In the last ten years, ‘nature’ and biophilic design have received widespread attention in architecture and interior design, especially in response to growing environmental challenges. However, open questions and controversies remain regarding conceptualising and addressing ‘nature’ in practice and research. This article brings you an overview of the overall impact of climate change in our health and environment, and then identifies the considerable benefits of biophilic, sustainable interior design for achieving sustainability.
According to NASA, climate change is the result of human activity on the environment since the mid- 20th century and it continues to proceed at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia. Studies state evidences for rapid climate changes, such as the global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, sea level rise, and more.
With those effects, scientists and researchers - concerned for the larger repercussions to humanity and the rest of the world - have studied about how biophilic design may be a solution for preventing the harmful effects of climate change.
As you might already know, biophilic design is a holistic practice utilising nature-based systems, engineering principles, and design cues to support improved health, well-being and performance as measured through personal biometrics, self-rated mood, and work quality (Ryan and Browning, 2018).
Keep on reading to discover how sustainable biopihilic design can be helpful in preventing climate change.
1. A short overview of the effects of climate change
2. How does biophilic sustainable interior design fight climate change?
3. Final note
A short overview of the effects of climate change
Climate change is projected to be the most serious threat to global economic, social and environmental stability in recorded history, with mild to severe disruptions globally affecting populations with unequal leverage for adaptation, mitigation and resilience (Bernstein, 2014; Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, 2018).
There are a lot of studies that state the various effects of climate change in humans, animals, biodiversity and eco-systems. A research stated that most of the prevalent human diseases from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illnesses will be caused by heat waves, meanwhile, the transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition, by crop failures.
The mentioned threats to human health are heightened by sociopolitical displacement such as resource shortage from war related or climate change refugees, and by profound economic disruptions.
These observations may result to threatening the human life, most especially those people who are more vulnerable which are the children, pregnant women, immuno-compromised or obese adults, and those people who live in slums or refugee camps.
Meanwhile, observations on the effects to whole environment itself resulted to useful data and analysis. Most of the studies stated that global temperature rise, warming ocean, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, sea level rise and extreme events are the most evident harmful effects of climate change in the world.
With the named effects, the biodiversity and eco-systems are highly threatened. Some animals are forced to relocate their habitats due to the distractions from the effects of climate change, and sadly some animals just die in their own habitats.
How biophilic, sustainable interior design fights climate change
Biophilic design is denoted from the word “biophilia” a philosophy which allows us humans to be closer to nature. But, how is it also sustainable? Let's talk about sustainability in the design and architectural world.
A Focus of Sustainability in Architecture
Since the 1990s, the concept of sustainability has been widely discussed and explored in the architectural realm. Confronting various environmental crises such as resource scarcity, climate change, and sick building syndrome (Guy and Moore, 2005), distinct sustainable approaches have been explored, ranging for example from applying energy efficient, high-tech, low-tech and vernacular strategies; analogising nature and natural systems for design inspiration; or adopting intelligent, responsive, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable materials. These diverse concerns and design approaches defy simple classifications of sustainable architecture, and their ‘plurality’ has been praised (Guy and Moore, 2007).
Today, ‘sustainability’ is still considered a contested and ambiguous concept. The author Schröder (2018) confirms that ‘heterogeneity, complexity, conflicts of aims, and controversies are normal’.
Challenges in Sustainable Architecture
By bridging various challenges and design intentions or goals, the contested notion of sustainability in architecture can be unpacked and understood.
Biophilic design offers a number of strategies for supporting sustainability in architecture (Almusaed, 2011; Almusaed et al., 2006; Jiang et al., 2020; Jones, 2013; Ryan and Browning, 2018; Wijesooriya and Brambilla, 2021). Different researchers explore this theme through diverse pathways, such as by discussing biophilic design values on the resilience in the face of climate change (Africa et al., 2019; Beatley and Newman, 2013; Fink, 2016) or comparing biophilic design patterns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Sharifi and Sabernejad, 2016).
Experimental and empirical findings provide evidence for the adoption of biophilic design in sustainable architecture. To overcome the fuzzy notion of sustainable architecture and develop a more analytical approach and to understand how biophilic design could contribute to the goals of sustainable architecture, we list the benefits of biophilic design in addressing the specific challenges. The 17 SDGs (UN, 2015) were determined to guide the path towards a more sustainable future.
Positive impacts to Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs)
A critical review of biophilic design in architecture and its contributions to health, well-being, and sustainability gathers different examples of how sustainable biophilic design has a positive impact in 17 of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in Goal 3 - Good Health and Wellbeing; and Goal 13- Climate Action. See table below for a summary.
|SDG||Challenges in Sustainable Architecture||Benefit of Biophilic Design|
|No Poverty||Providing affordable housing||Reduce energy and construction material costs (Lerner and Stopka, 2016)|
|Zero Hunger||Food supply||Enable food production (Söderlund, 2019, p.200)|
|Good Health and Wellbeing||
Healthy and comfortable indoor environment
Non-toxic substances and environment
Obstruct disease transmission and bacterial contact
Physical exercise spaces
Reduce air pollution and optimise air quality (Aydogan and Cerone, 2020)
Optimise thermal comfort (Africa et al., 2019; Hoelscher et al., 2016)
Provide psychological restoration (Berto and Barbiero, 2017; Gillis and Gatersleben, 2015; Lee et al., 2015; Yin et al., 2018)
Reduce stress (Browning et al., 2014) - Increase healing rates (Abdelaal and Soebarto, 2019)
Enhance positive emotions (Mandasari and Gamal, 2017)
Encourage physical activity (Korpela et al., 2017; Wallmann-Sperlich et al., 2019)
|Gender Equality||Inclusiveness of diverse genders||Provide examples of considering gender in design (Beil and Hanes, 2013; Hähn et al., 2020)|
|Clean Water and Sanitation||
Rainwater collection and purification
Resilience in the face of water-related climate change
|Improve water management (stormwater management, water recycling, and water runoff quality) (Vanuytrecht et al., 2014)|
|Affordable and clean energy||
Energy consumption of heating or cooling, lighting
Geographical, climatic, and cultural conditions
|Decrease energy consumption (enhance building passive cooling and lessen the perceived temperature) (Dahanayake and Chow, 2019; Hoelscher et al., 2016; Sudimac et al., 2019)|
|Decent Work and Economic Growth||Health and productivity of employees in workplaces||
Increase worker productivity (Aydogan and Cerone, 2020; Gray and Birrell, 2014; Ha¨hn et al., 2020)
Increase retail potential (So¨derlund, 2019, p.152)
|Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure||
Physical and digital infrastructure development
Stricter building standards in terms of pollution, energy consumption, safety, and health
Enrich building appearance (Söderlund, 2019, p.52)
Provide examples of the use of virtual reality in design (Yin et al., 2018)
Promote policy or financial incentives (Söderlund, 2019, p.76)
Increase building rating (Jiang et al., 2020; Sheweka and Mohamed, 2012)
Accessibility of public infrastructure (e.g. landscape qualities like a beach or a view)
Inclusiveness for all groups and social responsibility from all members of society
|Provide accessible and public green/blue spaces (Burls, 2007; Well and Ludwig, 2019)|
|Sustainable Cities and Communities||
Safety, inclusiveness, robustness, and resilience of cities and settlements
Affordability, accessibility, mobility, and health of houses and infrastructure
|Increase liveability and enable higher density (Littke, 2016; Simpson and Parker, 2018) - Decrease violence and crime (Söderlund and Newman, 2017)|
|Responsible Consumption and Production||
Durability and life cycles of the building
Proper use of local materials
Increase lifespan (Kabisch et al., 2017)
Strengthen the use of indigenous materials and native plant varieties (Kellert, 2018)
Climatic comfort with minimum energy consumption
Resilient to changing conditions (e.g. extreme rainfall, floods, hurricanes, drought, and heatwaves)
Sensitivity to local culture, topographic, and climatic conditions
Climate adaptation solutions with co-benefits
Reduce energy consumption through vegetative climatic effects (Hoelscher et al., 2016; Sheweka and Mohamed, 2012)
Reduce the urban heat island effect (Koc et al., 2017; Kabisch et al., 2017)
Attenuate noise (Rowe, 2011)
Enhance wind protection (Sheweka and Mohamed, 2012)
Sensitive to local topography and climate (Beatley and Newman, 2013)
|Life below Water||Low-cost water management - Regeneration of polluted land close to the sea||Reduce water pollution (Rowe, 2011; Söderlund and Newman, 2015)|
|Life on Land||Protection, restoration, and support of ecosystems and biodiversity||Improve biodiversity (species diversity preservation and regeneration (Benvenuti, 2014; Fuller et al., 2007) - Provide habitats for animals in urban areas (Africa et al., 2019)|
|Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions||Safety, inclusiveness, and affordability of public spaces and institutions||Offer public shelter and shade spaces (Hoelscher et al., 2016)|
|Partnerships for the Goals||Collaboration among different stakeholders - Associations and networks of professionals||Present examples of collaboration (e.g. architects and engineers) (Aye et al., 2019) - Allow professional institutions and organisations to work together (Jones, 2016)|
Let's provide some examples on how biophilic design strategies that support these sustainability goals.
Example: Good Health and Wellbeing - Contributes to human comfort
Circadian-effective lighting strategies support overall health and, specifically, help regulate sleep-wake cycles that are projected to be further disrupted by elevated nighttime temperatures (Laurent et al., 2018).
Example: Climate action - Can create low energy buildings
External living walls can cool façades and indoor spaces through shading and evapotranspiration; the presence of greenery (see our preserved natural moss and plant walls) can also lessen the perceived temperature (Sheweka and Mohamed, 2012; Hoelscher et al., 2016).
Lowers global emissions
Incorporating biophilic design in our own places includes the use of sustainable and natural materials. By using those materials, we help in reducing carbon emissions considerably. In fact, a report explains how the emissions of a space built with sustainable principles can reduce the carbon footprint by up to 100%, with respect to a space that is not built like that. The Carbon Leadership Forum also has very recent studies on how the carbon footprint of interior spaces, over the years, equals that of construction, which is more than considerable, being the carbon footprint of the construction sector about 38% of the global CO2 emissions.
Supports heading to Net-Zero Energy
In Paul Hawken's 2017 Drawdown book, we find a series of climate solutions, drawing on humanity’s collective wisdom about the practices and technologies that can begin to reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon by mid-century. In this work, Hawken explains that if only 9.7 percent of new buildings had net zero energy by 2050, global greenhouse gas emissions would be 7.1 gigatons lower. That is equivalent to eliminating annual emissions from all livestock around the world. One of the contributors to achieving net-zero energy in buildings is by the use of biophilic design.
Increases accountability in sustainability issues
Researchers give emphasis on how biophilic design impacts the mental, emotional, social and environmental status of human beings. Based from the series of observations and studies, it is proved that relationships built in natural environments results to a “social infrastructure”.
Familiarity with nature and natural design cues reinforce environmental education, stewardship and advocacy. Communal spaces like green roofs, atria, and gardens are pro-social and encourage social cohesion (Williams, 2017).
A lot of studies also proved that being exposed to the natural environments help in developing the emotional, physical, cognitive and social aspect in children and adults.
Supports the evolution of the interior space
Global events such as the pandemic experienced in 2020, brings to reconsider the construction of the interior space.
People locked in their homes during quarantine had to spend and do all daily activities, including eating, working, socialising, and leisure time, indoors. Even though quarantining is effective against the spread of the virus, it has a negative psychological effect on mental health combined with a long period of lockdown.
Fear of infection, financial crisis, simple boredom, and a decrease in physical activity must be noticed and taken into consideration.
As we've seen, the level of natural, green environment in homes can influence both the physical and mental health of the residents. Nature-friendly design of buildings not only allows the reduction of the influence of rapid urbanisation on climate and ecology, but also has a beneficial effect on the health of people of all age groups.
This review supports that in the new and evolved indoor environment, biophilic design can promote physical and relaxation activities in a natural environment, which also promotes a healthy lifestyle and well-being. In terms of health, it can decrease the chance of pathologies like heart diseases, anxiety and depression, skeletal disorders, diabetes, and so on. The most discussed and studied benefit of green spaces is their psychological effect. Greenery helps to reduce stress and mental tiredness; to soften various emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety; and to promote socialisation via creating a meeting spot for residents.
Air quality and temperature of living spaces are strategic topics for the development of a sustainable building, especially during quarantine times, when everyone is stuck in their homes. Natural ventilation of rooms via window opening, especially during quarantine, to ensure healthy indoor air quality is preferred, rather than mechanical ventilation.
We've analysed the main benefits of biophilic design in achieving sustainability, where we find among them: enhanced health, well-being, productivity, biodiversity, and circularity. The application of this design has proven being more complex and richer than the mere application of vegetation in buildings; it broadens the variety through encompassing different types of nature from physical, sensory, metaphorical, morphological, material to spiritual.
"The built environment cannot be held accountable for all climate change problems but, as both a primary engine for resource extraction and use as well as the context in which mitigation and stewardship strategies are developed, we bear a responsibility to be forward-thinking"
At Forest Homes, we offer you a platform to use furniture, decor, and materials for every day use, that are made from sustainable, ethical and natural production. Also, as we know change is difficult, we provide you with multiple ways on how to incorporate biophilic approach in your own lives.
The future and the present of the world lies within us, it is up to us to make the changes needed to evolve in a healthier and happier world.
Stay at Forest Homes to find products to inspire your sustainable living and, biophilic interior design and learn how to make the best of them.