Green Spaces Improve Our Capacity to Learn

Last week we wrote an article about how the healthcare industry is integrating green spaces into the design of their facilities to improve patient recovery and save on operational costs. It makes sense since the industry accounts for over 17% of the U.S. GDP. But there are other places that can be improved by adding a little dose of nature, and one such place is schools.

The United States spends over $661 trillion annually on K-12 education (1). And yet, despite this, many schools are underfunded and many teachers underpaid. Therefore it is incredibly important that each dollar spent on education is delivering the best learning environment possible, and when it comes to providing this environment the data (once again) points toward biophilic design.

Students absences create additional expenditures that can be mitigated by integrating daylit classrooms and view of nature. A study conducted in 1996 by Michael Niklas and Gary Bailey found that schools with optimal daylight allowance had increased attendance by 3.2-3.8 days per year compared with attendance at none daylit schools. Niklas and Bailey calculated that the value for 3 days of attendance for the 633 students in the school district where the study was conducted was about $126,283 in tax dollars saved (2).

Another study in 1999 found that students perform and learn 22-26% faster in daylit classrooms (higher performance was indicated when students had a view of nature through the windows of their classroom) (3). The same study estimated that schools who invest in better daylighting for students can improve test scores by 5-18%. And as is the case with the healthcare industry, teachers and staff also have improved performance and mental focus in daylit environments.

Green spaces have also shown to have a positive influence on children diagnosed with ADHD and ADD, improving concentration and attention rates (5). Over $2 billion each year is spent on medicating the over 5.2 million children diagnosed with ADHD in the United States (6). By utilizing biophilic design, we can collectively save parents several hundred dollars a year on medication for attention deficit disorders, while improving the quality of life for their children.

So beyond saving schools money, how does a better education for students stack up for the economy overall? The Alliance for Excellent Education found that if all the students who dropped out of high school in 2007 had graduated, they would have collectively earned an estimated additional $329 billion in income over their lifetime (4). The costs of not improving our schools is staggering to both the individual and the communities where they live and work.

Although nothing replaces improvements in curriculum and the schools resources, biophilic design can be an additional means (and more meaningful investment) in the students learning and development.


  1. US Census Bureau. Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Washington, D.C. 2010.

  2. Niklas, Michael H., and Gary B. Bailey. “Student Performance in Daylit Schools.” Innovative Design. Raleigh, North Carolina. 1996.

  3. Heschong, Lisa. Heschong Mahone Group. “Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship Between Daylighting and Human Performance.” California Energy Commission: Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Fair Oaks, California. 1999.

  4. Alliance for Excellent Education. “The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools.” Issue Brief. 2007.

  5. Taylor, A., and Frances E. Kuo. “Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park.” Journal of Attention Disorders. No. 12; 402. SAGE Publications. 2009.

  6. Scheffler, Richard M., Stephen P. Hinshaw, Sepideh Modrek, and Peter Levine. “The Global Market for ADHD Medications.” Health Affairs, 26, No. 2 (450-457). 2007.