Businesses are caught in a conundrum of trying to attract staff back into their offices, while also navigating how to fill any extra office space, as more companies shift to hybrid working.
ESG policies and office reoccupation strategies have become a key focus for many businesses which has shifted the market to adopt new technologies and design. With tabletop games not as desirable as they once were, there is a demand for more sustainable products to be installed in offices that benefit the environment as well as the tenants within it.
One of the companies leading the charge with their free-standing and wall mounted farm units is Square Mile Farms. The farm units have emerged as an ideal way of helping reengage staff with social events like group meals which are inspired by the produce, as well as group harvestings which brings people together to learn more about the process of vertical farming. The units are also supporting sustainability initiatives and staff wellbeing.
While vertical farming is still a relatively new concept, hydroponics and new farming techniques have become increasingly popular due to their lower environmental impact versus traditional agriculture. For example, the CO2 levels related to transport emissions are around 90% lower for vertical farming than conventional agriculture. Hydroponic systems use up to 95% less water and are significantly more productive per square metre, which is what makes them the perfect addition to offices.
While the ability to grow leafy greens in the lobby of your office block might seem a small step to helping improve wellbeing at work, Ben Dean, COO of Square Mile Farms explains that this is more than just another office design fad.
“Being connected to nature certainly seems to resonate with people, particularly within the workplace and built environment. We’ve had some amazing comments from our clients to say that they’ve found the plants calming and even a good backdrop for yoga and meditation, as well as the harvest sessions being a reason for them to come back to the office. Our Farms have all the usual aesthetic benefits of biophilic design, but more than that they are an interactive feature that employees can smell, touch, harvest, eat and that takes them away from their desk for a moment.”
Biophilic design has long been established as a wellbeing must-have for offices because of the productivity and mental health benefits. But what we’ve also seen more recently is that employees are desiring a greater blend between their home and work identities. This has created a greater focus on social conscience within the workplace with individuals wanting to make better choices to reduce their own carbon footprint.
As more business owners and facilities management teams deploy their reoccupation strategies over the coming months, offering wellbeing benefits that staff can interact with and even take home to eat, is showing the shift towards healthier lifestyles and providing a diverse range of choice within the workplace.
The concept of being able to walk past fresh herbs and vegetables in the morning and then eat them at lunchtime is a novel idea while working in central London, but the farming units are aiming to go a step further by helping businesses achieve their sustainability goals.
Square Mile Farms are partnering with businesses from different sectors who are using the farm units for a whole host of reasons but an increasing number of their partners are using the farms to help them achieve WELL and BREEAM accreditations as well as support their commitments to achieving carbon net zero.
The WELL Building Standard includes the Nourishment concept which is aimed at improving nutrition and driving healthier choices. This is one of the key criteria that the farming units are having a direct positive impact on for landlords and developers as they look to make their buildings as green as possible.
While bringing vertical farms into the workplace is helping to achieve sustainability goals and enabling workers to re-engage with their colleagues, the mission to help reduce food waste is also vitally important and one close to the core values of Square Mile Farms. According to the World Food Programme, it is estimated that approximately 30% of food in the global food supply chain is wasted.
Ben Dean explains that “we’re pioneering change and change takes time. We are excited about the reception we’ve had to our vertical farms in the workplace but this is just a stepping stone for change. There is a huge amount of potential with this type of farming and we hope to create new habits for the people using our units as we strive towards reducing carbon emissions and food waste.”
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