Office air quality

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Use indoor plants to improve office air quality

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By choosing plants for the office, you're helping to clear the indoor environment of pollutants, thereby reducing air-related employee illnesses, decreasing staff stress levels, cutting heating and cooling costs, and improving productivity.

Find it! Plant care service providers

Soothe your fears about dying plants languishing in your office or overgrown bushes out front by hiring plant professionals to care for your company's greenery.

  • Green Plants for Green Buildings: This organization started with the aim of providing education to facility and property managers about the benefits of plants in interior spaces. It now has a listing of plant pros throughout the country.
  • PLANET - Professional Landcare Network: This is an international association for lawn care professionals, landscape management contractors, interior plantscapers, and more.

How to use purifying plants at the office

  1. Place two to three plants in each room, one for every 100 square feet. Spice it up and use a variety of air-cleaning plants.
  2. Plants don’t always have to live right beside windows. Since many originated in the shade of tropical forests, they do well in all corners of the office.
  3. Take care of your plants and they’ll take care of you. A lot of the air cleaning occurs from the roots of the plant, so keep the soil or root area clear. And be sure to avoid overwatering, which can cause mold growth, resulting in decreased indoor air quality.

Top ten air cleaning plants

All plants improve the quality of indoor air, since they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. But some are particularly effective at purifying indoor air because they absorb pollutants. Most of these originated in the tropics, where they grow beneath dense canopies in low light so they're very efficient at processing the gases necessary for photosynthesis; because of this, they have great ability to absorb all gases. In addition, most of these are fairly easy to grow and resist insects, as well.

  • Lady palm
  • Spider plant
  • Dwarf date palm
  • Bamboo palm
  • Sword fern
  • Areca palm
  • Blue daisy
  • American rubber plant
  • Boston fern
  • Blue-eyed daisy

Note: If your office regularly receives visits from children or animals, be choosy about plant selections. A number of species are toxic for young kids and pets, so make sure that a plant is safe before you bring it into your office. All the plants listed above have been screened by Saferhouses.co.uk, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and poison control centers to determine that they are safe for youngsters, as well as cats and dogs.

Choosing plants that purify the indoor air helps you go green because...

  • Aside from the fact that plants literally bring green into your office, they work to detoxify the indoor environment from outgassing of chemicals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
  • Plants release oxygen and humidity into the air, which is healthy and makes the indoor air more like natural outdoor air.
  • By making the indoor air as pure as possible, you reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that escape from your office into the outside air.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites indoor air pollution as one of the top five public health threats in America due to artificial materials like synthetic fibers and plastic, which emit harmful formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, and other VOCs.[1] In a recent study, the Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, found that 40 percent of all office sick days are related to poor indoor air quality and that the presence of plants could save $58 billion per year by preventing Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), and save another $200 billion in improved worker performance.[2]

Placing plants in rooms has been found to purify indoor air,[3] while also reducing stress and increasing the aesthetic value of office buildings.[4] In addition to getting rid of noxious gases and reducing carbon dioxide,[5] plants also produce oxygen and balance the indoor humidity, resulting in air that is more like natural outdoor air.[6]

In the 1970s, a US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study found that certain plants help with specific chemicals—spider plants and golden pothos remove carbon monoxide and formaldehyde and peace lilies are particularly good at eliminating benzene and TCE.[7] The book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office by B. C. Wolverton offers comprehensive guidance on plant choices.

Plants also have many psychological benefits. Studies done by Dr. Roger Ulrich at Texas A&M University found that by simply adding flowers and plants to indoor office spaces, employee creativity increased and problem solving skills sharpened—up to 12 percent in some cases.[8][9] In a similar study, Dr. Virginia Lohr of Washington State University found that the presence of plants reduced stress and increased reaction times by close to 12 percent.[10] Additional plant pluses include lower heating and cooling costs, improved building appearance, and fewer employee destractions.[4]

Controversies

Although Wolverton’s work strongly suggests that indoor plants can reduce cases of poor indoor air quality and SBS,[11] the EPA maintains that they cannot remove significant enough quantities of common pollutants in homes and offices to make a noticeable difference.[12] EPA officials acknowledge that plants remove carbon dioxide and that they can also reduce pollutants to a certain level, but insist that until further, real-life studies have been conducted, conclusions about plants’ abilities to control indoor air pollutants cannot be made.[13]

Glossary

  • outgassing: The slow release of a gas that was trapped or absorbed in material. Outgassing has lately been considered a possible cause of SBS.
  • Sick Building Syndrome (SBS): Alternately referred to as Tight Building Syndrome (TBS), Building-Related Illness (BRI), and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), SBS occurs when a building’s occupants exhibit illnesses such as dry, irritated eyes, nose, throat, and skin; fatigue; shortness of breath, coughing, and sneezing; dizziness and nausea; as well as headache and sinus congestion.[14]
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Elements that significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere; they can be found indoors in materials like paint and plastics. VOCs can be harmful, contributing in some cases to SBS, where people suffer health effects from outgassing chemicals in the materials in buildings.

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