by Désirée Driesenaar, Blue Economy Expert

We, as Healthy Building Network, are on the road towards healthy buildings and we are very glad that many people and companies are joining us on this path. We innovate together and we share best practices. And of course we also share the results with our community and beyond. Healthier people, less sickness leave, cleaner environments and an overall better feeling of wellbeing.

How do we achieve all this?
If we talk about innovations people often think of machine innovations or material innovations. And those are important. Definitely. But here are less obvious solutions as well. Earlier I wrote about termite ventilation,where a solution based on natural principles (hot air rises) replaces air conditioning machines that require a lot of energy. Well, there are many other solutions based on natural principles that can inspire us for a healthy climate in our buildings.

For example purifying plants. What? Plants?

Yes, plants! They are incredibly intelligent helpers in our environment and we should give them the credits they deserve. As early as 1989, NASA studied the effect of plants on indoor air pollution and they found many plants that help clean the air of pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia. Plants such as certain date palms, ferns, ivy, lilies and philodendrons do the job.

A list of air-filtering plants and their specific qualities can be found in this article:

A different study in 2004 revealed that certain micro-organisms in the soil of potted plants can also remove benzene from the air:

And the next step is cleaning with microbes. Although our normal ways are to kill all microbes before they do damage, many studies nowadays reveal that increasing the number of helpful microbes might be a much better way to tackle cleaning issues. On the one hand the positive microbes help to keep the damaging ones under control and as an extra effect they improve the immune system for better overall resistance. Good microbes can really be an alley in our healthy buildings.

But I get distracted from my subject: purifying plants. There are already many examples where purifying plants are implemented for a better climate, indoor and outdoor. One look at the municipality office of Venlo shows you that this building does not only use plants for better indoor air quality and climate but also clean the air going out and make this part of Venlo a better place for its inhabitants to live and breathe. We really hope that architects, builders, clients and inhabitants will become inspired and will include the wisdom of plants into their designs and building requirements.

There are many examples of implementation. From indoor moss walls and ingenious plant greenhouses that guide the air through, to simple potted plants that do their work modestly. There are ways to water plant walls automatically and to help with easy maintenance. And the innovations are still in early stages. Cleaning grey and black waste water with plants can be done in so called helofyte filters, rain water overloads in cities can be prevented by green roofs and gardens. And what to think of food forests that are designed specifically for inspiration, natural shelter and supply of fresh fruits and nuts to people working in industrial areas? People are part of nature. We thrive in a green environment that minimizes stress and gives maximum inspiration. So please, let”™s give nature and plants a central spot in our healthy buildings. They deserve the credit and we deserve the benefit!

For those who want to innovate with plants or microbes to ensure we can live and work in healthy buildings, there are several possibilities. Share your knowledge in our community and find new partners for your business and innovations. Be inspired by the knowledge and events that are being organised regularly. Also cross-border knowledge can be bought with the financial help of vouchers for those who are on this road with us.

We would love to hear from you.

by Désirée Driesenaar, Blue Economy Expert

What is a building? Is it just a bundle of stone, concrete and glass that looks nice on the outside? That is built with toxic materials, because “˜it has always been done this way”™? Or should it be a healthy shelter that supports our life functions? Should it support a healthy sleep? Or a healthy way of being productive in an office? Or be a healthy, stimulating environment for our learning children?

New Priorities

Sometimes I think we just have our priorities wrong. We make things without considering the overall goal of living our lives in the best way we can. Our current way of building is focussed on quick building (man power is equivalent to high costs), exposure building (design is all, it needs to look good on the outside and be an asset to the architect who designed it) and energy-efficient building (closed windows and mechanical heating and cooling). Sadly, there is often no thought spent on healthy building, with a focus on good air quality and indoor climate. We need new priorities, with also attention for daylight, acoustics and a natural look and feel, to make people healthy and happy.

Beyond Trodden Paths

The good news is that it is possible to build a healthy building. It has been done before. And it doesn”™t have to be more expensive either. The biggest key for change is looking beyond the trodden paths. Do you want a good indoor air quality and climate? Use termite ventilation instead of mechanical ventilation. Or use the benefits of purifying plants. NASA has done research into many  plants that purify the air. You can think of a system that purifies the incoming air (plants outside) or indoor plants that capture e.g. formaldehyde or toluene. You can also think about not using toxic materials in the first place. Or using upholstering, such as carpets, that cleans the air instead of polluting it. All these solutions exist, they have entered the market, so what is stopping you from taking this first step?


As you can see the solutions are divers. And that is good. Because different situations require different solutions. Diversity is an asset in everything we do. And if many more investors and users of buildings see the benefits of a healthy building there is space enough for all these solutions in the market. New innovation roads that can be taken are e.g. measuring devices, circular production methods, healthy material choices, individual control mechanisms, moist control, sound absorbing materials, reflective materials, biophilic design and many more.

Innovation Vouchers

If you are on an innovation road towards healthy building solutions and need extra knowledge, the Healthy Building Network can help. You can receive network, knowledge and money for hiring an expert institute across the Dutch/German border. More information about this innovation opportunity can be found on our website. In our community you can meet professionals from many diverse fields, so I invite you to become active, ask questions and contribute your insights.

Challenge for All

It is the challenge of our time to make the world a healthy place and keep it that way. Therefore, I want to ask investors to make health in buildings a top priority. Architects, take up the challenge and build healthy buildings. In a few years”™ time this fact will enhance your portfolio much more than the nice-on-the-outside feature. Builders, update your material knowledge and go beyond the trodden paths. And suppliers, keep on innovating in line with health benefits. The market will grow and the innovators will have the advantage. If we can help anyone of you to achieve this goal, please let us know.

by Désirée Driesenaar, Blue Economy Expert

Buildings are often just optimized for one thing: energy efficiency. Although research proves that people who live or work in a healthy building are much more productive and creative. The health of a person is influenced by many different elements, so why would the buildings where they live, learn and work not influence their health? In the Healthy Building Network we have looked at all the factors that make a building a healthy building. We have come up with 5 essential elements that will influence the health of building users significantly: indoor air quality, indoor climate, acoustics, light and look & feel. The more natural these elements, the healthier the person.

Constant Temperature in Desert

Some decades ago, an innovation inspired by nature has produced positive results on both health ánd energy efficiency. The innovation is called termite ventilation. It is a fact that termite hills are very constant in their temperature, although they are often located in deserts where the outside temperature can be 50 degrees during the day and freezing at night. However, the termites collect a fungus that only survives and thrives at 31 degrees Celsius. So they designed their termite hills in such a way that the temperature is always 31 degrees and their fungus grows well. Who says man is the most smart creature in nature? We need complex air-conditioners and heaters that use a lot of energy to achieve the same result.

Anders Nyquist

One of the first architects to apply termite ventilation in his prize winning buildings is Anders Nyquist. He is well-known for the Laggarberg School and the Green Zone, both in Sweden, but his sustainable designs are applied all over the globe. In this short film he explains his work. Did you know that the indoor air quality is often up to 7 times worse in a building compared to outside? And did you know that the area up to one meter, where our children sit and learn in our schools is far worse?

Simple Principles

Termite ventilation is created by a relatively simple design, where air will be cooled underground, comes into the building and will then be warmed by a solar chimney. Physics fact: hot air rises. So the air will take its natural flow, result in ventilation and is released via chimneys, just like in termite hills. The municipality building in Venlo is equipped with this kind of ventilation and saves lots of energy this way.

Call to Action 

In a TEDx Delft talk Ben Bronsema, an expert on air-conditioning, also explains his method of applying termite ventilation.

Many varieties of termite ventilation are possible, but they are all inspired by this one little insect: the termite. These kind of innovations deserve large scale application! We need buildings that are healthy for our citizens, employees and children. And as you can see, it is possible. Architects, builders, clients, it is time to use termite ventilation from whatever supplier in your next building. How can the Healthy Building Network help you achieve this?