Green Office vs Lean Office: The positive effects of plants in a working environment

A ‘green office’ is one that has a considerable amount of plants and green areas, usually with every employee being in visible distance of a plant. A ‘lean office’ is one that is bare and minimal, keeping any spare space available and empty for expansion and other unforeseen uses.


When walking into the Big Bite studio the first thing most people notice is the abundance of plants we have scattered around the floor, desks and walls. Our reception area is made up predominantly of plants, with a huge custom made railway sleeper planter taking centre stage, which is full of cascading plants from many species. A giant caster oil plant sits to the left of a brushed aluminium company logo, and the far wall is covered with over a dozen hanging plants. From peace lilies to ivy, from ferns to orchids, and from cacti to palms – you name it – we have it.


When planning the design of the new Big Bite studio with the help of my Interior Designer friend Peter Turner, from the offset the theme was determined as ‘outdoors indoors’. We wanted to create an environment that felt natural and relaxing; where there was no barrier between the outdoors and indoors. Our new studio space is quite large, with lots of windows creating a light and airy feel. It also has a large roof terrace garden with many grass species, and we were keen to carry this modern spacious garden through to the studio.

Apart from looking nice and making any bland office space appear more interesting and friendly, what are the positive effects of having a ‘green office’ over a ‘lean office’?

The positive effects of plants

It is thought that plants help increase air quality by reducing dust and increasing the levels of oxygen in the room. A few plants that are great at cleaning the air indoors and that we have here in the studio are:


Peace Lily – one of the best plants for removing volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene. It looks great too with its dark green leaves and green/white flowers

English Ivy – also helps tackle formaldehyde found in cleaning products

Warneck Dracaena – helps combat chemicals from varnishes

Bamboo Palm – this one helps eliminate benzene and trichloroethylene from the air

Heart leaf philodendron – toxic if eaten, this creeping vine is great at removing volatile organic compounds from the air and grows quickly

Studies have shown that staff feel happier and more productive in green office spaces. This may be because they feel that their employer cares for them by creating an interesting environment for them to work in. An article on the Association for Psychological Science website states:

“The ‘lean’ philosophy has been influential across a wide range of organizational domains,” study co-author Alex Haslam explained in a statement. “Our research questions this widespread conviction that less is more. Sometimes less is just less.”

Nieuwenhuis and colleagues hypothesized that plants may have a positive impact on workers’ performance by improving their perceptions of the surrounding office environment. Because people know that plants can improve air quality, workers may feel that they’re breathing cleaner, fresher air and working in a healthier environment. An enhanced office space may also give employees the sense that their company’s management is attentive to and interested in their well-being.

Three weeks after installing leafy plants throughout one half of an office, the researchers found that employees working in the “green” half reported higher levels of concentration and productivity, and a sense that the air quality had improved.

You can read more of this study here

It turns out we’re not the only ones going crazy for a garden inside our office. Companies such as Google, Innocent Drinks and Mind Candy have also opted for a ‘green over lean’ look to their office spaces.


In their Dublin offices, Google has an entire floor called the ‘green floor’ which contains plants and wooden decor

photo by peter wurmli © camenzind evolution

photo by peter wurmli © camenzind evolution

(above images from

Their Sydney office has a reception area with a living plant wall



Innocent drinks have an entire office carpeted in fake grass, whilst tree’s, plants and picnic benches are dotted around to give an outdoor feel.

Images from the BBC

Mind Candy

A treehouse is located in the office of Mind Candy, the company who created children’s game Moshi Monsters



images from &


Skype’s Palo Alto based office in California has grass rugs, wooden benches and wooden styled shed like meeting rooms to create an outdoor feel



images from

The massively successful tech companies who are globally recognized mentioned above are clearly doing something right. Creating a green, engaging environment for their employees to work in, with benefits such as free lunches, free drinks and fun chill out areas has obviously resulted in happy staff which drives these companies forward. We took inspiration from such companies when creating our fun green office space. As well as filling the studio with dozens of plants, we have a fun chill out area which houses a pool table and mini bar (currently in construction). On top of that we have a central custom made kitchen / dining area which encourages our staff to meet and collaborate whilst eating their complimentary lunch on Wednesdays, and our Friday morning bacon butties.

In summary, a green creative office space really does pay off when trying to create a happy working environment for your team. Many plant species are readily available in the majority of supermarkets and hardware stores, and with regular water and the occasional feed, they’re happy to look after themselves.



Lastly, if you don’t have time to buy and look after plants for your office, there are a number of service providers who will supply and maintain office plants for you, such as Funky Yukka.