More than 50% of people on the planet now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. That’s not natural. We’ve spent billions of years hanging out in the bush and now, concrete jungles, fluorescent lights, air-conditioned offices, cars, busses, mobile phones. It’s really a big transition. Around 90% of the people in urban jungles are still acting like Gorilla’s taken from the forest and stuck in the city. A big transition is needed. And that’s what my company offers. Transition Conferences for teams and groups.
Urbanisation is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Through controlled experiments it has been shown, that a nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Plus, improved stress recovery rates, lower blood pressure, improved cognitive functions, enhanced mental stamina and focus, decreased violence and criminal activity, elevated moods, and increased learning rates.
These are the costs of participating in the urban economy. Your increased income is canceled out by increased expenditure. In the end, you have even less left for food. —Madhura Swaminathan, economist at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute
These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanising world. But that’s bucking the trend. We’re on a train track heading toward Urbanisation – it’s where the money is, the theatres are, the cafe’s the friends and families. So, let’s stop kidding ourselves. We’re caught between two worlds: where we were just a few hundred years ago, digging carrots and chopping up cows for lunch and now, ordering gluten free meat with vegan substitutes.
We need both. In my transition conferences I share
“it’s a matter of taking what works and bringing it forward, and what doesn’t work gets left behind.”
That sounds simple enough… but sometimes we need to be very discerning about what we bring…
BIOPHILIA – Nature and it’s Relevance to Your Quality of Life
Whether it’s transitioning your business, your relationship, your team skills or even transitioning your life from 49 to 50 years of age, I’m Australia’s and maybe the world’s leader in transitioning, I specialise guiding real people through challenging transitions,
But if we keep causing ourselves trouble we are going to be in one long, never ending bundle of misery. The Urban Gorilla
I’ll show you how to Transition to Prevent becoming The URBAN GORILLA
Study after study used to demonstrate the essential benefits of nature based environments, biophilic thinking and connection to nature to business, sport, family, performance and individual health. We support our work through research, writing and ongoing population of social media with appropriate data.
In order to elevate conversations and help clients break new ground in thinking creatively about environmental opportunities we have embarked on a campaign since 1986, to network with like minded leaders, specialists and executives who recognise the declining health of urbanisation and therefore the need to invest in environmental connectivity within their organisational strategy and wellbeing policies.
We have worked to shape the outcome of large-scale planning and design projects around the world. We name the Canadian Government as one such innovator in environmental technologies for human development. We have completed works with private companies, public institutions, indigenous communities and government agencies on a variety of project types.
Why We Need to Introduce Harmonic Thinking into Our Lives
Urbanisation has many benefits, but it also is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness.
This suggestion is supported by a growing body of correlational and experimental evidence, which raises a further question: what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness?
One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses.
It has been shown that in healthy participants a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity.
In other studies, the sgPFC has been associated with a self-focused behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination in both depressed and healthy individuals.
The current studies conclude that there is a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. However, as urbanisation grows, this will become more challenging. The solution is to find what is transpiring in nature and bring it home.
This is the work of Harmonic Thinking and Innerwealth Technologies
The Economic benefits of Harmonic Thinking – Environmental Factors in Organisational Leadership and Development
Biophilia, the innate human attraction to nature, is a concept that has been recognized for several decades by the scientific and design communities, and intuitively for hundreds of years by the population at large. Biophilic design has often been regarded as a luxury for property owners who want the best possible workplace for their employees, or who want to showcase their efforts to be more environmentally responsible.
In reality, improving community well-being through biophilia can impact productivity costs and the bottom line.
Today productivity costs are 112 times greater than energy costs in the workplace. We believe that incorporating nature into the mental health and productivity environment is not just a luxury, but a sound economic investment in health and productivity, based on well- researched neurological and physiological evidence.
I will share several examples of small investments involving very low or no up-front cost, such as providing employees access to nature mind, day walks, outdoor meetings, plants, natural views, daylight, and other biophilic design elements that have returned measurable economic reward in productivity and lowered health, absentee and retention costs.
These measures provide very healthy returns.
Small physical gains like integrating quality daylighting schemes into an office space can save over $2,000 per employee per year in office costs. The investment is large and the return is small, but socially conscious in power and environment savings. However, over $93 million could be saved annually in some organisations, including management and healthcare costs as a result of providing office workers with views to nature, nature mind, and walking spaces.
These examples, based on scientific research, serve to demonstrate the financial potential for a large-scale deployment of biophilic design. Whether it is for the purpose of boosting productivity, improving test scores, creating retail outlets with higher sales, or simply to lower health costs in organisations, Innerwealth Technology makes the business case for incorporating biophilia into the places where we live and work.
Specific And Targeted Environmental Improvement
Recent advancement in our understanding of natural systems, coupled with a growing understanding of the subtle neurological and physiological functions associated with contact with nature, have allowed us to identify the elements of Harmonic Thinking. With this we have strategies to increase economic gains, improve productivity, and strengthen the social fabric of communities without leaving town. Although the cognitive benefits of biophilia are still well studied by the scientific community, the economic benefits of biophilia thinking usually accrued anecdotally or through trial and error. With Harmonic thinking in place, this improvement is changing rapidly.
In the last twenty years, studies examining the human attraction to nature have yielded convincing evidence that link interactions with nature with positive gains in productivity, increased healing rates, and even enhanced learning comprehension, in a wide range of sectors.
These investments in health and productivity may affect more sectors than initially anticipated. The monetary gains from providing people access to biophilic design elements as well as biophilic thought modelling, produced results ranging from unforeseen productivity improvements, astounding results in lowered health costs, remarkable sales boosts in retail stores, to taxpayer savings stemming from improved student test scores, to safer urban communities.
In order to understand the case for utilizing biophilic design, it is crucial to discuss how productivity, health, and well-being can be measured—ranging from reduced absenteeism to greater worker satisfaction—and translated into dollar savings.
Our investigation into “human capital management” will provide the foundation to understand why society can no longer afford to ignore the value of nature. Highlighting specific case studies will then provide insight into how best management practices in biophilic design can render productivity gains through smart yet simple natural management and design strategies.
Humans have evolved in the larger context of the natural environment, and we have developed to respond to these natural surroundings. In fact, our ancestors remained hunter-gatherers whose dwellings were seamlessly integrated into their natural surroundings until fairly recently in human development. As a result, our development has been entrained by sensory interactions with nature and familiarity with the spatial properties. Biophilia is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. But in the age of the Industrial Revolution, and now the “Digital Revolution” a transformative shift towards urbanisation, fabrication, and isolation from nature has ushered in a departure from traditional nature based practices and the active interaction with the natural world that accompanied them. More and more, workers have become more familiar with the conveyor belt and the computer screen in a cubicle than with the characteristics of the natural world.
The Current Reality
In 1976, a group of Ecologists, including myself, realised the implications of this departure from nature and consequently pioneered a new school of thought focused on the need to bring humans back in contact with nature. “Biophilia,” Edward O. Wilson an American biologist, described biophilia as “the innately emotional af liation of human beings to other living organisms.” He added, “life around us exceeds in complexity and beauty anything else humanity is ever likely to encounter” (Wilson, 1984).
The concept of biophilia implies that humans hold a biological need for connection with nature on physical, mental, and social levels, and that this connection affects our personal well-being, productivity, and societal relationships. Whether one is engaging with nature by walking through a park, by interacting with animals, or simply by having a view of greenery from one’s home or place of work, biophilia has many applications that help transform mundane settings into stimulating environments.
Although the concept of biophilia is relatively straightforward to grasp, the neurological and physiological underpinnings and their impacts on the environment are critical for one to truly appreciate its value. The millions of neural channels in our brain link to the human body’s autonomic nervous system. This system consists of two elements: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system stimulates the human body when cognitive function is needed. The parasympathetic system serves to relax the body, and is used for internal processes such as digestion.
When the body’s natural balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic is achieved, the body is in the ideal state of homeostasis. In chaotic and unsettling environments, the body’s sympathetic system is highly engaged in a “ fight-or- flight” mindset. Concurrently, the parasympathetic system is suppressed, disrupting our natural balance and resulting in energy drain and mental fatigue.
This combination induces stress, frustration, irritability, and distraction. In contrast, human interaction with nature provides an increase in parasympathetic activity resulting in better bodily function and reduced sympathetic activity. The result is decreased stress and irritability, and the increased ability to concentrate.
The Neuroscience of Nature Mind and Health
Neuroscientists have found that views of complex, dynamic natural scenes trigger many more interactions of the mu (opioid) receptors in the large rear portion of the visual cortex. Viewing nature is literally a pleasurable experience. Views with less visual richness, such as a blank wall or a tree-less street, are processed in the small forward portion of the visual cortex and trigger far fewer of the mu receptors, triggering less pleasurable mental reactions (Biederman & Vessel, 2006). In contrast, movement in a natural setting, such as waves, leaves in a breeze, sh swimming in an aquarium, or a flickering fire, capture and hold our attention.
Other physiological effects of exposure to nature are well documented. For example, the effects of walking through forest atmospheres versus urban areas have been documented by comparing the salivary cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate of subjects. On average, salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) was 13.4-15.8% lower, pulse rate was reduced by 3.9-6.0%, and systolic blood pressure was lower in individuals who walked through the forest, compared with those who walked through urban areas. Most impressive, overall parasympathetic activity— which occurs when we feel relaxed— increased by 56.1%, whereas sympathetic activity—which occurs when we feel stressed—decreased by 19.4% in subjects who walked through the forest (Park, 2010). These studies support Kaplan and Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART): that nature serves as a positive restorative environment for humans and is an effective platform for stress management, health promotion, psychotherapy, and disease deterrence.
Stress is a known cause of both mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases. According to the World Health Organization, mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases are expected to be the two prime contributing factors to illnesses worldwide by 2020 (WHO, 2008). Treatment for cardiovascular disorders account for $1 of every $6 spent on healthcare in America (cDc, 2011). If workers are faced with nowhere to relieve stress in the of ce, the premature onset of psychiatric, stress-induced, and anxiety-related illnesses can surface (cDc, 2011). Studies show that our ability to directly access nature can alleviate feelings of stress, thus bolstering the case for biophilia in the workplace (Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2010). Heartbeat has been measured in natural and urban environments in relation to spatially selective attention. After test subjects viewed videos of the two aforementioned environments, their heart beat interval results suggested that videos depicting natural environments had an involuntary relaxing effect on autonomic functions, inducing positive cardiac deceleration as well as bene cial physiological arousal (laumann et al., 2003).
Forest Bathing – Shinrin-yoku
Another emerging eld of research surrounding human interactions with nature, known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan, continues to provide solid evidence of the benefits of natural environments on human health.
Shinrin-yoku is the ancient Japanese practice of restorative walks through natural settings, most often forests. In English, Shinrin-yoku directly translates to “forest bathing”.
Forest bathing experiments were conducted among 87 non-insulin-dependent diabetics over the course of six years to test Shinrin-yoku’s ability to effectively decrease blood glucose levels in patients. After walking 3-6 kilometers in the forest, blood glucose levels dropped on average from 179 milligrams to 109 milligrams. To ensure that this was attributable to the forest environment, rather than simply the aerobic activity of walking, patients were also monitored while exercising on indoor treadmills and in indoor pools. compared with these forms of exercise, which effectively reduced blood glucose levels by 21.2%, forest bathing decreased blood glucose by an impressive 39.7% (Ohtsuka, 1998). Within forests, human hormonal secretion and autonomic nervous functions are stabilized as we breathe in organic compounds called phytoncides excreted by the forest.
New Shinrin-yoku studies show that inhaling these pungent compounds has tremendous health bene ts that are dif cult to reap in the urban and built environments that con ne so many individuals today.
Light and Nature
Our body’s response to daylight is another important clue as to how we can harness the power of biophilia. Daylight affects both our eye functions and our inherent circadian rhythms. light therapy works by exposing the retina to speci c wavelengths of light to treat imbalances of circadian rhythm—the daily cycle of hormonal activity observed in many living organisms. That balance is partially tied to the changing color of daylight over the course of a day. Morning light is yellow, becoming bluer in mid-day and shifting to red in the late afternoon. Exposure to natural light serves to balance our hormonal levels of serotonin (linked to our mood) and inhibit the production of melatonin (used to regulate sleep). When there is an imbalance of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies, our sleep-wake pattern is disturbed, which in turn inhibits our neurological and immune system functions. To enable our bodies to reach an optimal hormonal balance, natural daylighting provides the greatest amount of lux, or unit of luminance, and the speci c wavelengths of light needed by the human body to establish and maintain the serotonin-melatonin balance. Sunlight on a clear day is 500 to 1,000 times greater than arti cial lighting (Boyce, 2010). This is an important consideration while designing indoor environments to incorporate more natural light.
Environment Biophilia and Wellbeing at Work
These explanations of nervous system activity in mankind provide some of the fundamental physiological value of biophilia. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the neurological effects of nature deprivation as we interact less and less with nature on a daily basis due to the rise of a lifestyle led mainly indoors.
Greater Productivity – Less Costs – More Wellbeing
Researchers have investigated and widely documented various physiological and psychological effects of exposure to nature. The results of these studies—spanning recovery rates of hospital patients through retail sales trends affected by daylighting—often express increases in emotional value. However, the economic bene ts of reconnecting people to nature are often overlooked because of the dif culty of quantifying the variables associated with the positive outcomes. By assigning value to a variety of indictators in uenced by biophilic design, the business case for biophilia proves that disregarding humans’ inclination towards nature is simultaneously denying potential for positive nancial growth.
Over the last quarter century, case studies have documented the advantages of biophilic experiences, including improved stress recovery rates, lower blood pressure, improved cognitive functions, enhanced mental stamina and focus, decreased violence and criminal activity, elevated moods, and increased learning rates.
How do we take the evidence for these bene ts and translate them to economics? In the past, research groups have reported various metrics of productivity including revenue, billable hours, net income, and market share gained. current research uses both direct and indirect approaches.
Direct measures of productivity encompass quanti able reported values, for example, the number of customers served or calls taken during a given time period. These metrics can be assigned monetary values in their respective settings and directly converted to cost savings for a company or institution. Indirect measures, although seemingly intangible and unquanti able, are shown to have merit when examined in detail. Indirect measures of productivity include absenteeism, tardiness, hours worked, safety rule violations and other measures that add up quickly in a corporate budget (Miller, 2009). For this paper, indicators of productivity will include the following and will be translated into dollars where most applicable:
• Illness and absenteeism
• Staff retention
• Job performance (mental stress/fatigue) • Healing rates
• classroom learning rates
• Retail sales
• Violence statistics
When linked to the effects of a renewed connection with nature, these metrics show remarkable gains, upon which companies and institutions can capitalize. This paper aims to showcase the economic value in paying attention to biophilic design, not just as a luxury, but as a way to improve pro ts. In the pursuit of maximizing ef ciency while minimizing costs, emphasis on worker productivity is extremely undervalued.
In the last decade, American psychologists have aggregated the five strongest requirements for basic functioning that, if neglected, can trigger worker comprehension problems and dissatisfaction in the of ce space (Kellert, 2008). These are:
- Need for change (varying temperature, air, light, etc.)
- Ability to act on the environment and see the effects
- Meaningful stimuli (stagnant atmospheres cause an onset of chronic stress)
- One’s own territory to provide safety, an identity, and protection
- View to the outside world
Elzeyadi’s study at the University of Oregon found that 10% of employee absences could be attributed to architectural elements that did not connect with nature, and that a person’s view was the primary predictor of absenteeism. Features like green roofs can provide excellent views to nature even in commercial, urban settings.
Cost Reduction can be achieved with biophilia
More than 90% of a company’s operating costs are linked to human resources, and nancial losses due to absenteeism and presenteeism account for 4%. Commercial spaces that give occupants access to nature serve as a release to outside stresses, and tend to cause less environmental stress themselves. It makes financial sense for companies to try to eliminate environmental stress that cost them thousands of dollars per year in employee costs.
Reducing Presenteeism – Not Turning Up
The results of poor indoor environments also have financial implications in the form of “presenteeism.” Presenteeism describes the phenomenon in which workers clock in for work, but are mentally removed from the workplace, causing labor-related financial losses for the company.
Presenteeism can result from sleepiness, headaches, colds, and asthmatic drain, if air supply is poor. But it is mostly due to emotional and mental distraction caused by:
- Domestic challenges
- Mental strain
- Loss of motivation
- Disillusionment with management
- Health issues
Presenteeism costs employers in the private sector $938 and employers in the public sector $1,250, per employee per year (USA) and estimated double this figure in Australia and Canada. For a company with 100 employees, this equates to over US $100,000 lost per year in unproductive time at work. Providing access to natural daylighting, outdoor views, and natural ventilation can reduce eyestrain, relieve mental fatigue and return workers’ attention to their work but it is a minor shift compared to the focus and mental results achieved in Biophilic Mind.
Examples of Environmental Biophilic Design for Productivity
These new research results are shifting the trend toward better building design, using biophilia to revolutionize the way employers attract employees. Major companies, such as Herman Miller, use their lush landscape and green building to entice top candidate employees to join their organisation.
The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Manhattan was designed to ensure that 90% of all employees had views to parks, green roofs and/or rivers, speci cally to create an iconic building with the explicit purpose of attracting and retaining the best employees.
ING Bank directors shared a vision for their new 538,000 square foot headquarters in Amsterdam. The focus of the building design was to maximize natural lighting, integrate organic art, and install water features to enhance the productivity of its workers while also creating a new image for the bank. The productivity savings in this case were astounding: absenteeism decreased by 15% after construction was completed. Employees looked forward to coming to work and voluntarily tended to the natural features in the of ce (Romm & Browning, 1994). The bank additionally saved an estimated $2.6 million per year after all energy system and daylighting units were installed. Overall, ING’s image as a progressive and creative bank corresponded with the growth of users who decided to switch to ING as their primary bank, bumping it from the fourth most popular bank to the second most popular bank in the Netherlands (Romm & Browning, 1994).
Recent research from neuroscience and endocrinology show the crucial role that experiencing nature has for our physiological well-being. Implementing biophilic design into our workplaces, healthcare system, educational environments and communities is not just a nice amenity. It has profound economic benefits.
New York city’s Gross city Product (NYc GcP) is about $540 billion annually (New York city At-A-Glance, 2011 Update). Of that amount, we estimated the amount that is produced by workers in of ce environments. We assumed that workers in the nance, insurance, real estate, information, and other professional and business services categories generally work in of ce buildings. Those categories of the NYc GcP add up to approximately $157 billion. While a small number of the salaries earned in those sectors may not be in of ce environments, this estimate is almost certainly a low estimate of the portion of the city’s salaries earned in of ces, as we left out all employees in the health care sector, government, and other categories that employ many people in of ces. Private rms experience an absenteeism rate of about 3% (US Department of labor, 2010). Multiplying by our conservative estimate of the portion of NYc GcP earned in of ce environments, we calculated that the lost productivity value of absent employees who work in of ce buildings in New York city is about $4.7 billion. Studies have shown that biophilic work environments can reduce about 10% of workers’ absenteeism (Elzeyadi, 2011). Therefore, biophilic work environments could help New York city recoup $470 million in reduced absenteeism.