Guest: Dr. Dominique Hes
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Dr. Dominique Hes is the Director of the Thrive Research Hub at the University of Melbourne. Dominique received a science degree from Melbourne University and followed this with a graduate diploma in Engineering (Cleaner Production) and a Doctorate in Architecture 2005 from RMIT University, Melbourne. Throughout her 25 years of working, learning and practicing in the sustainability field, she has asked the question why given all the effort being put into sustainability are we becoming more unsustainable, with most ecological and social indicators in decline. Though not resolved this question resulted in the book Designing for Hope: pathways to Regenerative sustainability, which investigates both the reason for our lack of progress towards sustainability and presents projects and approaches that are starting to address this.
Segment Overview: Dr. Dominique Hes comes on Talkers.FM to discuss the amazing and innovative work she does at the Thrive Research Hub. She highlights the Plant Life Balance where plants actually have great health benefits for people (even children). One example she provides is that having plants in hospitals can help patients feel better quicker and requiring less drugs.
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Business Radio Talkers.FM. My name is Wayne Bucklar and today, I’m joined by Dominique Hes. Dominique, is the Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Architecture at the University of Melbourne. She has degrees in botany engineering and architecture and as the Director of the Thrive Research Hub at the University of Melbourne and is a fascinating person because she’s going to talk to us about plants, and kids and the research she’s been doing. Dominique, welcome to the show.
Dominique Hes: Thank you for having me.
Wayne: Now Dominique, you better fill us in about what it is you do and where you do it and particularly, what is the Thrive Research Hub?
Dominique: So the Thrive Research Hub is a group of academics in the built environment across all the disciplines. So we have finance, and construction, and architecture planning, landscape and urban design, all working together to try and bring more real solutions to the ground in our cities. So we ask questions around sustainability and how people can really deal with a lot of the issues that we’re dealing with some in both social and ecological in our cities.
Wayne: And I’m fascinated by this work because it never occurred to me in a million years that plants and architecture went together. Tell us what is “Plant Life Balance?”
Dominique: Plant Life Balance is an app that was developed through the funding of Hort Innovation. A lots of people have heard that plants are good for them but there are also some myths around that they accumulate dust and so forth and there’s a little clarity around the research, around the benefits of plants. So what Plant Life Balance does is it brings that ability to see the benefits of plants in your home to your fingertip.
Wayne: Now, why is it relevant and particularly, why is it relevant to health professionals?
Dominique: So it’s relevant because having plants within our building connects us with nature and that connection with nature is something that has been shown through many research projects. We summarized the 101 so there’s particular app that shows that we are more effective and more able to be innovative, communicate better, productive, intuitive, it really helps us to function better if people when we are connected to nature. And since we spend so much of our time indoors, having those plants around us creates that more relaxed outcome for our brains. It goes back to our evolution, we spent a lot more time in nature in the past than we have now in our brains evolved in nature and so they are just more relaxed when we are connected to nature and that’s called the “Biophilia Hypothesis.”
Wayne: Dominique, I’m intrigued that your research has shown what my grandmother always said. When we were kids, she was forever telling us to get outside, go and play in the garden. So building plants in obviously your research shows have some benefits. Why did you want to take the research?
Dominique: I’m fairly passionate about giving people the tools to make the best decisions for themselves and so being able to make the benefit of plant research accessible was really important and something that I’m very interested in across all of the various things that Thrive does. And particularly, I’m a bit of a nature lover and a plant lover and so it was a personal interest as well just to collect the information that was made me feel certain about which plants to choose, and where they should go, and what the benefit would be for myself and my family of having those plants. Particularly, interested as you mentioned, the connection between “plants and kids” and “nature and kids.” And within the Plant Life Balance, we looked at 11 studies that were specifically looking at kids from sort of grades 6 upwards. So there aren’t many studies with plants and kids younger than that. But from grade 6 upwards and those studies show increased concentration, better ability to communicate and socialize, lower aggression. Interestingly, even having plants in rooms where kids can’t see them, so if they’re doing in a classroom and they’re doing an activity just having the plants around them will improve their cognitive abilities with a couple of studies actually going as far as looking into science, and maths, and spelling schools and connecting those to having plants in the classroom.
Wayne: Now, I can hear some of my skeptical audience going on, “She’s just a greeny. She’s just going on about plants.” Is the research rock-solid? Is this something you would go and argue for budget for in schools?
Dominique: Absolutely. And not just schools, hospitals as well which I guess is very interesting for your audience. The research is rock-solid that if you have either views out of windows to nature in hospitals or you have plants in rooms with children and adults, then they get better quicker, they require less drugs, they are generally less stressed and that goes back to that based brain, “fight flights” if we’re in nature that bits more relaxed, so all the higher functions and the body’s less stressed and so we just heal quicker. And within schools, we are able to be less stressed and therefore, we can concentrate more. So it is fairly rock-solid.
Wayne: It’s intriguing research Dominique and you’ve inspired me now to put some pot plants in my studio because it will make me feel better I’m sure. What’s the biggest misconception that you find when you talk about this stuff?
Dominique: I think people worry about the maintenance aspects of it. And in a corporate sort of environment, there are companies that will look after the plants for you. But within a school environment or a home environment, the looking after of plants can be part of the joys of being connected to plants, can be part of the jobs that the kids do and that’s also actually shown to create a benefit. So giving kids the responsibilities over looking after living things, they’re with pets but they’re also there with plants and so I think that’s one of the main misconceptions.
Wayne: As you’re talking, I was thinking yes, if I dribble water down the side of this plant onto my amplifiers are being big trouble. What about the people who say, they kill every plant that they touched, they don’t have green thumbs.
Dominique: Well, there are plants that are less hard to kill.
Wayne: That’s funny. What about the plastic plants?
Dominique: Well, the research has actually shown that a picture of a plant trumps a blank empty room, a plastic pot plants will trump a picture of a plant and then a real plant will trump a plastic plant. And if you get a variety of plants and you have that diversity, then that will trump a single type of plant. So if you’re worried about dribbling water down your amplifier, then I would grab a beautiful non-real plant that doesn’t need water. There’s one study I actually wanted to mention which was done in Brisbane with 360, Year 6 and 7 keeps where they had a baseline of their performance and then they introduced just 3 plants into every classroom. And they found an increase in math, science and spelling scores of 11 to 14 percent.
Wayne: That’s astounding. Are you surprised when you see the results of some of the research?
Dominique: Yes. I wasn’t expecting such a big number. I wasn’t expecting such a big number because that is really you know, I’d like to go speak to the schools and say, “Okay, what else is going on. We’re using out our free lollies or something.” But you know, this was one study and a specifically, one for Australia but across the studies, there was one study of a 101 schools in Michigan. So that’s a really large number of schools. We’re looking specifically around how students felt about themselves and their future and they showed that in those schools, if the kids had views out windows to nature, to trees and so forth, not so much to lawns or car parks, but if they had views out to trees and sort of more natural hills and so forth, then there was almost a 5% increase in awards that they got, they graduated more often and almost 13% had more than the control schools had aspirations to go to university. And so there are quite large studies international and that also point in the same direction.
Wayne: And I know kind of .0001 results. When you’re talking up around the 10% mark, that’s a big obvious results.
Dominique: That’s a tap dancing and “Hallelujah, what a good result.”
Wayne: Academically yes.
Dominique: Another one I wanted to mention which was specifically medically. So they looked at 66 people in a windowless by monitoring area. And they had a control and then they brought in a bunch of flowers. And then in another one, they had no flowers but just the scent of lavender. And in another one, they brought flowers and the scent. And they actually showed positive results in EEG and skin temperature and that there are all these acronyms. So EEG, EDA, ST and … They showed which basically meant that there was less here, there was more comfort, more relaxed and people well less stressed by the whole situation of these tests. And I think for a hospital situation and particularly, when you’re dealing with kids that may not know what’s going on, just having some flowers in the room or even particularly for the females, just the scent of lavender already relax them.
Wayne: It’s sound extraordinary that it hasn’t just become standard practice on those sorts of results to have much more plant life indoors in our schools and hospitals and I guess our homes as well.
Dominique: Well, the results then translate to home. So unless your children will be more relaxed. If you look at the research, less of the social disconnection, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur, it’s just of a lesser extent if you look at the metadata on connection of kids and plants. And some what Richard Louv wrote about, we know we’ve created this “Nature Deficit Disorder,” so we’ve disconnected our children from nature and because of that, they are turning to more things like screen time which is also quite stressful for the brain and they have no place for that based brain to relax when we talked about before to have those biophilic experiences. And so it’s really important particularly as we move to more apartment living and so forth to bring as much as we can of that nature inside. And if you do kill plants, well put in some beautiful photos and imagery.
Wayne: Dominique, I’m sure that we’ve intrigued people today. How can they get it hold of you if they want to reach out?
Dominique: So they can contact me at the Thrive Research Hub at the University of Melbourne, always happy to respond. They can download the Plant Life Balance app, it’s a free app. It’s just won the Webby Awards which apparently is the Oscars Online.
Wayne: It is indeed a big deal to win the Webby.
Dominique: Yes, well that was another “Woohoo Moment” for us. And if they go online, there’s a Facebook site where people can get answers if they have questions about Plant Life Balance. And online, if you just look at the website, you can download the scientific research if people are interested in more detail.
Wayne: And that’s at plantlifebalance.com.au.
Dominique: That’s correct.
Wayne: Dominique, thank you for making us all available today. I realize that you’re a busy academic and thousand pages to read every hour. But I do always love having a chat to you, thanks for being with us.
Dominique: Thank you for your time, have a lovely day.
Wayne: If you’ve just joined us, then you’ve just missed a fascinating conversation. I’ve been in conversation with Dominique Hes, Senior Lecturer and Sustainable Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Dominique got degrees in botany engineering and architecture and as a Director at the Thrive Research Hub at the University of Melbourne. And has been talking to us about the rock-solid, irrefutable research about the benefits of plants in our lives and particularly, with reference to kids. So having told you what you’ve just missed, I suppose I should told you tell you now how you can catch up. On our website, we have a transcript so you can read the whole story. But you can also listen to the interview again, we have a sound archive on iTunes, YouTube and SoundCloud and you can head off to those and download the whole interview and listen to it again. If you’re listening to us on social media, click all the buttons please, tell us you’d like us. Even if you don’t like us, tell us you’re unhappy. If you have a question, any of the media channels will come to us and we’ll be happy to answer it. My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’re listening to Business Radio Talkers.FM and you can reach all of our resources on our website at www.talkers.fm.