As part of Garage Society’s Well-Being Month, we sat down with Dutch entrepreneur Madelon van de Ven, to learn more about her flourishing plant subscription startup and her mission to get more urbanites to experience the health and well-being benefits of plants.
During our chat, we talked about the relationship between humans and plants, our collaboration with PLNTY and why we should ‘greenify’ our offices and homes.
Q: Tell us about how PLNTY came about.
A: I’ve always had a passion for plants, but about 5 years ago, I started working for the world’s largest flower and plant auction back in The Netherlands, and it was then I began to understand the positive effects of plants. It was a shame I didn’t know this earlier and have more plants at home, but the discovery of better health and well-being through plants was one of the reasons for setting up PLNTY.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, I read a lot of articles about the well-being of people and thought to myself, there is so much outdoor greenery in Hong Kong. It’s probably the greenest city in Asia after Singapore, but it has a workplace well-being issue which I knew indoor nature could help with.
Q: What do you think about today’s human connection with nature?
A: I think we’ve lost our connection with nature in the city, so it's really important to restore that. Cities often turn green areas into grey spaces for example; Hong Kong back then had beautiful places filled with greenery, but a lot has changed since then. So it's really important to have that connection with nature because we are nature, and we’re always looking for landscapes in which we can flourish. That is not to say we cannot or should not live in cities, but it's always good to maintain a strong connection with the great outdoors.
Q: Is this disconnect with nature unique to Hong Kong and cities or are we generally losing touch with nature?
A: Yes, I think it’s a global issue and not specific to Hong Kong because people have continually gravitated to cities. It’s predicted that 80% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. In Hong Kong, 99.7% of its population currently live in the city, so that’s almost everyone.
Before there were cities, we searched for landscapes in which we could thrive and flourish. So it's in our nature to be with nature and find places where we can live in the most comforting and peaceful way. Would this be different in the Netherlands? I don't think so. Maybe there’s more greenery, but our connections are still lost if you’re stuck in a building all day. I’m not saying it’s black and white; there are varying levels of disconnect depending on the city or location, but it’s generally a global problem.
Q: With the pandemic restricting our interactions with nature, what do you think we can do to rebuild this connection?
A: What I’ve seen here in Hong Kong is people going out more and more. Maybe it’s because fewer people are commuting and more working from home, so there’s time to go for a hike or a walk in the park. I think people are now taking the time to explore nature and experience the outdoors, which is great. You can of course bring nature indoors with plants at home or in the workplace. It’s good to take time to think about how you feel about your workspace, and if you can’t go to work, how you can create a space at home that considers your wellbeing. If you can’t venture out into nature or access nature, think about creating a natural environment indoors for yourself.
Q: Have you seen the demand for having more greenery indoors? Is there a connection between that and the pandemic?
A: Yes, demand for indoor greenery has grown and there’s now more awareness of the benefits that green spaces bring. What I’ve seen with PLNTY is that we often uncover a latent need people don’t realise they have. For example, we’ve been running a pilot scheme with Garage Society with plants in your Wan Chai offices. When they arrived, everyone was saying, ‘we’re so happy with the plants, it spices up the workplace’ and expressing positivity and enjoyment. I think when people are made aware that their environment can be greener and healthier, they realise how much of a boost it has on their well-being and happiness.
I think our search to improve our well-being has been magnified by the pandemic as we often go back to this primary need in times of crisis. I hear a lot from businesses that they are looking to make work-life better for their employees as it’s so hard for people right now. This is where plants can have an impact through greenifying offices and spaces. It can help companies create attractive environments where employees can be more productive, thrive and be happier.
Q: How important is nature to city dwellers especially in a city like Hong Kong?
A: Hong Kong has one of the most stressed populations in the world according to the World Health Organization, which is a huge problem. I think it’s a global problem with most people that live in cities, not prioritising their physical and mental health. At PLNTY, we’re trying to address this through an approach that is backed by scientific research.
There are many studies about the positive effects of plants on your health and well-being, for example, being surrounded by nature or even just looking at a plant can help people calm down and reduce stress. This naturally reduces one’s heart rate and lowers blood pressure which is extremely good for your headspace. When you become calmer, you give your brain more space to think clearly, allowing you to focus better.
Evidence suggests you can even boost productivity and creativity by just looking at greenery. In some cases, sick days have been reduced by 20%, allowing businesses to be more efficient with healthier work environments for employees.
Q: You recently ran a pilot scheme in our Wan Chai space to better understand the effects of plants in the workplace. What did you see from your Garage Society study?
A: We carried out research to understand what members would like in an optimal workspace. This included interior design, help with being more creative and productive, and air quality. Our findings told us that air quality was most important to Garage Society members. Plants have recognised air-purifying capabilities, so we worked with the Garage team to look at their floor plan and where members spent most of their time, and strategically plotted out where plants could be most effective within the workspace. We carefully chose the type of plants according to the environment because there is a certain amount of light that plants need for them to thrive.
Also, we considered the type of plants that would suit the brand. For example, Garage is a really modern and fresh brand, so we selected more tropical plants for the workspace.
After the plants were installed and the members had spent time with them, the feedback we received showed a big contrast before and after. The study showed us there was a significant positive impact on members and their mood with comments ranging from the plants improving the look of the workspace to members feeling happier that they were there.
As we enter the festive season, it might be time to reconsider a more sustainable way to celebrate your Christmas. Did you know that a 5 ft Christmas tree grows for at least 8 years, only to be cut down and used for 3 weeks before it ends up in a landfill?
PLNTY and Garage Society are helping to reduce this impact with festive plants that can be enjoyed long after Christmas. Garage members can now order PLNTY’s mini conifers online, a perfect gift or accompaniment to your office or home. Enjoy our exclusive 10% discount using the code: garagexmas
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Garage Academy, a home to entrepreneurs, has witnessed the impact of the pandemic to the founders, freelancers and corporate leaders who call our community home. Today, with this guide to entrepreneurship, we hope to help you find your feet as a first-time entrepreneur in the age of social distancing, with insights from our recent webinar with Shopify.