Will Amazon’s Indoor Rainforest Actually Benefit Its Employees?

By Nathaniel Scharping | January 30, 2018 3:32 pm
(Credit: Amazon)

(Credit: Amazon)

Amazon unveiled the newest addition to its Seattle campus today — three glass and concrete domes filled with a jungle’s worth of tropical plants. The Spheres, as they’re called, are meant to serve as a place for meetings and collaborative work. Communal spaces, many in the shape of nests, are scattered throughout the lush interior.

The $4 billion project is a chance for Amazon to flaunt its continued success and wow potential employees, but it could also function as a test of sorts. Green spaces, and plant life in general, have long been held to provide real benefits for city dwellers, both mentally and physically. By opening up what is essentially an indoor rainforest for its workers, Amazon is putting its money on the human tendency toward so-called biophilia — an innate desire to connect with nature.

Amazon in the Amazon

According to the many news outlets in attendance of the opening, there is indeed an abundance of nature inhabiting The Spheres. Some 40,000 plants, from 400 different species reside within, many sourced from cloud forests — delicate habitats found at high elevations that are watered by cloud condensation. A team of dedicated horticulturalists is on staff to maintain the greenery, and built-in humidifiers and misters keep the environment plant-friendly. The largest of the domes measures 90 feet tall and highlights include a “living wall” that stretches some four stories high, as well as rivers and waterfalls snaking throughout.

The Bird's Nest, an informal meeting space among the trees. (Credit: Jordan Stead/Amazon)

The Bird’s Nest, an informal meeting space among the trees. (Credit: Jordan Stead/Amazon)

The abundance of greenery isn’t just enviable — imagine working on presentations high in the canopy — it could also bring tangible rewards to workers, though the exact reasons why aren’t well understood. A steady drumbeat of studies over the years has indicated that humans feel more relaxed and productive when surrounded by plant life, as opposed to traditional office spaces, and the benefits even extend in some cases to pain relief and illness prevention.

Mother Nature Knows Best

One study, for example, asked office workers to rate their well-being and found that things like coughing, itching and fatigue were 23 percent better among those who had a few plants scattered around. Another study, of Taiwanese eighth this time, found that a classroom with a collection of potted plants at the back lowered incidences of sick leave and misbehavior and increased friendliness and comfort. Hospital patients whose rooms contained plants had lower blood pressures than those without, and experienced less pain and anxiety, according to a 2009 study. Other studies have found that overall levels of anxiety go down and attention spans go up when plants are introduced to an office setting.

Review studies, providing a comprehensive look at the research, also agree, though their praise is a little more muted. “The number of indoor plants proximal to a worker’s desk had small but statistically reliable associations with sick leave and productivity,” concluded one such study from 2007. Another found that the strongest evidence in favor of the healing power of plants comes from studies of pain management. One reason that evidence might be hard to come by is the possibility of placebo effects — it’s hard to conduct a truly double-blinded study, as the participants can obviously tell if they’re surrounded by plants or not. In addition, most of these studies were small, and usually only used a few plants to conduct the tests.

Jealous yet? (Credit: Jordan Stead/Amazon)

Jealous yet? (Credit: Jordan Stead/Amazon)

So, the best advice at the moment might be to go ahead and install a few succulents or ferns on your desk — you only stand to gain. Researchers aren’t really quite sure why plants seem to be a balm for our bodies, though the intuitive explanation is obvious. Offices, schools and hospitals are decidedly unnatural, evolutionarily speaking, and we just may not feel as comfortable there. Humans have been living around plants ever since our species emerged, they’re about as natural as can be, and adding them to our built environments could help offset some of the tension modernity brings.

Amazon, of course, is taking the concept to a whole different level. None of the studies conducted so far looked at the effects of working in an actual greenhouse, so perhaps the beneficial effects will be much greater. Or, on the other hand, plant life might begin to see diminishing returns past a certain point. In any case, not every Amazon employee is going to be able to benefit from nature’s restorative powers in Seattle. The Spheres can hold less than a thousand employees, and those wishing to work inside need to sign up beforehand — there’s apparently already a waiting list.

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    What part of “arrogant idiot Left” is ambiguous? The Spheres can hold less than a thousand employees Fewer – they are countable rather than measurable. Humans have been living around plants ever since our species emerged Inuits north of Devon, Cornwallis. Bathurst, and Melville Islands, Nunavut?

    Amazon should be growing groats and goiters to feed the homeless.

    • mattman4100

      I’m sorry you don’t get it. Your fierce intellect isn’t the only tool you need. Try feeling, sometime….you might even learn something, or be more productive at a meeting. Of course, just enjoying it is enough excuse.

      Side note: Care to compare the time depth of your examples with the time depth of “modern humans”?

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

        Try feeling, sometime” That is how drowning-in-petroleum Venezuela sustains tyranny, starvation, and poverty. Try reality, always. Progressive mentation in all its forms – Snowflake life, free money, immunity to law, perversity of love, denial of objective knowledge, hatred of America – marks the downward spiral to Hell of civilization.

        Side note:” Do you have a problem with validating Inuits – even if they “identify” as obligate carnivores?

      • OWilson

        Your “modern humans” boldly went where no man or woman had ever been before into a new age Biosphere, where everying their little socialists hearts could desire was provided free.

        Lots of scientists, no naysayers. No Trump, no Uncle Al, no OWison.

        Just 3 acres of lush tropical Utopia.

        Eventually they had to let them out before they killed each other.

        Cheating, jealousy, adulterous affairs, leadership squbbles made it all fall apart as surely as did Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson’s little family.

        Fortunately they got them out in time to prevent mass coolade ingestion, or Hollywood murders. :)

        While you won’t see it reported on CNN, you can read all about it at Biosphere 2 Wiki.

        They have not given up though. They desperately need the experiment to succeed for their promised terraforming of Mars and other worlds.

        I would suggest heavy supplies of tranquilizers be included with the next large scale experiment! :)

      • Equis

        Fierce intellect?
        I’m fairly confident ‘Uncle Al’ is someone’s weekend attempt at a chat bot. Most of the replies are non-nonsensical strings of tangentially related buzzwords.

    • Mr. Janes

      ↡↡

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