor plants make people more productive, take fewer sick days, make fewer mistakes and they are happier when their environment is enhanced by interior plants. Patients in hospitals benefit greatly from being more in touch with nature and there is even some evidence to show that students perform better when the ambience of the learning environment is improved.
Are there quicker, more effective ways of purifying the air?
Because plants aren’t necessarily the quickest way to clean indoor air, why not invest in a combination of indoor plants and an air purifier? Air purifiers work by passing indoor air through specialized filters that trap harmful particles like pollutants and airborne allergens that cause hay fever, including pollen, dust mite particles and pet dander. Ambius can assist you with choosing the right air purifier for your specific needs.
Contact Ambius today to find out how we can help create a safe, hygienic and welcoming office space to which colleagues want to return.