Cascade Business News
Jolted awake by a 5:00 AM alarm, one question comes to mind: “Am I up early enough to ski fresh tracks on the ‘Cinder Cone?’” Coffee drips while you check the snow stake on the Mt. Bachelor web cam — the 6 inches of forecasted overnight snow has, in fact, fallen. You head up Century Drive to join your friends. After hiking to the top, the realization that twenty other people had the same idea somehow comes as a surprise. This is a quintessential Bend experience. Nimble access to outdoor pursuits is the reason many of us live and work here.
In Bend and beyond, humanity’s shared desire to get outside and experience the natural world is strong. And why not? The majority of human existence took place outside, where our tasks, behavior, and routines were dependent upon and determined by the natural world. Experiences such as sitting in the sun, diving into glacier-fed lakes, or taking deep breaths of fresh mountain air tap into our evolutionary history and fill us with joy. With that in mind,we must ask ourselves: what are the consequences of sitting in hermetically-sealed refrigerators staring at pixels for much of our lives?
When discussing sustainability, conversations often center around energy use and ignore a broader understanding of the complex relationship we, as humans, have with the natural world. As a result, much of the human built environment embodies such a departure from the natural conditions under which we evolved that it is making people sick. As a design professional, my job is to increase a building’s energy efficiency while also improving the human condition. A successful building instills an understanding of time and place within the mind of the occupant. Conceptually, this is referred to as biophilia, which describes an innate desire to exist in the very conditions under which we evolved.
Our relationship to light is one lens through which we can understand biophilia. Our biological systems were programmed under a sky intensely blue-green during the morning before fading toward yellow-orange,then total darkness. Many workplace environments have little or no exposure to the sun, so electric lights have been placed to allow for performance of tasks.
While conventional electric lighting strategies may provide enough light to type on a computer, they can often leave workers ina state of biological darkness. Recently,there has been a paradigm shift amongst lighting designers to recognize and address the biological effects of light. In a recently published research paper co-authored by myself and Marty Brennan, a Seattle-based architect, we found that—across many climates and office environments—people generally do not receive enough light in the correct color at the right times of day for healthy circadian rhythm function. Unhealthy circadian rhythms have been linked to a whole host of detrimental side effects including higher risk of cancer, obesity, and heart disease.
While dismal on face value, the bright side of this finding is that we know the solution. Placing ourselves in environments that are as close to nature as possible bode well for long-term health. Keep getting those turns in on Mt. Bachelor. Keep charging Phil’s Trail. Get outside as much as possible, and when you can’t, incorporate these tips into your daily life.
· Organize your office furniture to maximize opportunities for daylight exposure and views to nature.
· Use apps such as f.lux on your computer monitor or night shift on your mobile device that modify the spectrum of light emitted to ensure you receive the correct wavelengths of light at the right time of day.
Bring the outside in—those few plants on your desk really do help.