The global impact of biophilic design in the workplace

08Jan 16
Shot of a man tending to the plants in his nursery

Should a ‘work’ place be any different from the other spaces people inhabit? The relationship between individuals and their environment can be a crucial determinant of how they feel, perform and interact with others. So, designing spaces that inspire, energize and support the people who use them is a global imperative.

People’s connection to nature – biophilia – is an emergent field that can help organizations meet that challenge. This unique study explores the relationship between psychological well-being, work environments and employee expectations on a global scale for the first time.Biophilia, a concept first popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 19841, describes the innate relationship between humans and nature, and concerns the need we have to be continually connected to nature. Plenty of research confirms this human preference for the natural, rather than built, environment2. For example, in a 2004 study, when asked to describe their ideal city, people more often chose non-urban characteristics, greenery in particular3, and in other studies it has been shown that a pleasant and natural view can raise the price of a house considerably4.

Although it has been proposed that this desire for a connection with nature is the result of an anti-urban bias combined with a romantic view of nature, environmental psychology research tells us that being connected to nature, is in fact, an adaptive human function that allows for, and assists with, psychological restoration5.

This means that within an urbanized environment, bringing in elements that allow direct nature connection (such as parks and lakes) or indirect connections (i.e., interior design using natural elements, nature-resembling colours and patterns, indoor plants and views of greenery) can help us to mentally recover and provide respite from our day-to-day activities, to maintain positive well-being.


1. Wellbeing

A key factor in maintaining positive well-being is reducing levels of stress. Research has identified that visible connections to nature can have a positive effect on an individual’s reported stress levels. In a review of numerous studies looking at the effects of different landscapes on health, it was found that natural landscapes had a more positive effect compared to urban landscapes6.

In fact, in some cases, urban landscapes had a negative effect. According to our findings, this is certainly the case in France, where views of natural scenes such as greenery, wildlife and even ocean views were linked to the greatest levels of well-being among office workers and window views of urban scenes, such as roads and buildings were linked to a lower sense of well-being.

Our data shows that, in Canada, the provision of green space is important in ensuring that workers’ well-being is at a positive level. This is supported in recent empirical research that looked at the associations between well-being and nature connectedness among a student population. Significant associations emerged, showing that when people were connected to nature in both their internal and external environment, they reported much greater levels of well-being7.

Our analysis has shown that perceptions of well-being can increase by up to 15% when people work in surroundings that incorporate natural elements, providing that connection to nature, in contrast to those who have no contact to nature in their workplace. An increase of this size is certainly significant with such a large sample that is representative of the global population. For well-being to increase this dramatically is evidence of the power of biophilic design in the workplace and the positive impact that this can have on employees.


Natural elements positively linked to well-being at work:

  • Nature views: Having no window view was significantly related to greater levels of reported stress. In contrast, window views of greenery and water were linked with lower levels of stress.
  • Accent colours: Employee well-being is positively impacted by offices that incorporate nature-resembling colours such as green, blue and brown. It was also found that the use of gray colours within the workspace had a significant negative impact on employees’ levels of stress.
  • Nature within the workspace: Across the world, those who work in offices that provide natural light, live plants and greenery along with water features, report significantly higher levels of well-being than those who work in environments devoid of nature.
  • Light and spacious workspaces: Those who report that their work environment provides a sense of light and space report greater levels of well-being in comparison to those who do not feel that their work environment is light and spacious.



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