Green walls metabolize the toxins in the air, and release oxygen at a much higher rate than indoor plants alone. Within a period of 24 hours, the plants in the green wall can remove up to 87% of the toxins in the air. What’s more, green walls help to reduce energy costs incurred to adequately ventilate and control building temperature. Cooling the building by reducing surface temperatures in summer, and insulating them in winter, green walls lower air conditioning and heating costs.

As employee productivity comes to be increasingly linked to employee wellness, experts have been taking a closer look at what makes office goers unwell. One of the key aspects that seem to afflict many offices is the ‘Sick Building Syndrome’.

Understanding Sick Building Syndrome

The Environmental Protection Agency defines Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.”

Common complaints of those affected by poor office conditions include headaches, itchiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and throat irritation, none of which make for a successful workday. The symptoms often cease upon exiting the building. Aside from health-related reactions, Sick Building Syndrome can also contribute to an increase in absenteeism and stress and a reduction in work efficiency.

The Sick Building Syndrome is prevalent in most of the offices built in the last 30-40 years, with air-conditioning and heating systems becoming a corporate norm. Open windows become a thing of the past, and all high rises were built to keep their windows closed. Further, the office plans aimed to make maximum use of available space, putting people in close proximity, leading to a further deterioration of the indoor air quality.

The key causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Sick Building Syndrome can stem from a number of various causes, but there are four main groups. Studies done by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) measured how often these sources contribute to poor air quality indoors.

  • Inadequate ventilation (52% of cases): This is often an HVAC issue, as the system fails to distribute air properly throughout the building.
  • Chemical toxins originating from indoors (16% of cases): Indoor sources are actually to blame for a large majority of the air pollution in a building. Adhesives, manufactured wood, and even emissions from equipment such as copy machines can contain dangerous toxins including formaldehyde.
  • Chemical toxins originating from outdoors (10% of cases): Outdoor toxins include anything from automobile exhaust to plumbing vents. If your office’s intake vents are improperly positioned, they could be taking in this pollution from the outdoors and mixing it in with the air you breathe.
  • Biological pollutants (5%): Biological pollutants encompass some of the things you may already associate with sickness and allergies, such as bacteria, mold, and viruses. These toxins often breed in collections of stagnant water in insulation and ducts, underneath tiles, and more.

Studies state that by bringing a green wall into your office, you are not only making it more visually appealing but also helping to combat all of these toxins in the air, creating a much healthier workspace.

How can green walls help?

Within a period of 24 hours, the plants in a green wall can remove up to 87% of toxins in the air. Green walls (also commonly referred to as vertical gardens or living walls) metabolize the aforementioned toxins in the air, and release oxygen at a much higher rate than indoor plants alone.

Additionally, green walls help to reduce the energy costs incurred to adequately ventilate and control building temperature. Cooling the building by reducing wall surface temperatures in the summer, and insulating buildings in the winter cold, green walls help keep air conditioning and heating costs low.

Health benefits aside, green walls provide a connection to nature that is often missing from a traditional, sterile work environment. It is important for employees who are stuck at their desks or in conference rooms for eight hours per day to maintain this connection.

While these are factors that have made living walls rather popular among modern architects everywhere, there is another school of thought that is questioning the sustainability of these walls, as they are expensive to maintain.

In Australia, several iconic structures have made the living wall a part of its innate architecture, raising questions about what will happen to this structure if the wall is not well maintained in the future. Also given the vast financial and human resources needed to maintain these walls, do these massive green surfaces ultimately remain sustainable in the long run?

While the arguments and discussions continue behind closed doors, the living wall continues to add gusts of fresh air to the surroundings wherever it is placed. Join us to discover some interesting ones that have made news.