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Office Furniture that Fights Germs

Offices aren’t known to be havens of cleanliness and health.

No matter how many Lysol wipes you use to scrub down your desk, keyboard, phone and every other surface, getting sick at work is as inevitable as your coworker getting in yet another loud argument with her husband about who’s taking the kids to soccer tonight.

The U.S. economy loses $227 billion a year to lost productivity as a result of employee absenteeism due to illness and workers being under productive when they show up to work sick, according to Forbes.

It’s no surprise that companies are looking for new solutions for how to fight germs at work. And one company thinks it might have found the answer: Jaws.

Coming to an office building near you.

Coming to an office building near you.

The microscopic texture of sharkskin is a built-in resistance to barnacles, algae and even human bacteria (which is probably why they feel comfortable munching on arms, legs and torsos from time to time).

A biotech firm called Sharklet Technologies is now trying to capitalize on the germ-fighting abilities of sharkskin by replicating the texture for use on a variety of surfaces from medical equipment to computer keyboards, according to an article on The textures can’t be seen by the naked eye or felt by your fingers (they’re roughly 1/10 the size of a human hair) but, depending on the type of bug, can cut bacteria by 90 to 99.9 percent.

With the increased concern about bacterial resistance, Sharklet has caught the eye of several different industries, but one of it’s earliest customers has been office furniture maker Steelcase, who’s interested in using their products on desks for college classrooms and shared office spaces. That’s right, before long you could be sporting your own faux-sharkskin desk.

“There is a simplicity to it. t’s nontoxic, and it’s coming right out nature,” Steelcase vice president Sara Armbruster told

Of course, this isn’t the first time nature has inspired innovations used in the office, or even the office building itself. Check out where else nature might be popping up at work:


Termites: Inspired by the temperature stability and comfort in termite dens, one architect designed an entire office building in Zimbabwe using principles he observed in the homes of the wood-munching insects, according to Mother Nature Network. At the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, architect Mick Pearce installed large chimneys that draw cool air into the building and lower the temperature in the floors, just like in a termite den, and the building uses 90 percent less energy to heat and cool compared to traditional buildings.


Lotus flowers: Let’s move on to less creepy-crawly forms of biomimicry. The micro-rough surface of a lotus flower has the natural ability to repel dust and dirt (similar to sharkskin). After studying the phenomena for years, a German company called Ispo has created a paint with similar properties, pushing away dust and dirt and reducing the need to clean surfaces, according to Mother Nature Network.


Cats: No, this has nothing to do with your company’s revising its take-your-cat-to-work policies. Designer Yoshi Fukaya created a thumbtack that mimics the quality of a cat’s retractable claws. The silicone jacket sheathed pins more easily puncture a surface when pushed into it, according to


Honeycombs: Architects and engineers have embraced biomimicry as a way to strengthen buildings in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and flooding. One office building in South Korea used the hexagonal cells of a honeycomb hugging a core as inspiration for a building that can withstand buckling in strong winds while also maximizing office space, according to the New York Times.


Mangroves: The New York Times also reported that in response to the high flood waters from disasters like Superstorm Sandy, one New York City architecture firm created Skygrove, a vertical office park structure that mimics a mangrove trees, which have roots that raise its trunk and branches out of the water. The concept for a building with branches that house independent and self-sufficient offices won an award from the Museum of Modern Art.

Photo courtesy of Steve Garner/Flickr

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