Plants do more than look good. They can make staff happier and more productive, enrich an office environment and help employees stay physically, mentally and emotionally involved with work – a win all round for all employment levels. These findings are from a study, said to be the first of its kind, looking at the long-term impacts of plants in an office.

Co-authored by Professor Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, in partnership with researchers from Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and of Groningen, the team monitored productivity and perceptions of air quality, concentration and workplace satisfaction in two large commercial firms in the UK and the Netherlands. Findings showed they improved in “green” landscaped workplaces rather than in “lean” workplaces.

“Modern offices and desks have been stripped back to create sparse spaces – our findings question this widespread theory that less is more – sometimes less is just less,” Haslam says.

The long-term commitment of Australia’s real estate sector to sustainability (“beyond this financial year or this electoral cycle”, Green Building Council of Australia’s Chief Executive Romilly Madew says) was underscored recently by being named, along with New Zealand, the world’s greenest real estate market.

The latest Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, covering 56,000 buildings with an aggregate value of $US 2.1 trillion, measured that 70 per cent of the total participants were in the highest quadrant, compared with 35 per cent in Europe, and 32 per cent in North America and Asia. Furthermore, ISPT and Lend Lease were named “global sector leaders”.

And the infrastructure within which they are operating is also being more widely recognised. The Gold Coast Light Rail won the Infrastructure Council of Australia (ISCA)’s project/asset award, demonstrating that even in “a challenging environment … there are savings to be made through a sustainable approach”, ISCA CEO Antony Sprigg said. Main Roads Western Australia (WA) won the organisational leadership in infrastructure sustainability award for “national leadership … and embedding sustainability into corporate values and projects”. Katrina O’Mara from Aecom and based in WA won the individual leadership in infrastructure sustainability award.

In an expanding scheme, four more infrastructure projects were awarded an Infrastructure Rating in August: the enlarged Cotter Dam (the ACT, commended as built); Whitsunday Water Treatment Plants (Queensland, excellent as built); Googong Water Treatment Plans (Act, commended design); and North West Rail Link Early Works (NSW, commended design).