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Blog – People and Planet: The benefits of extensive urban greening in the next generation of workplaces

In his latest blog, The Commercial Park Group’s CEO, John Baker, highlights the range of benefits that  green spaces can bring in terms of wellbeing, productivity and ensuring new workplaces better coexist with the natural world.

Extensive and ambitious green infrastructure is at the heart of our design philosophy for The Commercial Park Group. We have taken this approach for two primary reasons. Firstly because of the proven impact of green spaces on wellbeing and mental health. Secondly because we strongly believe that the next generation of urban spaces we create need to be more in tune with the natural world. To summarise – it’s about people and planet.

Green spaces can have a significant impact on mental health, wellbeing and productivity.

Benefits of green spaces for people and businesses

To address people first, a study by Denmark’s University of Aarhus, which utilised satellite data to cross reference socioeconomic status, home address and health records, demonstrated that people living closer to green spaces are 55% less likely to suffer conditions like anxiety and stress. Business in the Community (BITC), one of Prince Charles’s charities, similarly suggests that visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more per week result in a 7% reduction in the likelihood of depression and that a 1% increase in the proportion of green space near to the home results in a 4% reduction in the number of anxiety/mood disorder treatment cases.

Boosting green space isn’t just about the mental health benefits for workers, although that should be reason enough. BITC also provides data suggesting that there is a 15% increase in productivity when offices are enhanced with plant life and that employees with views of trees and landscapes took an average of 11 hours less sick leave per year than employees with no view. This equates to an average saving of around £1,600 ($2,000 reported) per employee. And, the research suggests that workers with a view of nature handle calls 7% faster, an annual productivity saving of nearly £2.5k per employee.

Workplaces that better support environmental sustainability

When we look at the impact on planet, the benefits of urban greening are just as clear. The Woodland Trust describes trees as the ‘ultimate carbon capture and storage machines’. Research from the Ten Million Trees Partnership, a public/private collaboration to improve ecology in Pennsylvania, USA, suggests that a healthy 100 ft tree can absorb 11,000 gallons of water a year, and redistribute this into the atmosphere as oxygen. On the other hand, the Partnership’s research suggests that mature tree absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year. This means that an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage. And, as energy prices continue to rise at an incredible trajectory, the data shows that trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20%-50% in energy used for heating. So, while there are clear benefits for the planet from urban greening, there are also tangible impacts on the bottom line for occupiers too. Finally, while trees and plant life can have a huge impact on air quality and climate change, increasing green spaces also has a hugely beneficial impact for wildlife. For example, one study in the Journal of Applied Ecology found a 10%-30% increase in native vegetation can increase the local occupancy of bats, birds, bugs, bees and beetles by up to 120%.

Schemes like Wells House, Bromley, aim to integrate ambitious new green spaces

Over 100k sq ft new Grade A office space, grounded in wellbeing principles

From our perspective the benefits of urban greening are clear. Through schemes like Wells House, we are aiming to push the boundaries of what has been attempted in UK office developments to date. As part of the Wells House regeneration, we will create extensive green spaces for workers to enjoy and explore, providing spaces for reflection, contemplation, and escape. At the same time, through our plan to extend regeneration across the entire Elmfield Road streetscape, we will introduce even more green spaces, revitalising a key part of Bromley to provide a thriving, green and ecologically diverse commercial hub.

It’s not just about scale. We are researching carefully how we can design these green spaces to have maximum impact for people and planet, through an ecological approach which introduces a broad range of plant life and vegetation which we know offer the most environmental benefits. One example is the ecological research we are conducting around the introduction of flora such as mushrooms and other fungi because of the vast ecological and environmental benefits. Growing mushrooms has a far lower carbon footprint than most other crops, studies have shown. At the same time, mushrooms break down organic matter and recycle nutrients, all of which creates more sustainable soil for the new green spaces we’ll be integrating. All that aside, mushrooms offer a highly sustainable food source which is just another example of how urban greening can create a whole range of benefits, from food production, to carbon offsetting and improving ecological diversity.

One of the most exciting parts of the design process for schemes like Wells House is the chance to experiment with an ambitious approach to green infrastructure. Beyond Wells House, the desire to innovate in this area runs as a golden thread through our wider Bromley Park office hub project, of which Wells House is the first phase, as well as the other schemes within our broader portfolio of office destinations.

John Baker, CEO, The Commercial Park Group