Plants, an economical way to improve conditions in schools

The condition of indoor air has been a concern since the early eighties when Sick Building Syndrome was recognised. Where schools suffer from this condition, the introduction of a few plants into classrooms, staff rooms and offices is a simple and cost effective way to improve how everyone actually feels. With constant pressures on funding, education and local government officials will be pleased to learn that using plants is a cost effective way to purify the air so making staff and pupils feel and perform better. An added bonus is that the aesthetic value of the plants will also improve the morale of staff and pupils.

Plants perform well in a Norwegian school

 In research carried out at a Norwegian primary school, plants were introduced into classrooms to improve the indoor atmosphere. Findings from the research show that there were less health problems in the classrooms where the plants were located. Pupils also reported a positive appreciation for the plants, reporting that their classrooms felt fresher, generally more pleasant and attractive. These results confirm earlier findings from similar research carried out in an office environment.

School improvements

Both surveys were conducted by Professor Tove Fjeld of the Horticultural Institute at the Norwegian College of Agriculture. The school in question in Tønsberg, Norway, had a record of serious health problems due to the indoor climate in classrooms and other areas of the school. Ventilation was poor and a lack of funds, a problem not unfamiliar to the UK, meant there was no possibility of investing in better ventilation or structural improvements. This project was chosen as an alternative method to improve conditions. It involved the use of plants in a biological system.

The biological system

Fjeld used four metre-long containers, planted with a selection of plants and positioned in selected classrooms. The containers known as Bioprocess® units had a reservoir with both compost and water, acted as complete biological systems. The surrounding air is drawn into the system by means of a pipe and distributed throughout the compost.The noiseless Bioprocess® system not only helps clean the air of impurities but also improves the evaporation of water, ensuring that the biological system makes a major contribution to purifying the air.

And how it works

It is well established from earlier work carried out by several researchers, that the roots of plants break down any chemicals which have been absorbed in this way or naturally through the plant's leaves, turning them into food for the plant. Similarly, in the natural process of transpiration, plants help to control the humidity of the air.

The people survey

Between February 1997 and February 1998 the research was carried out with two test groups. One group, involving 61 pupils and 8 teachers, had the planted units, whilst the other group remained in the original conditions with no planted units and was made up of 59 pupils and 2 teachers.Teachers and pupils answered 4 questionnaires before, during and at the end of the experiment, to ascertain how they felt. The findings from those who had worked in the classrooms with plants, found that symptoms were considerably reduced.

  • 47% reduction of headaches 37% reduction of dry or hoarse throats 69% claimed they 'felt' better generally cold sufferers complained less of the symptoms
  • rooms were perceived as bigger

Keeping the back row's attention!

For an added bonus, plants have also been found to aid concentration and productivity. Research carried out in America showed that plants improved concentration levels. Washington professor, Virginia Lohr took two similar groups working in windowless computer labs, one group with plants and one without. Both groups used a specially designed computer programme so that they both undertook similar work. Their emotional states, pre- and post-task blood pressures and pulse rates were measured before, during and after the experiment.

Increased productivity

Whilst both groups made a similar number of mistakes, the group which worked with plants present, recorded a reaction time which was 12% quicker than those working without. In effect, this meant their production rate was greater too.

..and better concentration

The blood pressure and pulse rates of the part icipants also returned to normal more quickly and their scores showed significant increases in post-task attentiveness. Professor Fjeld is continuing her research with groups in two further schools. Meanwhile, hard-up local authorities could do worse than install a few plants in their classrooms to make them not only more pleasant places to be but also healthier places in which to learn and work.