Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.
Some 17 years ago, I became allergic to Delhi’s air. My doctors told me that my lung capacity had gone down to 70 percent, and it was killing me. With the help of IIT, TERI, and learnings from NASA, we discovered that there are three basic green plants, common green plants, with which we can grow all the fresh air we need indoors to keep us healthy. We’ve also found that you can reduce the fresh air requirements into the building, while maintaining industry indoor air-quality standards.
The three plants are Areca palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue and money plant. The botanical names are in front of you. Areca palm is a plant which removes CO2 and converts it into oxygen. We need four shoulder-high plants per person, and in terms of plant care, we need to wipe the leaves every day in Delhi, and perhaps once a week in cleaner-air cities. We had to grow them in vermi manure, which is sterile, or hydroponics, and take them outdoors every three to four months. The second plant is Mother-in-law’s Tongue, which is again a very common plant, and we call it a bedroom plant, because it converts CO2 into oxygen at night. And we need six to eight waist-high plants per person. The third plant is money plant, and this is again a very common plant; preferably grows in hydroponics. And this particular plant removes formaldehydes and other volatile chemicals.
With these three plants, you can grow all the fresh air you need. In fact, you could be in a bottle with a cap on top, and you would not die at all, and you would not need any fresh air. We have tried these plants at our own building in Delhi, which is a 50,000-square-feet, 20-year-old building. And it has close to 1,200 such plants for 300 occupants. Our studies have found that there is a 42 percent probability of one’s blood oxygen going up by one percent if one stays indoors in this building for 10 hours. The government of India has discovered or published a study to show that this is the healthiest building in New Delhi. And the study showed that, compared to other buildings, there is a reduced incidence of eye irritation by 52 percent, respiratory systems by 34 percent, headaches by 24 percent, lung impairment by 12 percent and asthma by nine percent. And this study has been published on September 8, 2008, and it’s available on the government of India website.
Our experience points to an amazing increase in human productivity by over 20 percent by using these plants. And also a reduction in energy requirements in buildings by an outstanding 15 percent, because you need less fresh air. We are now replicating this in a 1.75-million-square-feet building, which will have 60,000 indoor plants.
Why is this important? It is also important for the environment, because the world’s energy requirements are expected to grow by 30 percent in the next decade. 40 percent of the world’s energy is taken up by buildings currently, and 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in buildings in cities with a population of over one million in the next 15 years. And there is a growing preference for living and working in air-conditioned places. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Mahatma Gandhi.And thank you for listening.
With its air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, Kamal Meattle’s office park in New Delhi is a model of green business. Meattle himself is a longtime activist for cleaning up India’s air.
Why you should listen
Kamal Meattle has a vision to reshape commercial building in India using principles of green architecture and sustainable upkeep (including an air-cleaning system that involves massive banks of plants instead of massive banks of HVAC equipment). He started the Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park (PBC-STIP), in New Delhi, in 1990 to provide “instant office” space to technology companies. PBC-STIP’s website publishes its air quality index every day, and tracks its compliance to the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact, a corporate-citizenship initiative.
Meattle has long been a environmental activist in India. In the 1980s he helped India’s apple industry develop less-wasteful packaging to help save acres of trees. He then began a campaign to help India’s millions of scooter drivers use less oil. His next plan is to develop a larger version of PBC-STIP, making a green office accessible to more businesses in New Delhi and serving as an example of low-cost, low-energy office life.
What others say
He has spent a great deal of time in India and abroad convincing corporate leaders, diplomats, energy ministers, and other government officials that his ideas about sustainability, individual responsibility, and respect for the environment can ensure a healthier future for everyone. ‘Either you are overwhelmed by the fact that there are so many problems and so many people,’ says Meattle, ‘or you find solutions to help in any way you can.’" Kamal Meattle in MIT’s Technology Review