Clearing The Air: Indoor Air & Plants

Written by Jim Mumford, Good Earth Plant Company

Chances are good you’re spending a lot more time indoors right now. But here is the reality: it’s nothing new.

Ongoing research by the Environmental Protection Agency reveals some shocking stats: Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors. If you’re very young or older, you tend to spend even more time indoors.

There are a lot of reasons people are anxious about health issues today. But those of us involved with SDGBC have been concerned for a long time. Here’s why: indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than our air outdoors. This comes as a surprise to many people.

And it’s only getting worse, not better. Energy efficient construction without sufficient air exchange systems, the use of synthetic building materials, synthetic office furniture, electronics, and cleaners make for some might toxic air.

If you’re holding your breath right now I don’t blame you.

The environment inside our homes, workplaces, schools, public facilities, and other buildings like stores and movie theaters governs our health and wellbeing. SDGBC and its members must be advocates now and prioritize improving the quality of our indoor environment in these times where we’re more concerned about healthy practices more than ever.

I am relentless in the post-pandemic world about the work we do at Good Earth Plant Company to improve indoor environments by bringing nature inside in the form of plants, by promoting biophilic design and the WELL Building Standard, and by talking about this with my professional community. It shouldn’t take a public health threat for us to pay more attention to this issue.

Ready for some more shocking stats?

Hundreds of years ago, 30 to 40 percent of the air in the U.S. was made of oxygen. Today due mainly to pollution, oxygen levels are just half that in many American cities. Ever wonder why you fall asleep at your work desk during the day? When your brain is not getting enough oxygen or nutrients to function, something called cerebral hypoxia takes place. The symptoms of a mild case of cerebral hypoxia include:

  • Inattention or inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Becoming clumsy

When you breathe air that is 30 to 40 percent oxygen, you will immediately notice benefits including:

  • Increased ability to concentrate
  • Faster thinking
  • Sharper eyesight
  • Better mental retention and memory
  • Calmer mind
  • Better able to deal with stress
  • Reduced muscle stiffness and faster recovery from physical exertion
  • Resistance to illness
  • Better quality and more stable sleeping patterns

Adding plants to your indoor environment along with natural light and fresh air can go a long way toward preventing all these problems of the Indoor Generation. Plants purify the air. We know from research conducted by NASA years ago how much plants improve air quality, removing formaldehydes and carbon monoxide while releasing oxygen.

Plants also increase humidity – and this is an important benefit in preventing disease transmission. Plants release 97 percent of the moisture they take in when we water them. A Norwegian study found plants decrease the number of common colds, and decrease respiratory disease. Humidity also decreases dry skin, which results in scratching – and this is a transmission risk for just about everything.

Plants speed up the healing process. We know plants in hospital rooms (where safe) and even the view of nature through a window allows people to heal from surgery more quickly. This is why we helped install a green roof at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego in view of dozens of hospital rooms.

Many businesses are paying more attention to these issues as the health and wellbeing of their employees and customers has become a bigger priority right now. At Good Earth Plant Company, we’re all about the power of green – including the financial kind. Businesses aren’t philanthropies. They need to make money to survive and to provide jobs along with goods and services. In this economy, it’s something everyone needs to focus on.

If you own or run a business, or supervise people indoors, let’s help improve everyone’s health and productivity long after any public health threat ends. Together let’s save The Indoor Generation.

3 Ways to Use Plants as Social Distancing Barriers

Jim Mumford is a long-time member of the San Diego Green Building Council and featured speaker during the 2019 San Diego Green Building Conference & Expo. Learn more about the Good Earth Plant Company here.

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