People will pay seven per cent more for a house with trees

People will pay more for a home in a leafy area and take a pay cut if it means getting a glimpse of nature from their desk, a new report from Planet Ark shows. And there are major bottom-line benefits for business in terms of increased productivity and staff retention for those who invest in greening the workplace.

Valuing Trees – What Is Nature Worth? also estimates the overall monetary value of public trees, with research out of Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide estimating that a typical street tree generates gross annual benefits of $424, made up of energy savings from reduced airconditioning use, air quality improvements, storm water management, aesthetics, capital appreciation, carbon sequestration and other benefits.

The report has been released ahead of National Tree Day on 27 July, and combines research drawn from a number of studies and a survey of 1000 people across all age groups and demographics undertaken by consultants Pollinate in March 2014 on behalf of Planet Ark.

Nature at home

The survey found Australians were willing to pay an average of $35,000 more for a $500,000 home – or an extra seven per cent of its value – if that home has trees in the yard and in the surrounding neighbourhood.

For 78 per cent of us, the preference was for a home with multiple natural elements around it, including trees and a garden, and 73 per cent rated a backyard as one of the most important aspects of their ideal home.

Of note for planners and public health advocates, 68 per cent of people said that living in an area where there were lots of trees, gardens and parks would reduce their stress levels. Planet Ark head of campaigns Brad Gray said there were well-established health benefits from nature, including improved eyesight in children and faster recovery times for hospital patients.

Studies also show that greenery reduces the risk of heatstroke and other health consequences of our warming climate due to reduction of the urban heat island effect. Less ambulance call-outs, fewer emergency ward patients, and fewer heat-related fatalities are all among the positives of urban “green infrastructure”.

Nature in the workplace

More than one in five people would be willing to sacrifice $10,000 a year or more of a $70,000 salary if it enabled them to have regular contact with nature throughout the working day, the survey found, and the majority would sacrifice at least $3700 a year.

Almost two-thirds of indoor workers would prefer a job in a workplace where they could see natural elements like a pot plant, view of trees or a garden. However, currently half of the indoor workers surveyed said they could not see a window with an exterior view, 52 per cent could not see the sky, 26 per cent could not see live plants or flower arrangements and 45 per cent could not see a tree.

More than half surveyed workers said a window with views of nature and outdoor break area with natural elements was as important as having easy access to banks and shops, and 31 per cent rated it more highly than having decent cafes in the vicinity.

Another relevant finding was that 64 per cent of workers agreed that having regular contact with nature at work would reduce their stress levels, 65 per cent agreed it would make them happier, and 61 per cent said they would feel more positive about going to work and doing their job.

A Medibank study undertaken in 2013 that is cited in the report showed work-related stress is a serious problem, with 15 per cent of workers taking sick days every month due to stress, which amounts to more than 20 million sick days in total every year across the entire workforce.

And then there’s the insidious issue of “presenteeism”, when the body is at the desk, but the worker is really not functioning fully. In combination, Medibank estimated that absenteeism and presenteeism cost the Australian economy $14.81 billion a year and directly cost employers $10.11 billion a year, a figure which does not include the costs of restaffing and reskilling when stress results in staff leaving their job for good.

Medibank is taking the results of its own study to heart, with Planet Ark’s report detailing the health insurer’s planned shift in 2014 from six older buildings to one new Docklands tower that has been designed to create a healthy workplace, with measures including around 10 per cent coverage of the facade by plants to provide shade and ensure staff enjoy leafy views.