Biophilia, or the innate desire for humans to be connected to nature, can take many forms in the built environment. It can be a water feature, architecture that promotes mystery and curiosity, a vertical green garden or materials that remind us of the outdoors. Unfortunately, plant blindness has replaced our everyday connection with nature. Plant blindness is the inability to notice or recognize plants and nature that are all around us.
It can be difficult and even overwhelming to sort through the many avenues to fight plant blindness and incorporate biophilic design. There are endless possibilities, but we break down some of the options to help guide you. Specifically, when it comes to plant walls, there are two different options, artificial green walls and living green walls.
Artificial Green Walls
Artificial green walls give the appearance of living plants, but do not offer all the benefits of biophilic design. The most common type of artificial walls are sourced from moss. This type of material is preserved meaning it is no longer a living plant material. As a result, these types of walls require little to no maintenance; they don’t require any water, fertilizer, or planting medium and it is even suggested to keep these walls out of direct sunlight. In order to keep these walls looking green and “lush,” a layer of preservatives or paint is applied to the moss. Since artificial walls are not living, they will collect particles and require an occasional dusting to keep them looking fresh. People who have sensitive allergies should be aware of the different products used on moss walls. The majority of moss walls use natural and non-toxic preservatives and paints, but it is recommended to take a closer look to avoid allergies or reactions.
Living Green Walls
Living green walls are exactly what their name implies: they are made up of living plants. As with any living organism, they require care and attention to maintain and keep the wall healthy. Plants need water, light, a growing medium and nutrients. A thriving living wall needs a sophisticated system to keep plants looking fresh, which is often a system with irrigation, lighting and plant maintenance, such as pruning and possibly replacement. Fortunately, green thumb or not, living wall systems have been designed to be simple and seamless to allow anyone to have one.
Living Green Walls – System Applications
- Container systems (Biotile™, tray, pot rack) work similar to the concept of legos, plants are grown ahead of time and arrive at the final destination in blocks. This makes installing the wall very simple, as it only requires the container to be put in the correct spot. A container system, such as Sagegreenlife’s Biotile™, can be installed in both interior and exterior environments as well as custom designed or freestanding for modular use.The Sagegreenlife container system utilizes a patented Biotile™ with a soil-less, organic material called Rockwool. This material is composed of layers of rock fiber that evenly distributes water, oxygen and nutrients. Rockwool is perfect for this type of living wall because it does not decay, mold, or change shape when heated, cooled, wet or dry, and is uninhabitable for pests. Sagegreenlife also offers routine maintenance to keep the living wall looking just as healthy as it did on installation day.
- Felt is similar to a container system in that there are “pocket like” structures where plants are placed. However, felt walls cannot be planted in advance resulting in a longer and tedious installation. There is also an increased risk of putting plants in the wrong pocket. In addition, felt will degrade over time, it cannot tolerate extreme climates as the weather changes and is not water efficient.
- Trellis is another system where plants cannot be grown prior to installation resulting in a bare facade until the vines mature enough to create a green wall. This takes a considerable amount of time and most vines go through growing and dormant seasons leaving months where the wall looks dead.
Vertical Green Wall Benefits
Artificial and living walls both provide benefits to the built environment as the sight of plants improves both mental wellbeing and physical health. Our brains associate plants as nature and offer a break during the work day resulting in a decrease in stress and tension.
However, living walls go beyond these benefits and actively purifies the air and provides an environment with clean oxygen through photosynthesis. This benefit helps attract talent, retain tenants, enhances the built environment and promotes sustainability.
- Attract Talent and Retain Tenants
People who work or live near nature have reported a 15% increase in perceived wellbeing. In addition, nature in residential buildings and workplaces have shown to reduce stress and negative feelings by 30-60%. Stress related sick days costs the U.S. $300 billion a year, so nature plays a significant role in reducing these costs. People who work in areas surrounded with nature take 11 hours less of sick leave per year than people whose work environments are void of nature.
- Enhance the Built Environment
Bringing nature into an environment also has effects on one’s physical health by providing cleaner and fresher air as mentioned above. The particulates and chemicals in the air can cause dizziness, coughing, dry eyes and headaches. The most common harmful particles in the air at any given time are ammonia, xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These substances can cause symptoms for the people in the space, however, an environment with nature can have 50-60% less of these particles than environments without nature. When people live and work in an environment with fresh air, these symptoms significantly decrease.Living walls also have the added advantage of acting as a sound barrier, reducing noise levels by an average of 15 decibels. Sagegreenlife’s living walls have been proven to have near perfect sound abatement.
- Promote Sustainability
Living walls can also reduce the carbon footprint of an area or building. As we all learned in elementary school, plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Adding living walls into areas that have been void of nature have significant benefits by helping clean the air and reducing carbon emissions. They also actively absorb heat, so in dense urban areas, they have a role in reducing the urban heat island effect.Urban areas can be up to 20ºF warmer than surrounding rural areas. This is one way builders, architects and city planners can combat the increasing global temperature and climate change. A vegetated facade can reduce the surface temperature of a build by up to 54ºF, which reduces the need for air conditioning units to run and business owners to spend more money on energy costs. Sagegreenlife’s walls have an added advantage of using 75% less water than other living wall providers. Our streamlined system allows the user to use less energy than other systems.
At Sagegreenlife, our mission is better living with living walls. We can help bring your vision to life with the added benefits of a living green wall. See how we have brought nature to the built environment.