The Biophilia hypothesis suggests that people have an inherent “urge to affiliate with other forms of life” (Wilson, 1984); an innate drive, as it were, to interact with nature. This has been the suggested motivation as to why people for millennia have sought to decorate their indoor space with plants, objects and depictions of nature and natural environments (see Grinde & Patil, 2009).
But what are the health and well-being implications for the humble pot plant in one’s office and could Biophilia be used to explain public opposition to the construction of new power plants, like Wind Farms? This post will aim to tackle both issues in brief. This might seem to be an odd combination but for those who know me and my research, the latter part at least will make sense!
The health and well-being benefits of pot plants.
We all know that a ‘dose of fresh air’ (e.g., getting out into the Peak District) can be good for us, helping to reduce stress and get us some much needed exercise; but could having a plant in your office also have beneficial effects?
It is true that office-workers will often compensate for the lack of a view by introducing pot-plants to their offices. And, although evidence is mixed (see Grinde & Patil, 2009), there are certainly research findings that indicate certain health and wellbeing benefits of such activity. For example, Lohr and colleagues (1996) found that within windowless environments, plants can increase productivity and lower stress of office workers, while other studies have found that health complaints, such as tiredness, can be reduced by the presence of plants (e.g., Fjeld et al., 1998).
It is suggested that the success of plants in producing such benefits may lie, to a large extent, within the aesthetic improvements they bring to indoor environments. They tend to make workspaces more cheerful and inviting. Indeed, Grinde & Patil (2009) conclude that while it is difficult to exclude the impacts of things such as improved air quality of fragrance, “it seems fair to assume that visual impact is an important factor” (p.2338).
So cheer up your office, reduce stress and be more productive: buy a pot plant (or at least a picture of one)!
The visual impact of power plants.
Much of my academic research concerns the study of public attitudes towards new technologies, particularly power plants. While I have investigated public opinion towards more ‘traditional’ forms of power generation (e.g. coal and nuclear power), my principal focus to date has been on wind farms – a source of considerable controversy across the UK (and beyond)!
So what does Biophilia have to do with wind farm opposition? Well, numerous studies now exist to indicate that anticipated negative visual impact is one of the key drivers of objection to prospective wind farm development (e.g., Jones & Eiser, 2010). This makes sense if we consider (as we do above) that the benefits of plants (and nature more generally) are wrapped up in the positive visual impact they impart.
What is quite interesting with wind farms is that the ‘water muddies’ depending at what level you consider debates of environmental impact. Proponents of wind farms will, for instance, discuss their important role as low-carbon, renewable and, hence, climate-change-mitigating energy option. Should we allow localised impacts to visual amenity in order to help protect the global environment and the visual amenity offered by low-lying tropical islands and/or polar bears?
This is for you to decide! But what is interesting is for some the issue of wind farm development is that for some it has become a ‘Green on Green’ debate (see Warren et al., 2005), which is to say that your tolerance of the prospective environmental impacts caused by wind farm development will depend, at least to some extent, upon whether your environmental priorities are locally or globally focused.
This concludes PEET’s take-over of the Green Impact blog. We hope that you have enjoyed our posts this week and I would like to thank the students of PEET for their hard work in piecing together the blog-posts for you.
Dr Chris Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fjeld, T., Veiersted, B., Sandvik, L., Riise, G., & Levy, F. (1998). The effect of indoor foliage plants on health and discomfort symptoms among office workers. Indoor and Built Environment, 7(4), 204-209.
Grinde, B., & Patil, G. G. (2009). Biophilia: does visual contact with nature impact on health and well-being?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(9), 2332-2343.
Jones, C. R., & Richard Eiser, J. (2010). Understanding ‘local’opposition to wind development in the UK: How big is a backyard?. Energy Policy, 38(6), 3106-3117.
Lohr, V. I., Pearson-Mims, C. H., & Goodwin, G. K. (1996). Interior plants may improve worker productivity and reduce stress in a windowless environment. Journal of Environmental Horticulture, 14, 97-100.
Warren, C. R., Lumsden, C., O’Dowd, S., & Birnie, R. V. (2005). ‘Green on green’: public perceptions of wind power in Scotland and Ireland. Journal of environmental planning and management, 48(6), 853-875.
Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Harvard University Press.