If any one thing became clear to us the morning we attended presentations of six studies being conducted as part of the ‘Green Agenda’ top sector programme of iVerde and Royal Floraholland, it was that green affects so many aspects of life as a whole. Mankind evolved in the savannas so we feel happier near green and heal more quickly if we are surrounded by green; ever more urban areas have difficulty coping with heavy rainfall and green can offer tremendous solutions; ever more seniors live independently for longer, green can help them retain their vitality. So all in all, green can make us more sociable, happier, friendlier, calmer and healthier. Who would say no to that?

What is the Green Agenda?

To be precise, the Green Agenda is a research programme within the top sector Horticulture and Starting Materials, within the innovation theme Health and Well-being and the umbrella programme Green for a healthy living environment. Six research projects have been set up within the work themes living, working, learning and recovering, and several more will follow between now and 2018. Answers are given to questions on health, well/being, urbanisation and the part green plays in all these aspects. On Wednesday 28 June, we were invited to attend an assembly during which the first six research groups told each other what they were working on.

What has already been proven?

Joop Spijker, senior researcher with Alterra, in the field of woodlands, nature and urban green, told us about the research he is conducting together with Sjerp de Vries. They compare the results of questionnaires (self-analysis) with similar research relating to actual behaviour. The Dutch say that green is important to them, for example, and that they believe green and nature are beneficial to health, but a) how does this translate to their behaviour and b) is green actually beneficial to health? The research project particularly focuses on what has already been thoroughly researched and where the results of different studies have produced consistent outcomes. This research project processes the results in a knowledge database and develops a fact sheet for each theme. The key question is increasingly becoming: why do people feel so much better in a green environment? He did indicate that too many studies are based purely on questionnaires i.e. self-perception, and too little actual data is monitored. For example: people say they feel better but is their blood pressure then actually measured?

How can you optimise an area to benefit health?

As a researcher with Alterra, Robert Snep is looking for green ecosystems, preferably urban ones. He makes existing research measurable and visible. He presented the Adaptation Support Dashboard, a digital dashboard in which an existing area can be redesigned applying recommendations based on research data. The research data entered is translated to practical green advice for that specific area and the dashboard then also shows how that one area could contribute to resolving the climate problem, for example. This is one way of translating knowledge to practical applications, to build a bridge between knowledge and managers and architects. This climate tool already exists but for this current research he would like to expand the tool to include the aspect of health, the “Green Health Check”. This is by no means easy; how do you translate health to square metres or numbers of trees?

Why plant which tree where?

Jelle Hiemstra, senior researcher at WUR in the field of plants and trees followed on from this beautifully with his current project. He is researching why which trees are most suitable for which places. There can be all kinds of reasons for planting a tree; health is one reason, others include shade, noise and biodiversity. During his research he not only discovers how little ready knowledge the managers concerned appear to have of urban green but also that these questions are asked too infrequently, certainly in relation to trees. Why do you want a tree and which tree would be most suitable? Everyone agreed that the results of this study could be effectively incorporated into the Adaptation Support Dashboard.

Green for grey

The study being conducted by biologist and ecological modeller Jana Verboom has only just started. A survey in a large district of Oisterwijk (NL) recently identified the number of seniors (65 and older) living there and their level of vitality. This benchmark soon revealed a statistical link between a person’s vitality and their levels of education and welfare. The elderly with a good income and higher level of education retain their vitality for longer.

The plan is to create green spaces and projects in this district, which will be largely devised and designed by the residents themselves. These ideas will be documented in a publicly distributed idea book. There are insufficient funds to realise most of these green ideas as yet, unfortunately, but Jana is currently in consultation with the IVN Grey, Green and Happy programme which, together with the Dutch postcode lottery, has set up funds to provide green spaces for the elderly. During each phase, the same group of active and not quite so active seniors will be assessed in relation to their participation in the project, response to the green space and whether they actually use the green.

Green healthy hospitals

Clinical psychologist Jolanda Maas works at VU Amsterdam but, in the course of her career, has come to focus increasingly on the combination of green and health. The Ter Gooi hospital in Hilversum recently opened a chemotherapy garden (pavilion), where patients can receive their chemotherapy treatment. Jolanda seeks to identify any differences, in both perception and measurable aspects. She does the same on several wards of the hospital: one room has a view of beautiful trees, the other does not. How do patients respond? She always uses a combination of questions and exact measurements e.g. amount of pain relief or days hospitalisation. The most recent study she is working on is also just about to begin: In Blaricum, a greenhouse has been built in the garden in which daytime activities will be organised for psychiatric patients. Here again, Jolanda will measure whether green really does make them healthier, calmer and/or happier and how this affects the use of medication.

Plants contribute to a healthy indoor climate

Annemieke Smit of Alterra is senior researcher in nature & society and, in this particular case, project leader of an organisationally rather complex study. For her research, businesses and healthcare institutions are visited that want to make one part of their premises green/greener but not the other part. Thus enabling comparison. Is the air quality, humidity and CO2 content better in the green rooms or not? How do people feel in relation to this? And subsequently: how does the employer benefit? Are people working in the green rooms ill less frequently and/or otherwise more productive or not? Annemieke hopes that besides the costs, this research will also make the benefits of green visible.

From skill to cash

Albert Haasnoot, Programme Manager of the Green Agenda, cannot say it often enough: this research must lead to innovation in the sector and hopefully also beyond, in new sectors looking to develop green innovation. The above research projects have all these qualities: the redesign/redevelopment of rooms/spaces, more conscious planting or urban trees, involving residents in the design of their districts and, lastly, making the benefits of green in healthcare and at work measurable. This research will all generate knowledge that entrepreneurs will be able to apply. Because if it works, then the market will naturally follow.