Post-COVID: A Green Star on the horizon for interior plantscapes

By Gabrielle Stannus

With the recent spate of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders coming to an end, employers are seeking to attract their staff back to the workplace. Johan Hodgson from Ambius Australia says that the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star rating tool, provides a useful selling point for interior plantscapers seeking to communicate the benefits of indoor plants to developers, architects and other businesses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the workplace as we know it,” says Johan Hodgson, General Manager, Ambius Australia and current Accredited member / immediate past Treasurer of the Interior Plantscape Association (IPA), “Businesses want people to come back to the office. How do they do that? They can do it through biophilic design and with plants. Interior plantscaping solutions have primarily been thought of as an aesthetic addition. This is changing; the solutions need to offer more functional, smart, socially distanced indoor solutions that allow for a variety of users and utilizing indoor plantscaping solutions to achieve this.”

Johan Hodgson suggests architects and interior plantscapers connect early in the design to achieve green star ratings
Post-COVID: Johan Hodgson suggests architects and interior plantscapers connect early in the design to achieve green star ratings (!mages: Ambius Australia)

Johan recently spoke about this topic at a Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) webinar ‘Insights into Healthy Buildings’, along with other industry experts. He says that Dr Fraser Torpy, Director of the Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group at the University of Technology Sydney, reminded the audience that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Dr Torpy claimed that indoor plants can remove up to 80% of volatile organic compounds and 20-25% of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from interiors, thereby reducing sick building syndrome symptoms such as dry eyes, nose and throat, and increasing employee productivity.

The ability of indoor plants to improve indoor air quality has been recognised by the GBCA through its Green Star – Interiors v1.3 rating tool. This tool rates the sustainable design and construction of building fit-out works, both in its ‘Design’ and ‘As Built’ phases. Categories within this tool include management, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions, innovation and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). From 100 core points, 23 points are available for IEQ. An ‘Indoor Pollutants’ category sits under IEQ to recognise projects that safeguard occupant health through the reduction in internal air pollutant levels, and the use of Indoor Plants can help a business to gain two points towards their overall Green Star – Interior’s rating score.

To gain these two points, a business must provide at least 500cm2 of total soil surface area for a nominated area of 10m2. The aggregated soil surface area is 0.5% of the nominated area in each ‘distinct area’ within the scope of the fit-out. The proponent must also ensure that an ongoing maintenance plan is established for all plants with a reputable plant maintenance contractor. “It is a relatively cost-effective way for businesses to achieve another two points when compared with other required criteria,” Johan claims.

Whilst the intention of the Green Star – Interiors rating is to have plants evenly distributed throughout the building, however that is not always the case. Indoor plants may be excluded in tertiary spaces and other functional areas not accessible to the plant maintenance contractor, for example, boardrooms smaller than 25m2 can be excluded. Johan believes that these rooms have probably been excluded because so many of these buildings have automatic lights. If the room is not used, then the plants sit in darkness, and as we all know, plants need light to thrive.

Research shows that indoor plants improve air quality
Research shows that indoor plants improve air quality (!mages: Ambius Australia)

Johan reminds architects to bring interior plantscapers on the journey from the concept stage when seeking to gain a Green Star rating. “We need to know the exact net lettable area to achieve Green Star rating and then work with the architect on their chosen joinery and/or freestanding containers for this area,” says Johan, “Ambius calculates the number of plants that can actually be housed in the joinery and or the freestanding containers. Once we have done that, we calculate to see if it meets the minimum surface area required for the Green Star – Interior’s rating.”

The Green Star – Interiors rating tool provides a useful solution and guidance for interior plantscapers to support developers, architects and other businesses that wish to achieve a healthy indoors that promotes wellbeing with improved IAQ. However, its current reference to soil surface area is not in line with the operations of many interior plantscapers, who install indoor plants in standard grow pots, namely diameters of 200mm, 250mm, 300mm and 420mm (sitting at 185mm, 230mm, 265mm and 320mm depths respectively). The Interior Plantscape Association should take the lead on behalf of our industry to advocate for change to this rating tool.

Despite these minor limitations, the Green Star – Interiors rating tool is providing opportunities for interior plantscapers to improve the quality of their customers’ indoors, and provide spaces where people thrive in our ‘new normal’ operating environment, post-COVID (fingers crossed!).

Gabrielle StannusInwardout Studio

M: 0400 431 277

E: gabrielle@inwardoutstudio.com

Board Member, Interior Plantscape Association

www.interiorplantscape.asn.au

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