The business case for nature: why companies should nurture our relationship with the great outdoors

Photo by Ryan Young on Unsplash

A near global lock-down has meant we are all spending much more time at home and much less time outdoors. Travel restrictions have reduced our capacity to explore, limiting us to what’s on our doorstep, or the places we can feasible reach on our daily walks. Time spent outside feels even more precious and has reignited our requirement for nature.

In this blog, MSc student, Steffie Clement, who completed a placement at international sustainability and responsible business consultancy BRODIE explores the connection we have with nature and how businesses can do right to encourage this at present and beyond the pandemic.

Getting our daily dose

Regards to our relationship with the natural world, the old adage, “you never know what you have until it’s gone” feels particularly apt at the moment. As people around the world continue to #stayhome to stay safe, the realisation is dawning that our access to fresh air, blue skies and green spaces has been sorely taken for granted. For many a working day may have meant moving from home to public transport to the office and back again – no time outdoors, and not even a window seat. The UK Government’s recommendation of one outing per person per day, with the specific aim of exercise, nudged many of us to dust off our running shoes and take fresh steps into the unexplored.

The longer-term mental health implications of Covid-19 and quarantine are as of yet unknown, but medical scientists advise that we should not underestimate the impact. Under current circumstances, businesses and teams are adapting to new well-being challenges, new environments and to new relationships with the environment. We don’t yet know how long this state of things is due to last, but with a tentative look to the future, businesses must take note to understand the importance nature plays in our personal and professional lives.

Natural healing

There is considerable research proving that being outdoors holds benefits for physical and mental health. Time spent in the natural world not only relieves stress but leaves people feeling more refreshed and energetic. A study exploring the impact of nature on focus, demonstrated how by looking at a green roof for micro-breaks of 40 seconds worked well to restore people’s attention. Participants who took the micro-breaks to look at the green roof were recorded as having made fewer errors and had a more consistent positive response rate to a set task.

Giles Hutchins, author of the ‘Nature of Business’, offers strategic leadership coaching on how to incorporate nature into the corporate environment. Giles explains how when nature is restored to the work culture, the balance between the mechanical and the collaborative, the empathetic and the intuitive is restored: “We open up to more of our natural capacities.” In his experience, leaders who have embraced nature, are more in tune with their team and have a clearer vision of the purpose of the organisation. It’s clear that seeking opportunities to connect staff with nature will have a positive effect on employee wellbeing, performance and on the strategic resilience of a business.

Optimise your office space

Office space provides a point of differentiation for businesses and in crowded cities can offer sought after access to the outdoors. IKEA Greenwich, dubbed the world’s most sustainable IKEA store, includes a roof pavilion and garden as a space for employees to take breaks and restore. Moreover, IKEA have opened the area to customers and community groups alike, who can attend yoga and gardening sessions with a skyline view of London. 

For people working from home, perhaps with limited access to nature, there are a number of options to ‘bring the outdoors in’. Acclaimed journalist Lucy Jones, author of the book ‘Losing Eden: Why our Minds Need the Wild’, offers her insight on the subject: “While higher quality nature rich in biodiversity is optimal, anything is better than nothing.” She suggests growing small plants, opening up the window to listen to the dawn chorus and even reading poetry about nature. All these activities have proven positive effects, with little cost.

Office plants can do much to increase the air quality and atmosphere of a room. Nasa has handily produced a list of the best air-filtering plants. Companies such as Patch Plants offer a whole range of pot plants for you to decorate your office or to send to homeworkers as a sign of support. Take inspiration from the Bristol offices of energy company OVO which includes six indoor trees, 500 balcony plants and 100 standing plants in its inventory.

Walk the walk while you talk

We’re all learning to work more flexibly and should aim to hold onto these skills when we return to more normal circumstances. Consider moving weekly catchups outside; a wander and a ponder, a walk and a talk. It’s reported that the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, occurred after Jan Koum, one of the co-founders had several walking meetings with the Mark Zuckerberg. Often, complex problems can be best unpicked in a new environment – allowing you to focus the mind and move your body.

Set the tone for the culture you want to promote at work by encouraging employees to explore the surroundings for themselves. Adidas fittingly advocates for staff to engage actively in sport in and around the head office ‘arena’. When onboarding new team members, why not include a walking guide to the neighbourhood, making sure to point out where the nearest parks can be found. Corporate volunteering can also take place outdoors and the charity Groundwork is a fantastic organisation to support.

Natural capital

Beyond the more immediate benefits of employees spending more time in nature, there is a longer-term intrinsic value for business in nature. The World Economic Forum released a joint report with PwC in January this year titled: “Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy”. The report emphasises the risk to all industries if nature isn’t respected and valued:” As nature declines, the prospects for business success and future prosperity dwindle. Conversely, the business opportunities that await those committed to restoring natural ecosystems could be considerable.” Now is a good time to plan how your business and employees can grow with and support the natural world.

With thanks to Lucy Jones (@lucyjones) and Giles Hutchins (@gileshutchins) for taking the time to speak with BRODIE for this blog.

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