Growing Clean Air in Space

Image courtesy of Prometheus film (2012)

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s on a diet of Star Wars and Buck Rogers, it’s no wonder that our creative director’s passion for sci-fi would eventually spill over into the products he designs. Patrick was scanning the NASA website one day when he saw some research conducted in the 80s into “growing oxygen”: “I walked into my first tutorial at Central St Martins with sketches of an office ceiling covered in plants,” he says. The NASA Clean Air Study research into combating indoor air pollution and “sick building syndrome” indicated that commonly available indoor plants could naturally remove toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. The organisation published a list of air-filtering plants, and recommended at least one plant per 100 square metres of home or office space for the most efficient air cleaning. This same NASA research was also picked up by Kamal Meattle, a longtime activist for cleaning up India’s air, who is the founder and CEO of Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park in New Delhi. In February 2009, Meattle gave a compelling TED talk called How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air. It describes how, after being told by his doctors 17 years ago that his lung capacity had diminished to 70 percent in response to the city’s air pollution, and that it was killing him, he used the NASA research to identify three common plants that generate enough fresh air to keep people healthy. In fact, he said, if used strategically, the areca palm, mother-in-law’s tongue and money plant can convert enough CO2 to oxygen to sustain human life inside a closed system: “You could be in a bottle with a cap on top, and you wouldn’t die,” he says. Meattle then turned the theory into reality, using 1,200 of the plants throughout his 50,000-square-foot complex, in the process producing measurably cleaner air for its 300 occupants, higher productivity and lower running costs. Together with its sustainable architecture, this has made the centre an international model for green business, and gave it the title of “the healthiest building in New Delhi”. Meattle is currently working on replicating his scheme on a much larger scale, using air-conditioning systems that involve massive banks of plants instead of equally large banks of HVAC equipment, and continues to campaign to reshape commercial building in India. Obviously, we at Boskke are inspired by Meattle’s work, but it came as a nice surprise to see that he likes us, too! His 2013 Earth Hour message, which focused on renewable energy, featured a backdrop of another direct result of that NASA research — our flagship product, the Sky Planter. “We seem to have come a full circle with the sci-fi side of things as well,” says Patrick. “We were pleasantly surprised a couple of years ago when we went to the cinema to see Prometheus and spotted a Sky Planter hanging inside Noomi Rapace’s living quarters on the spaceship — the set designers clearly share our ideas about what the future of gardening will look like!”

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