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Combating Sick Building Syndrome With Plants

Posted by Celine Kate from EcoQube on

Your building might be sick...

Have you ever worked in a building feeling feverish with a runny nose while maxed out on sick leave?

Perhaps you feel a constant lack of energy? A sore throat and dry eyes?

Well, it might not just be you but could also be everyone working with you in the same building!

Sick Building Syndrome is a name given to a condition that collectively describes any enclosed space with poor indoor air quality, leading to numerous immuno-respiratory issues.

The reason behind this anomaly is still unknown, even today. If 20% of your workforce has been having recurring health issues hampering their productivity, your building might be one of the "sick buildings".

How do you know if it really is a sick building? The symptoms of these impending illnesses subside when you leave from work.

Your symptoms tend to improve after leaving the building and immediately come back after returning to the exact same location.

According to a study published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, poor indoor air breathability isn't just for 50+ year-old buildings with moldy smell and dusty carpets. In fact, 30% of newly-erected and refurbished buildings are labeled as being "sick".



Apart from SBS affecting your immuno-respiratory system, it can also create an impact on your skin and your neurological health. It starts manifesting through a cold or flu, and gradually can be seen through other health issues.


Here are the most common symptoms:

  • sore throat

  • runny nose

  • sneezing

  • eye and skin dryness

  • a headache

  • triggered allergic rhinitis or skin asthma

  • chills

  • fever

  • shortness of breath

  • the tightness of the chest

Catching these symptoms won’t be fun, so it’s important to know what causes sick building syndrome to try to avoid becoming sick in the first place.

Sick Building Syndrome- Causes and Culprits

The exact cause of SBS is unknown.

However, more and more research points to one potential culprit in particular - poor indoor air quality.

According to the American Society of Heating, there are a lot of factors that can lead to poor air quality.

Polluting factors include indoor combustion from second-hand smoke, exhaust, and heaters. It can also come from HVACs and air-conditioning units emitting by-products that can pollute the air.

The buildup of carbon monoxide is another culprit which stems from water heaters and furnaces. Chemicals that pose serious health risks such as benzene, formaldehyde, styrene, and toluene can also be present.


Can Plants Alleviate Sick Building Syndrome?

Modern workspaces now embrace the idea of using plants to decorate offices.

Moreover, putting plants in workspaces where stress in an inevitable issue provides workers a quick way to unwind.

But can plants alleviate the impact of sick building syndrome?

One study entitled "Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health" showed how adding a form of greenery to workplaces could have positive returns, both physiologically and psychologically. This study applies to remote workers too. It concludes that"wellness by design" could be implemented through contact with nature.

The Human Spaces report also helped show how plants could help overall wellness of office workers.Studying 7,600 offices across 16 countries, the study found that 58% of workers have no live plants placed in their workplaces.

People that are lucky enough to have live plants in their office space were reported to have a 16% higher wellbeing rate and 6% higher productivity score than those who didn't.

Lastly, a small study commissioned by the Agricultural University of Norway back in 1990 unveiled even more surprising data about how plants could promote well-being in the workplace.

This study found out that there was a 25% decrease in symptoms of ill health in 60 participants incorporating plants into their workspaces.

Fatigue, inability to concentrate, and irritation to the skin, nose, and eyes are some problems that subsided after incorporating plants. The study showed that incorporation of plants lead to a huge improvement in neuropsychological symptoms with fatigue declining to 30%.





Through the first year of the study, 30 of the subjects enjoyed the presence of large floor plants placed near their office desks. Meanwhile, other subjects experienced bare offices without plants. By the second year, conditions were reversed between the two groups.

The study showed that symptoms of common cold were reduced by 24% when plants were added into workspaces. Coughs declined by 37%, and dry throats reduced by 25%. Lastly, dry and irritated skin symptoms were reduced by 23%.

The researchers that facilitated this study suggest that these health improvements are made possible by two factors: improved quality of indoor air and psychological impact of having a more inviting atmosphere. They suggest that the plants may have created a microclimate effect that resulted in more moisture in the workspace. This slight, yet healthy increase in moisture improved symptoms of recurring cough and cold,flushed, and dry skin.

A different study by Orwellin 2004 utilized a test chamber to observe how plants could purify the air, and found that they eliminated benzene within 24 hours.

Benzene can cause drowsiness, headaches, tremors, palpitations and brain fog when inhaled for several hours. Prolonged exposure to benzene can cause anemia, bone marrow deformation and can lead to cancer.

The study found that benzene could be eliminated with the help of leaves and soil microorganisms, acting like a biofiltration system.

Pretty crazy what plants can do, right?  

Nature-Inspired Work Spaces: Reducing The Psychological Impact of SBS


How would you like to work in an office that evokes the relaxing and calming appearance of nature?

The psychology behind the color green is believed to be associated with peace of mind, tranquility and the feeling of happiness.  

This is why numerous studies are conducted to see if design and the ornamentation of workplaces help in creating a positive vibe for offices. Some studies even looked into the overall performances of employees before and after plants are placed inside their office.

One 2014 study led by Dr. Chris Knight spent 10 years studying the issue of "toxic workplaces", and delved into how offices without plants could impact the psychological and physiological health of employees. The study uncovered that employees who actively engaged with plants in office space were 15% more productive than when compared to working in offices without plants.

He also found that adding a houseplant every square meter improved worker's memory retention which helped these employees perform better on the assessments they were given.

Further backing the idea that plants are a positive psychological factor in the workspace, a 2010 study originating from the University of Technology, Sydney found that adding plants could lead to significantly less stress among workers.




This study found that 38% of workplace workers admitted having significant reduction in fatigue through the incorporation of plants in the workspace, and 37% of workers claimed that they experienced less tension and anxiety.

One other report, the 2015 Human Spaces Report examined the impact of biophilic (nature-like) design in the workplace. Commissioned by Interface, a global modular flooring empire found that office spaces designed to mimic nature have amazing psychological impacts.

The Human Spaces global study involved 7,600 office employees across 16 countries, shedding a limelight on biophilic design and its impact on workers.

The data collected from the study demonstrated that 85% of global corporate employees spent between 40-49 hours working every week.

Work environments that featured natural elements were reported to have a 15% increase in employee well-being. In addition, they were found to be 6% more productive, and 15% more creative after their workspaces were decorated with plants.

Work can be an integral part of our everyday lives. Health is another.

The stress and frustration we might get from our workplaces can be detrimental to our health. To achieve peak performance while maintaining optimal health, adding plants to a barren workspace could help reduce the chance of getting sick..




Sick building syndrome is one of the lesser known problems that arise from the workplace. Little did people know how detrimental this can be to anyone health. While professional intervention is required, prevention is always better than cure. Through the help of these plants- toxins present within the air can be eliminated gradually.

Combating the sick building syndrome requires different steps to mitigate the risks. Putting indoor plants minimizes the threshold to getting serious diseases brought by the sick building syndrome



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