Growing Productivity and Sustainability at Work: A Conversation with Plantfluencer Farmer Nick

You could say that Nick Cutsumpas grew into his life as a plant consultant naturally. Like a lot of the so-called Millennial generation, for Nick, gardening was a method of regaining control over the stress and anxiety of living in New York City. Over time, his plant obsession grew like a weed, eventually blossoming into a full-time role as plant consultant, apartment farmer, and sustainability advocate. Formerly at IBM, Cutsumpas recently quit his full-time job and now works as an advisor to apartment dwellers and hopeful corporate green thumbers alike.

We sat down to chat about the best plants for office spaces, why we should all have a little plant next to our desktops, sustainability practices, and if that dying begonia buddy is ever gonna bounce back.

Here are the key takeaways that sprouted from our chat.

People don’t kill plants, bad spaces kill plants

Phew! Right out of the gate we’re off the hook — sort of. The first thing Nick does on a home or office consultation is check the space’s “green print.” Assessing for factors like light access, air conditioners, and high-traffic zones is an easy first step to establishing a plant’s new home. He suggests low-maintenance plants, like Monstera, succulents, and Bird of Paradise plants, as good a good staring point. Your work day is stressful enough — don’t complicate it by getting a plant that you don’t yet know how to handle.

Another tip we loved for the workplace is using plant care as a team-building exercise. Instead of making it one person’s responsibility to water and care for the plants, get the whole team involved. A schedule of watering days, and even a workshop (Nick offers them for teams and individuals alike) on basics like repotting, understanding the needs of different plants, and general care can do wonders to strengthen connection between team members, not to mention that the plants will love it.

We’re all still evolving

Nick points out on the timeline of human history, being indoors as much as we are (especially in our sprawling metropolises) is still new. Instinctually, people crave a natural environment, whether it’s lush tropical foliage (think Birds of Paradise, Monstera), muted desert vibes (succulents, succulents, succulents), or just a simple Peace Lily in the corner, we all want to see green.

Part of Nick’s job as a plant consultant involves staging for events, and helping companies and brands transform an environments via plant life is a crucial part of tapping into that evolutionary response. In an office space, a healthy and vibrant tree or plant wall can set a welcoming tone for clients and employees alike.

It pays to harvest the data

We all know that plants help oxygenate and clean the air, making it healthier for us to breathe. But when asked for the hard science on whether or not plants really do help increase things like productivity and happiness, Nick had the answers ready to go. According to a study on office plants and employees conducted by the University of Technology Sydney, having plants in an office space decreased feelings of anxiety by 37%, and decreased feelings of depression by a whopping 54%.

Even having a small cactus next to your desk, Nick says, requires care. Give employees plants or a garden to cultivate, and watch their empathetic instincts blossom. As the research shows, appreciating and caring for something like plants triggers the happy switch. Happier employees are, categorically, more productive. Nick also reported feedback from clients about absenteeism in the office going down with more plants around, so maybe more chlorophyll in lieu of free beer is worth considering.

Plants can seed sustainability

Farmer Nick is passionate about ways to become greener in every sense, and caring for plants is a great way to start. To his mind, understanding and learning to nurture even one plant is the gateway drug to becoming a canvas-bag-toting farmer’s market regular, and that’s a good thing. In big cities, sustainability can feel both easy and difficult — sure we use public transportation, but green space is rare, and everything feels disposable.

Nick encourages taking small steps — that canvas bag is a start — and to look for community gardens. The biggest thing coming out of the plant world at the moment is hydroponics, or climate-controlled gardens. Nick gives the example of Gotham Greens, which grows produce right out of a warehouse in Brooklyn. Of course, no one expects you to turn your railroad apartment into an indoor garden utopia or cultivate a tomato garden on the roof of your corporate headquarters (yet), but make small choices like supporting small businesses that do goes a long way. Over and over, Nick emphasized how having something to care for encourages empathy for all things — including our spaces, selves, and communities.

It’s not always easy being green

It’s inevitable that in the journey of cultivating one’s green thumb, things will go wrong. Plants die. Nick was adamant on this topic — don’t let an ailing plant stop you from trying again. Forgiveness, according to Nick, is key. We “learn by doing” in so many aspects of life, including work. Applying this mindset to plant care takes some of the pressure off. Try to figure out what the problem was (deficient light, over- or under-watering, disease, or simply forgetfulness are the usual suspects) and try again with this new information. Maybe we’re just a little sentimental about that dying plant buddy, but nothing viewed with Nick’s green-eyed lens is a lost cause, just another opportunity to learn.

Armed with these tips to turn a black thumb to green, Nick left us with few insider tips on plant trends. Figure out your low-maintenance (and very on-trend) Monstera, and graduate to an intermediate Fiddle Leaf Fig. White streaked “variegated” leaves are popping up more on mood boards and lobby coffee tables, but what Nick hopes to see more of are the smaller, underdog house plants, like the Chinese Money Plant. They’re cute, small, easy to care for, and slightly harder to find — perhaps the perfect challenge for a green new grower.

All told, we’re living in a new golden age of plants, and there is a lot of fertile ground to explore for companies and individuals looking to branch out into this brave, green new world. Our advice? Take a leaf out of Farmer Nick’s book, queue up Mort Gerson’s “Plantasia” on Spotify, and get your hands dirty.