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Living green walls brighten up winter at ISB


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“Make your way to the Elementary School stairwell near the main entrance, and you’ll find yourself at the living green wall. Spanning three stories from the ground floor up, what used to be an empty white space is now a space covered with plants, vines, ferns, and flowers,” writes Allen F for International School of Beijing (ISB) student newspaper The Break.

Over the summer of 2021, ISB installed this living green wall as part of its commitment to sustainability and as a capstone to a High School student project in biophilic design by Hazel S and Ryleigh R. Biophilic design is an innovative new field growing in popularity in buildings around the world.

The term ‘biophilia’ was first coined by biologist and Harvard University professor Edward Osborne Wilson from the Greek “bios,” meaning life, and “philia,” meaning fondness. The term has since evolved to the idea that humans possess an innate love of nature, essential for our health and productivity.

Numerous studies in how buildings impact student learning have shown that, at all educational levels, direct exposure to the natural environment can enhance learning by improving student attention and behavior.

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ISB’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) had previously identified the need to increase the role of nature within the school. Upon hearing about the work of the High School students, the PTA jumped at the opportunity to provide their support, in the form of a financial gift for ISB’s 40th anniversary year. As a result of the PTA’s sponsorship, ISB installed a second living green wall at the front entrance a little later in the summer.

This winter marks an essential phase for the living green walls. ISB, in collaboration with the designer’s maintenance team, will be evaluating the health of the over 20 different species of plants located on the walls. The design vendor has constructed numerous living green walls that remain healthy and green years after. We have high confidence in the integrated water feeding system and LED lights to keep the plants healthy but will be watching closely.

The living green wall has sparked interest across the school – how does it work? What type of plants are used? Can we build more? We plan to invite the design team back to ISB later in the year to have an open discussion with students and staff on the design process of a green wall.

Another question often asked by students and staff centers on the environmental benefits of a living green wall. Will the plants save us energy? Will they increase the amount of oxygen and clean the air? Following the science, the answers are “no” or “not significantly.” For example, energy used to maintain the health of the plants is greater than potential savings from heating and cooling. That said, validating the science with a living example would make for a fascinating student project!

ISB’s Sustainability Roadmap 2025 is focused on making ISB a healthier, more sustainable place of learning. The living green walls are consistent with this ongoing commitment.


By Matthew Yamatin, ISB Sustainability Manager

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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Community High School Facilities