If you’ve never heard the word “biophilia” before, you’re not alone. But if you’re a smart home or IoT specialist it’s worth taking note of what it means, because the concept of biophilia could be on the verge of spearheading a sweeping new trend in the IoT industry, especially in offices and commercial settings.

What is biophilia, and what does it mean for the Internet of Things?

In simple terms, biophilia suggests humans are biologically hardwired to thrive in nature, and we constantly seek ways to connect to the natural world. The reason why is simple: As a species, we lived outdoors for millions of years, at the mercy of nature’s predictable circadian rhythms, which kept our internal clocks perfectly timed.

In modern times, by contrast, we spend the vast majority of our lives indoors, exposed to artificial light and staring at digital screens, with no natural cues to sync our internal clocks or soothe our nature-loving senses.

So, should we trade in our creature comforts and retreat back to the forest? Hardly. With a stable internet connection, nature is now easier than ever to fake, thanks to an abundance of smart tech and IoT devices. And as far as our biology is concerned, it’s all the same.

Let’s take a quick look at three big opportunities for IoT experts to help create smarter, healthier buildings.

Circadian smart lighting

One of the most obvious ways to mimic the natural environment indoors is with smart lighting. When programmed to match the color temperature of daylight and adjust in brightness over the course of the day, smart lighting helps keep us more alert, focused, productive, and happy.

Studies have backed this up. In one, workers exposed to natural light performed 10-25% better on a test of mental function than those with poor exposure or no exposure at all. In another, hospital patients with direct access to natural light saw their stays shorted by 16-41%.

Digital displays 

Images of nature are nothing new in homes, offices, and public spaces. But they’re not nearly as effective as a simple window with a view of trees or green space.

One recent study looked at office workers who enjoyed exposure to daylight, but had no actual view of the outdoors. These workers then had their desks repositioned so they could see trees in their peripheral vision. The result: A 6-12% lift in their productivity.

Windows, of course, are typically in short supply in many offices and commercial buildings. But with high-definition digital displays and a little light carpentry, it’s incredibly simple to create virtual windows and even skylights. The key here is to make it look like an actual window, with proper framing and all.

Indoor air quality

When it comes to making our buildings healthier to work and live in, one of the biggest factors is indoor air quality. From airborne pathogens to VOCs to dust, there’s no shortage of harmful toxins and particles floating around indoors. They make us sick and, according to study after study, dramatically lower productivity.

Proper ventilation and filtering is part of the solution, to be sure, but another novel approach is wall-mounted smart plants. Yes, that’s right, smart plants. Not only do they add greenery to the workspace, they naturally filter out airborne substances and consume them as nutrients.

One series of smart plants, called Biome, also include smart sensors and fans. The sensors monitor airborne pollution around the plants and use the information to adjust the airflow over the plant’s roots, where microbes consume pollutants as nutrients.