Greenspacers Inc. founder and CEO Noah Berk wants to clean the dirty air we never think about: the air indoors.
To do so, he left a six-figure job in 2009 to start his second company and simultaneously launch a quiet revolution: growing clean air.
“More than 70 percent of our homes do not have safe indoor air quality,” says Berk. “Indoor air sometimes gets ten times worse than outside.”
Americans, on average, spend 90 percent or more of their time indoors, according to a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels, according to the same report.
The best long-term filters, Berk concluded, were provided by nature. But plants have problems. They require work. They are dirty. They accumulate fungus and mold and attract bugs. Plus, some plants are better at cleaning air than others.
Berk’s answer was simple: reinvent the American houseplant.
His first step was to eliminate dirt, where fungus and mold can grow, and replace it with expanded clay nuggets not prone to fungus and mold growth. That way he could offer clean plants that filter the air.
Next, he had to prove they were clean. In August, 2011, the company received a $134,700 grant from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program to work with Thomas Handwerker, a professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, to show that Greenspacers’ plants removed volatile organic compounds and were free of bioaerosols, molds, mildews, or other allergens.
“Our main focus was looking at expanding the market for hydroculture plants into more stringent settings, like hospitals and nursing homes,” said Handwerker. “Those types of facilities typically do not allow potted plants because of the potential of fungal spores being released from the soil.”
While the project is nearing its end, thus far it has been successful.
“We demonstrated that the plants are growing clean,” said Handwerker.
One local hospital was convinced, buying $8,400 worth of plants from Greenspacers and installing them on-site for the first time.
Next, Berk methodically cataloged the best air-cleaning plants that are hard to kill, and added an easy way to care for them. Every Greenspacers plant comes equipped with a water level indicator gauge, making it virtually impossible to over- or under-water it.
The company’s carefully selected plants need to be watered just every seven days to four weeks or more, depending upon the variety. They rarely need to be repotted.
In all, Greenspacers compiled 17 table-top and 22 floor plants of varying sizes and species, for both residential and commercial use, with 40 container combinations for each, making a total of nearly 700 unique styles.
They also added services such as design planning, plant leasing and maintenance, starting in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.
Berk launched Greenspacers with $40,000 of his own money and $60,000 from friends and family. Besides the MIPS grant, the company has thrived on sales.
A serial entrepreneur from a family with the same inclination, Berk started a staffing firm while in college. He made $100,000 when he was 21 and was self-sufficient by the time he was a junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Berk’s father ran a landscape design firm outside of his regular, full-time job. He kept a nursery in the family’s back yard.
“Even as a toddler I would accompany dad to job sites,” said Berk. “He worked 25-7.”
As he got older, Berk’s job was to tend the nursery.
Soon after college, he became an ace salesman for Internet marketing company ReachLocal. But he wanted to do something he was passionate about.
“Our indoor air quality just keeps getting worse,” said Berk. “People are getting more and more sick and keep wondering why. Plants are an elegant and natural way to clean the air.”
Berk realized his vision for the new American houseplant: high-performing, long-term air cleaners with no dirt, no disease, no repotting and less watering.
For information about Greenspacers, visit: www.greenspacers.com.