A Biophilic Design Education, Strategy and Consulting Group
Facilitating The Creation of Positive Workplace Environments
Sustainability Studio Report
May 15th, 2013
Bio4 Team: Gabriela Aschenberger | Nick Lawrence | Pablo Prieto | Q Thang Do
DESIGN PREDICAMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
Our team originally formed around mutual interest on the topic of noise and light pollution and its pervasive but
commonly unknown effects on humans, animals, and the environment. We continued to narrow our focus looking at
specific spaces where noise and light pollution have widespread adverse effects that manifest themselves in more of
a discrete and subtle manner yet create systemic problems. Our thought process led us to the built environment and
the workplace, a space where employee effectiveness, creativity, and well being are often compromised in the
pursuit of maximization of profitability. We were ultimately able to identify that this very problem that plagues our
society is the direct result of poorly executed design strategy and requires a humancentered innovative solution.
Companies rely on the workplace to enable work and team dynamics with the intention these spaces will promote
productivity which will be translated into revenue. Prioritization of profitability is often at the expense of the worker’s
personal health and wellbeing with prolonged exposure to artificial lighting, an unproductive ambience,
unsatisfactory thermal comfort, and poor air quality. Our research led us to findings that indicated the overall health,
motivation, and long term efficiency of employees is being jeopardized because they are being deprived of access to
natural systems and good design. Living systems and good interior design practices provide employees with the
necessary sensory interactions that support physiological and psychological health, in turn stimulating productivity,
efficiency, and effectual management of resources such as electrical consumption which is a large contributor to
indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
The scientific and academic community adamantly believes that humans have a deeply innate emotional affiliation
and attraction to nature. Our earliest ancestors lived their lives as hunters and gatherers on the African savanna,
completely reliant on their natural surroundings and environment for basic survival.
As civilization has advanced over time through industrialization, departure from agrarian practices, and urbanization,
we have increasingly distanced ourselves from the natural world and elements that are critical to sustaining life. We
have designed ourselves into a predicament in which we have deprived ourselves of our basic evolutionary needs that
are coded in our DNA.
Facilitating the coexistence of humans and natural living systems in the workspace through various design solutions
is the key to our longevity that not only serves the interests of businesses and their bottom line but supports the
resiliency of civil society.
BUILT ENVIRONMENT & WORKPLACE DESIGN STRATEGY
We spend 90% of our time within the built environment. 40% of that time is spent in the workplace. Today,1 2
corporations spend 112 times the amount of money on people as on energy costs in the office , highlighting the3
effect that employees have on a company’s bottom line. The commercial sector has increasingly contributed to
significant environmental disruption through high levels of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, raw
materials use, waste output, and potable water use . To provide greater context, the commercial sector alone is4
responsible for 20% of the total electrical consumption in the US. In 2011, direct emissions from homes and5
businesses accounted for 11% of the total greenhouse gas emissions . Over the past 20 years, there has been a6
35% rise in indirect emissions from electricity consumption from the residential and commercial industries with the
top three end uses being space cooling, lighting, and space heating. Findings implicate that overall productivity,
health, and well being of employees directly correlate to effective resource management and environmental
responsibility. A healthier and more productive labor force can translate into less time spent in the office setting,
which means a significant reduction in environmental impact of the built environment and higher profitability for
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on healthcare costs associated with employee illness, mental
stress, and fatigue that are directly linked to poorly designed workspaces that lack a connection to nature.
Connecting patients with nature in hospitals has been shown to reduce the average length of stay by approximately
½ of a day which can amount to $93 million in hospital costs savings per year. If nature views advance the healing7
process, then natural design elements in the workplace should hold the key to increasing cognition and mental
energy and can essentially be considered a “preventative” measure to illness.
According to a study published by Herman Miller, a leader innovator in workplace strategy and design solutions,
strategic seating arrangements at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Call Center revealed that agents with a
view of the outdoors and nature responded to calls 12 percent faster than those with no view, generating an annual8
savings of nearly $3,000 per employee .9
In another study compiled by Terrapin Bright Green, a leading environmental consultancy, there was a 10%
difference in absenteeism rates between two sides of a building, with one side exposed to views of nature and the
other side without. There were 10% fewer recorded employee absences on the side with views of nature. The study
found that the quality of the person’s view to be the primary predictor of absenteeism.
It is clear that the key to a resilient and prosperous society is making an investment in sustainably designed work
environments that provide health and productivity benefits to employees through a deeper connection to nature,
whether it is through access to plants, views of nature, or natural daylighting.
SOCIAL VALUE PROPOSITION : COMMUNICATING BIOPHILIA
Biophilia is a theory established by Edward O. Wilson, a biologist, and Stephen Kellert, a social ecologist, in their
work, The Biophila Hypothesis, published in 1984. The hypothesis states that humans are hardwired through our
evolutionary framework and genetic makeup to be connected with nature on a physical, mental, and social level. The
term Biophilia literally means "love of life or living systems."
While biophilia is conceptual and theoretical, it has been recognized by the scientific and design community for the
past few decades. Humans have experienced biophilia intuitively for thousands of years on more of a cursory level,
however it is still considered arguably an emerging design discipline and scientific concept that has a great deal of
subtlety and richness to it. We believe that biophilia can be extremely impactful and become adopted as standard
design practice, if its benefits were communicated to a wider audience and the greater working population at a more
community based level.
By communicating and disseminating information about biophilic design benefits to our key stakeholders, biophilia
will have a greater and more pronounced chance of being adopted as a sound workplace investment that will yield
profitability for business, healthier people, and a healthier planet.
Workspaces that strategically incorporate biophilic design elements can provide positive measurable returns as
studies have proven. However, the question remains how do we arrive there faster? Through our research we
uncovered that there was a significant disconnect and misalignment between our defined key stakeholders. We
unveiled that there are many different parties involved with the process of implementing biophilic design at some
level, however, these critical parties are not interacting with each other. We believe that in order to expedite the
process towards large scale deployment and adoption of biophilic design, these groups need to interact with each
other after learning about the tangible benefits of biophilia in order to create successful and high impact projects.
These groups of stakeholders have the ability to leverage certain resources to create successful projects by
interacting with each other and understanding the breadth of their respective capabilities and skills.
We categorized the key stakeholders into three groups:
1) Facilities Managers: Facilities managers are responsible for the management of services and processes that
support the core business of an organisation. They ensure that an organisation has the most suitable working
environment for its employees and their activities. They have a vested interest in creating high satisfaction amongst
employees and increasing overall productivity. Their decisions have the potential to influence all the employees under
2) Interior Designers & Architects: They have the power of developing better interior environments, and there are
many professionals interested in designing highperformance, sustainable and creative projects. If there is a market
requesting projects around biophilic design, those designers who embrace it in their work will be satisfying this
3) Manufacturers: Some are already producing many sustainable and even natureinspired solutions that can be
immediately implemented into the workplace. These firms could ultimately benefit from understanding more about
the concept of biophilia and its direct correlation to sustainable design and workplace productivity and also can forge
strong partnerships with interior designers, architects and facilities managers.
Our solution's social value proposition is as follows:
If facilities managers learn about the benefits of biophilic design, they will elect to adopt it in the workplace. If
interior designers and architects learn about the benefits of biophilic design and how it can contribute to create a
positive sustainable environment, they will incorporate it in their projects. By providing education services in venues
where these groups can interact, we will accelerate the process of moving towards our goal of creating positive
workplace environments on a larger scale, increasing employees health and well being, enhancing productivity and
profitability and reducing indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
Business Concept Validation
We spoke to some potential key stakeholders to know if there was an interest in learning about the benefits of
biophilia, especially in the context of the workplace and if they were interested in creating this connection among the
other stakeholders. In total we interviewed:
● 5 Interior Designers/Architects: Ethan Lu, Program Director of Master’s in Sustainable Interior Environments
at New York School of Interior Design; Catie Ryan, Project Director at Terrapin Bright Green; Teri from Teri
Behm Architects; Debbie Meredith from BiophilicInteriors.com and Diana Lee from BioMimicry Group.
● 3 Manufacturers: Herman miller, Interface and Sage Vertical Garden Systems
● 4 Facilities Managers: Catherine Belmont from Systems & Space, Inc.; Jordan Borowitz, Director of
External Communications at The Durst Organization; Marlena Pena from SF Unified School; and EBC
facility manager from Mexico.
The feedback was that all of them were interested in the concept to not only promote their products and services but
also given their commitment to sustainability and sustainable design practices.
The desired social outcomes from our innovation project are categorized into enhanced public health, a cleaner
environment, and higher profitability.
Enhanced Public Health & Wellness
Educating, influencing, and enriching society about nature’s impact on humanity and the common desire to connect
humans with natural elements and elements that are evocative of nature in order to proliferate health, productivity,
and sustainable human development. Biophilic design principles have the ability to attract and retain highly skilled
employees also creating positive benefits for society.
Proven research has pointed to the improved physiological and psychological well being of employees when
connected with nature in the workplace. As a result of high levels of hormonal and cranial stress, often accelerated
by being in poorly lit and poorly designed workspaces, people can encounter coronary heart disease, a disease that
costs $108 billion a year. As part of a useful workplace design strategy, biophilic design principles can be utilized in
the office setting to provide healing qualities that can mitigate stress levels, sleep irregularities, and respiratory
problems to name a few.
A Cleaner Environment
The impact of the built environment can be reduced through the introduction of natural daylighting schemes, living
walls, and natural elements that require significantly less reliance on electrical consumption, specifically space
cooling, lighting, and space heating which are the leading contributors of indirect greenhouse gas emissions. In this
closedloop system, connecting humanity with nature in their daily routine will have a resounding positive influence
on the reduction of humaninduced impacts on climate change.
Adoption and deployment of biophilia is one of the soundest investments an employer can make. Case studies have
indicated that economic benefits that can be derived from biophilic experiences in the workplace due to improved
stress recovery rates, lower blood pressure, improved cognitive functioning, and enhanced mental stamina that drive
productivity. All of these advantages decrease the chance of illness, increase staff retention and overall job
SOCIAL IMPACT INDICATORS
The social impact indicators can be measured through:
● Reduction of energy consumption
○ More effective management of resources with increased cognition and productivity, meaning less
time spent at office
○ Reduced impact on climate change
■ Lowered atmospheric concentration of CO2, lowered reliance on fossil fuels, and reduced
fracking with reduced use of HVAC systems (space cooling and heating) and lighting
■ Increase of air, soil and water quality
■ Minimized contribution to global warming
■ Improvement in human and ecosystem health
● Improved air quality, acoustics, and reduction of toxins and humidity in the air through use of plants and
○ Improved health, wellbeing, motivation, and creativity
■ Reduction with risk of respiratory, cardiac and circulatory issues
■ Reduction in stress levels
■ Reduction with fatigue
■ Reduction in headaches
■ Reduction in sleep irregularities
■ Reduction in musculoskeletal disorders
● Reduction in employee absenteeism and in health care premiums and costs, and higher employee retention
○ Due to improved health
○ Due to employee satisfaction
● Reduction in overtime hours worked and associated labor costs, and in business hours worked
○ Due to increased productivity
Bio4 is a biophilic design education, consultancy and strategy group inspired to engage people about the tangible
benefits of nature's impact on humanity within the built environment. We are committed to advancing our vision of a
transformative shift towards largescale adoption and deployment of biophilic design into the workplace through a
carefully crafted and compelling experience. We are striving to carve out a direct path to a resilient society, by
eliminating barriers and bridging gaps in order to redefine the standards of the green building movement through a
holistic design strategy approach.
Through the key activities of educational workshops, webinars, a mobile biophilic design experience housed in a
retrofitted bus and a curated kit of biophilic design education resources and materials, we are targeting leading
innovative manufacturers, interior designers, architects, and facilities managers to educate them about the
restorative, regenerative, and systemslevel impacts of natureinspired design. Our designed experience conveys
nature’s influence on humanity and its profound ability to diminish humaninduced impact on the environment and its
potential to elevate our overall creativity and well being.
1) Awareness phase
Value Proposition: Educate people about biophilic design.
Reason: Most people have never heard about biophilia and don't know its benefits.
Purpose: Grow the interest about this topic, achieve greater credibility, grow our name (Bio4).
Strategy: Go under the umbrella of more established groups and participate in their events as guest speakers or
Strategic Partnership: LEED, USGBC, PG&E Energy Education Center, Biomimicry org, Verge, Permaculture,
Cradle to cradle, Ecological design.
How it works: Bio4 team will participate in the events as guest speakers and will talk about the relationship between
biophilia, workplace and productivity. At the end, a kit will be provided to attendees with brochures and some nature
inspired product design samples from leading manufacturers.
2) Market Creation phase
Value Proposition: Host events to educate about biophilia and connect stakeholders.
Reason: There are three stakeholders (facilities managers, interior designers/architects and manufacturers) who
don't typically connect with each other.
Purpose: Grow the interest in companies to adopt biophilia, inspire interior designers and architects to adopt
biophilia in their work, increase the exposure of manufacturers' products.
Strategy: Offer a place to foster this connection, by charging only the entry admission to the event
Strategic Partnership: Biomimicry org, Permaculture, Ecological design, LEED, USGBC, Rocky Mountain Institute,
and manufacturers: Herman Miller, Interface, Lumicor, 3 Form.
How it works: The workshops happen in a space rented by Bio4. Prior to the events, an invite is sent via social
media, press and personal contact to facility manager organizations, architecture and design schools, and
The workshop takes at least 3 hours and consists of two parts: the first is a lecture given by Bio4 team, showing the
connection between biophilia and the workplace, as well as its benefits. In the second part, two guest speakers
(partners and/or specialists from the field) are invited to give a lecture, in accordance with the topic.
Once the lectures are done, the attendees will be invited to go to the bus that will be waiting outside of the building.
The bus will be decorated and outfitted in the interior according to the theme of the seminar/workshop so people are
able to experience it.
(A graphic rendering of the bus can be found in Appendix A)
At the end, attendees will receive a kit with a brochure and some samples from the strategic partners.
(For copy of the brochure please refer to Appendix B)
Our events will also occur on the internet via webinars. The webinars will be hosted once a month and will be
structured and organized in a similar fashion to the events hosted in a venue. There are two speakers (one from Bio4
and one guest speaker who is a partner) and participants will be able to connect with them afterwards through a
Another benefit for the manufacturers, besides being part of our events as guest speakers and providing sample
offerings, is the exposure of their products on our website as a promotional opportunity. Through the touchpoint of
our website, people will be able to find all the information they need about biophilic design in one centralized space.
3) Market Satisfaction phase
Value Proposition: In parallel to the hosted events, we are going to offer consultancy services and drive the creation
positive workplace environments through guidance and key insights
Reason: After 3 years, we will be able to create interest about biophilia amongst facilities managers and
designers/architects and build our name and have credibility in this topic
Purpose: Explore the new market
Strategy: Work as consultants and offer the biophilic design services for facilities managers to be applied in their
We will offer a certificate to facilities managers that will serve as a guarantee that their office meets biophilic design
standards through the development of a unique credit rating system.
Risk: By keeping the bus experience, we might be creating our own competition. The bus offers the connection
between managers and designers, and managers can hire them instead of us. Depending on the revenue stream, we
might have to chose between both.
A complete overview of our business model canvas can be found in Appendix C.
We have selected the city of San Francisco as the first location to launch our service as the Bay Area is a densely
populated region with many registered businesses, facilities managers, licensed architects and interior designers
that could be paired well with our productmarket fit. Additionally, as San Francisco is an incubator for innovative
practices and sustainable solutions, we would be positioning ourselves to receive a lot of traffic purely from
intellectual curiosity and those seeking knowledge.
Shortterm (Year 1): Awareness phase
● Participate in 6 events (preferably those which the target is workplace)
● Lecture about biophilia with a targeted audience of 180 attendees over the 6 events, which can have the
potential to influence 18,000 employees
Mediumterm (Years 23): Market Creation phase
● Purchase bus for $1 as a retired transit authority bus from a municipality, service it to ensure it is roadready
and then retrofit it.
● Host 24 workshops (once a month), for an average of 45 attendees each, achieving a targeted total of 1080
attendees, which can influence 108,000 employees
● Host 24 webinars (once a month), for an average of 100 attendees each, achieving a targeted total of 2400
attendees, which can influence 240,000 employees
Longterm (Years 45): Market Satisfaction phase
● Host 24 workshops (once a month), for an average of 80 attendees each, achieving a targeted total of 1920
attendees, which can influence 192,000 employees
● Host 24 webinars (once a month), for an average of 100 attendees each, achieving a targeted total of 2400
attendees, which can influence 240,000 employees
● Launch consultancy. Secure and close at least 3 projects each year.
(A detailed five year budget can be found in Appendix D)
We have identified some competitors that are doing a great deal to generate awareness and engage a wide range of
stakeholders about biophilic design such as Interface, which has a broad approach in terms of the distribution of
comprehensive marketing materials about biophilia, promoting their biophilic design challenge, and offerings of a
range of biophilic design inspired products. They are a strong competitor in terms of being the most formidable
catalyst in bridging together workplace innovation/manufacturers, interior designers, architects, and facilities
managers to communicate biophilic design benefits. A company such as Interface could be seen as a competitor in
terms of the information they disseminate that directly relates to biophilic design, however, we also see them as a
strategic partner for our solution that would be mutually beneficial.
With regard to research, strategy, and consulting services Terrapin Bright Green would be a good model to emulate
to educate our stakeholders in regions where they may not have as much visibility and presence such as the west
coast. In terms of the differentiation with our team’s approach we believe there is tremendous value in bringing these
stakeholders into one space through a twoprong approach, educating them through “designnight” workshops and
webinars but also providing them with an unparalleled opportunity to experience biophilia first hand with the kit and
bus, which is not a practice we are aware of being implemented in the ecosystem we are trying to occupy.
Bio4 is an innovative solution that provides a dynamic interactive space for facilities managers, interior designers,
architects, and leading manufacturers of sustainable workplace products to receive educational resources about the
tangible benefits of biophilic design. Our solution provides a unique space where thought leaders of the built
environment can interact around the topic of biophilic design in order to lead to large scale deployment and adoption
of biophilia in the office setting. Popularizing implementation of biophilic design will provide societal benefits which
include a healthy, creative and satisfied workforce, a cleaner environment, and profitable businesses. Our analysis
and research has validated that there is a need for this solution in the marketplace and has provided justification to
take this project to a test launch phase.