Green rooftops may be just starting to catch on in North America, but around the world countries like France have seen the light – green roofs can cool buildings down and lower their energy use and improve the air quality in cities.
But there may be a psychological benefit to these rooftop garden in addition to the environmental benefits. A study published in the journal Environmental Psychology found that a brief, 40-second-long “microbreak” involving simply looking at an image of a green roof could improve focus and efficiency significantly(1).
This research adds to the growing body of work making the connection between nature and work performance.
Health Advantages Of Nature
Much research has been done on the subject of just how interacting with nature can affect our performance at work – for example, in one study, subjects who took 12 minutes to watch a nature documentary before playing a work-related game were shown to engage in more sustainable behavior than those who went into the game without viewing the documentary first(2).
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But that’s not the only benefit that regular exposure to nature can have. In a recent issue of the journal BioScience, a number of researchers conducted a review of studies on the subject of nature exposure and health, finding that:
“Individual-level studies have revealed relatively strong associations between exposure to nature and improved healing times, reduced allergies, and enhanced social cohesion. In the immediate short term, exposure to nature has also been shown to correlate with reduced stress, improved cognitive ability, and enhanced happiness.”(3)
How Nature Improves Our Quality Of Life
According to the World Health Organization, over half the world’s population live in urban areas(4). This poses a unique new series of health concerns:
“Rapid, unplanned and unsustainable patterns of urban development are making developing cities focal points for many emerging environment and health hazards,” the WHO reports.
According to a report from Stanford University, regular exposure to nature can help mitigate some of the health and cognitive problems caused by the stress of living in a city:
“…urban environments heavily tax the top-down voluntary attentional control that is required to filter relevant from irrelevant stimuli adequately,” the researchers write(5). “Demands from the urban environment deplete this cognitive resource, and can thereby worsen performance on tasks… natural environments invoke a different sort of attention from people – a sense of ‘fascination’, ‘being away’, ‘extent’, and ‘compatibility’ – that may result in the replenishment of directed attention because they are less heavily taxed in these alternative environments.”
Making Nature Part Of The Urban Landscape
Given all of this information, it’s no surprise that rooftop gardens seem to be the next big trend in urban planning and development.
Recently, France issued new legislation stating that the rooftops of new buildings built in commercial zones must be at least partially covered either by plants or by solar panels(6).
Meanwhile, Facebook’s California offices installed a 9-acre rooftop park for their employees – a project that they hope will not only boost worker satisfaction and morale, but productivity as well(7).
Rooftop gardens can also be used as a sustainable source of food. In Montreal, the company Lufa Farms – a rooftop farming operation that provides local, organic produce to individual consumers through a subscription service – states that their vision is “a city of rooftop farms”(8).
It’s a vision many environmentalists and social scientists alike can share.
How to Build an Edible Green Roof