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TED2009

Kamal Meattle: How to grow fresh air

February 5, 2009

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.

Kamal Meattle - Business owner and activist
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. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Some 17 years ago, I became allergic to Delhi's air.
00:12
My doctors told me that my lung capacity
00:17
had gone down to 70 percent,
00:20
and it was killing me.
00:22
With the help of IIT,
00:23
TERI, and learnings from NASA,
00:26
we discovered that there are three
00:28
basic green plants,
00:31
common green plants, with which
00:33
we can grow all the fresh air
00:35
we need indoors to keep us healthy.
00:36
We've also found that you can
00:39
reduce the fresh air requirements
00:41
into the building, while maintaining
00:43
industry indoor air-quality standards.
00:45
The three plants are Areca palm,
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Mother-in-Law's Tongue and money plant.
00:50
The botanical names are in front of you.
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Areca palm is a plant which
00:58
removes CO2 and converts it into oxygen.
01:00
We need four shoulder-high plants per person,
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and in terms of plant care,
01:08
we need to wipe the leaves
01:10
every day in Delhi, and perhaps
01:11
once a week in cleaner-air cities.
01:13
We had to grow them in vermi manure,
01:15
which is sterile, or hydroponics,
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and take them outdoors every three to four months.
01:21
The second plant is Mother-in-law's Tongue,
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which is again a very common plant,
01:28
and we call it a bedroom plant,
01:30
because it converts CO2 into oxygen at night.
01:32
And we need six to eight waist-high plants per person.
01:35
The third plant is money plant,
01:40
and this is again a very common plant;
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preferably grows in hydroponics.
01:45
And this particular plant removes formaldehydes
01:48
and other volatile chemicals.
01:51
With these three plants,
01:52
you can grow all the fresh air you need.
01:54
In fact, you could be in a bottle
01:56
with a cap on top, and you would not die at all,
01:58
and you would not need any fresh air.
02:02
We have tried these plants at our
02:05
own building in Delhi, which is a
02:07
50,000-square-feet, 20-year-old building.
02:10
And it has close to 1,200 such plants for 300 occupants.
02:13
Our studies have found that there is
02:17
a 42 percent probability of one's blood oxygen
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going up by one percent if one stays indoors
02:23
in this building for 10 hours.
02:25
The government of India has discovered
02:28
or published a study to show
02:31
that this is the healthiest building in New Delhi.
02:33
And the study showed that,
02:36
compared to other buildings,
02:39
there is a reduced incidence of
02:40
eye irritation by 52 percent,
02:42
respiratory systems by 34 percent,
02:44
headaches by 24 percent,
02:48
lung impairment by 12 percent and asthma by nine percent.
02:49
And this study has been published on September 8, 2008,
02:53
and it's available on the government of India website.
02:57
Our experience points to an
03:00
amazing increase in human productivity
03:02
by over 20 percent by using these plants.
03:06
And also a reduction in energy requirements in buildings
03:09
by an outstanding 15 percent, because you need less fresh air.
03:13
We are now replicating this in a
03:19
1.75-million-square-feet building,
03:20
which will have 60,000 indoor plants.
03:23
Why is this important?
03:25
It is also important for the environment,
03:27
because the world's energy
03:29
requirements are expected to grow
03:30
by 30 percent in the next decade.
03:32
40 percent of the world's energy is taken
03:34
up by buildings currently,
03:35
and 60 percent of the world's population
03:37
will be living in buildings in cities
03:39
with a population of over one million in the next 15 years.
03:42
And there is a growing preference for living
03:46
and working in air-conditioned places.
03:48
"Be the change you want to see in the world,"
03:52
said Mahatma Gandhi.
03:54
And thank you for listening.
03:55
(Applause)
03:56

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Kamal Meattle - Business owner and activist
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.

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