Biophilia subscription service combines plants, sensors and machine learning to improve employee health and cut energy consumption
A combination of specially-selected plants, environmental sensors and machine learning is helping office clients in Switzerland and Germany track air quality improvements in real time.
Oxygen at Work is a form of Environment as a Service, an all-inclusive rental package of plants and air sensors, customised to optimise environments for factors such as energy consumption, employee health and productivity. Clients of the Zurich-based company include Microsoft, ABB, ING, Lindt, 3M and Cognizant.
Office owners or tenants have access to a live dashboard where they can track CO2 reductions, humidity levels and other variables. Based on analytics, they also receive recommendations on how to alter planting, ventilation or other building systems as part of an holistic design strategy for air quality.
Most offices can expect to reduce carbon dioxide levels by at least 5-10% and increase relative humidity by 10-20% using the service, the company claims. One client was able to turn off mechanical ventilation entirely, the results were so effective.
Manuel Winter, co-founder and CEO of Oxygen at Work, told RIBAJ: ‘There are often conflicting targets when talking about indoor environments – comfort, wellbeing, health, energy efficiency and employee productivity. We look at the problem holistically and come up with different recommendations on how to tackle it. Our mathematical models and algorithms calculate the actual impacts of plants on indoor environments; the goal is often to reduce energy consumption by naturally reducing CO2 and creating humidity.’
Covid-19 has introduced a new performance criteria to the mix – safety – and effective planting can help boost humidity to 40-60%, says Winter, a range thought to reduce the survivability of viruses as well as bacteria. Planting can also help separate spaces to achieve social distancing requirements.
Oxygen at Work collaborates with architects during design stages, using design data such as room characteristics, weather data and the location of the property to develop different greening scenarios that address project priorities.
‘We look at the layout and building operations and see how we can integrate greenery into the office to optimize air quality,’ said Winter. ‘The algorithms we use are based on existing clients, who employ between eight and 10,000 employees, which gives us lots of data to continuously improve the design phase.’
Plants can be placed on surfaces or hung from ceilings, they can form green walls or become integrated into furniture. Preference is given to specimens that are visually appealing, absorb multiple pollutants from the air and release humidity.
Flora alone is not enough to solve air quality problems so various optimisation recommendations, such as changes to ventilation systems or other building automation, are provided based on the analytics.
‘It's such a complex subject that if you add one extra desk to an office space it will change all the variables, which makes it hard to guarantee meeting air quality targets,’ said Winter. ‘However, we have a set of ideal thresholds and ranges of variables for CO2, or humidity levels, VOC and other pollutants. There are also KPIs for comfort, wellbeing and productivity – all based on the indoor environment. If those were not within the right zone, we would take action,’ he concludes.