Meetings & Your Brain

The Brainy Case for Green Roofs

New research shows that exposure to nature for periods as short as 40 seconds increases concentration and performance.

Jacob K Javits Convention Center, Green Roof, Location: New York NY, Architect: Richard Rogers and James Ingo Freed
Jacob K Javits Convention Center’s green roof. Architects: Richard Rogers and James Ingo Freed.

We know that green roofs benefit the environment, but now there’s evidence that they check off another important box as well: They help improve onlookers’ ability to concentrate. That finding comes from a study conducted among 150 subjects by researchers at the University of Melbourne, which was shared in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) story.

In the study, subjects were asked to perform a menial task — hitting certain keystrokes when specific numbers appeared on a computer screen — for five minutes. They then got a 40-second break, during which half the subjects were shown a plain concrete roof on their screens; the other half saw a roof covered with a green, flowering meadow. 

The subjects then resumed the task. The concentration levels among those who were shown the concrete roof fell by 8 percent, and their performance became less consistent. And the green-roof viewers’ concentration levels? They rose by 6 percent, and their performance was steady.

What’s the connection to the meetings industry? It’s a given that convention centers with green roofs, like New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (above) and the Vancouver Convention Centre (below) — both of which were featured in Convene‘s July cover story — can lessen meeting groups’ environmental footprint. But if the roof is visible to attendees during their time at the conference, it also may enhance their ability to focus, and therefore improve their learning experience. 

Vancouver Convention Centre's green roof.
Vancouver Convention Centre’s green roof.

Grassy roofs offer an expanse of green, but the research suggests the the benefits extend to smaller natural spaces, too. “We implicitly sense that nature is good for us,” one of the researchers, Kate Lee, told HBR. “There has been a lot of research into its extensive social, health, and mental benefits.” What this study brought to light is that it doesn’t take long to gain those benefits. Lee calls them “green microbreaks,” and said that less than a minute spent looking “at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver, can be helpful for improving attention and performance in the workplace.”  

And, if we may add, in the convention space.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.