COLLIN CAVOTE is an entrepreneur and the founder of Biome, a cleantech company that eliminates air pollution through plant wall installations. After dropping out of business school in 2008, his intuition led him on a five year journey to the rural coast of Washington, into the Ark
ansan Ozarks, and eventually back to school in a self-designed major at Drexel University. On his winding path he developed a deep affinity for and fascination with the wide-ranging abilities of nature, which defines his current philosophical and professional trajectory.
In this interview you’ll learn:
- What VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) are doing to your health
- Air Pollution the single biggest killer with 7 million deaths per year?
- How to make plants filter the air 200 times better
- Why Green Homes may be problematic
- Five Easy Methods of in home air quality enhancement
- Create your own Oxygen Habitat with 18 plants
- Mother in Law’s Tongue – The Best Bedroom Plant?
n and Bio-Mimicry
- Carpet with Gecko Feet?!?
- 61% Better Productivity with Better Air
- Yes Bottled Air is a real thing!
- And much more
For the Ted Talk, How to Grow Your Own Air with Kamal Meattle, mentioned in this interview see below. This covers the quantities and types of plants to build your own breathing habitat.
Click the link below to access the complete transcript.
Logan: Hello, this is Logan Christopher with The Vital Way podcast. I’m very excited about today’s call, talking about probably a new subject that’s something I’ve definitely been paying a lot of attention to this year and that is breath and air quality and everything involved that. And joining me today is someone I’ve met recently, Collin Cavote, who is an entrepreneur and the founder of Biome, which we’ll be talking about, a clean tech company that eliminates air pollution through plant wall installations. After dropping out of business school in 2008, he’s intuition led him on a five-year journey to the rural post of Washington, into the Arkansan Ozarks and eventually back to school in a self-designed major at Drexel University. On this winding path, he developed a deep affinity for and fascination with the wide ranging of abilities of nature, which defines his current philosophical and professional trajectory. So as you can see, very much in alignment with what we’re trying to do here at Super Man Herbs. First off, thanks for joining us, Collin.
Collin: Absolutely, Logan. I’m looking forward to chatting with you and sharing whatever I can.
Logan: Absolutely. So I actually want to start with your technology because since I first heard about that, I thought that was just fascinating and definitely took into consideration some things I had no clue about. So what is the Biome plant wall installation?
Collin: So there’s a very poorly understand fact about plants and how they clean air. We often think that leaves of plants which process carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen is pretty much all that plants do. But starting in the ‘70s, NASA conducted research how to purify air in their space shuttles and they were looking at plants because they were a conceivably a fully regenerative system and they can kind of just keep working. You don’t have to send up new plants into outer space. What they discovered in these experiments were that the plant roots were actually significantly better at cleaning air than the plant leaves were. They kept doing some optimizations. They took away the soil from plants and then they ended up growing plants in activated carbon, sort of like a BRITA filter. And then they even started forcing air with fans through the root mass and they were able to get a single plant to bio-remediate or to biologically eliminate about 200 times more air pollution than a plant just sitting in soil. So it was this premise that we can unlock some of nature’s power by sort of helping nature do a better job.
Logan: Yeah, that’s really impressive because when I was doing research—I recently wrote a book, Upgrade Your Breath in which I talked about air quality—I came across that NASA research but I did not see anywhere listed on there—I just I didn’t look too closely at the details—talking about how the roots were much more responsible than the leaves for the filtration.
Collin: Yeah, and it’s that premise that sort of guided our product line and our goal of sort of commercializing this technology because people can have it anywhere. Because as you can guess, it’s not really normal for a plant to not be growing in dirt. They require some other physical changes to grow a plant that way and also without soil to kind of keep the root moist and healthy, we have to run water through the system much more frequently, which implies we have to have somewhat of an automated system in place. So we ended up having to build a whole mechanical infrastructure to support plants to live this way and then also an electrical and software system to power this automated green wall unit. We wanted to make it consumer-friendly and really easy so it’s very product-centric, if you will, and it’s no longer what a lot of green walls are, which is like a complex installation that requires a handyman or even a biologist to kind of get it going.
Logan: So with this unit, I guess can you go into a little bit more detail on how it works. Not only does it have the plants there but it’s measuring different factors of the air quality, correct, and then using that information to kind of keep that plant alive as well as filtering everything?
Collin: Yeah. As I said, part of the system and optimizing it requires that we pull air into the unit and force it through the roots. And at the point of air intake, we have a sensor module that’s measuring a few dimensions of the room’s environment, for starters temperature and humidity. We’re also tracking the light level of the space and then more importantly for our case, we’re measuring the parts-per-million of total volatile organic compounds, VOCs as they’re commonly known as, and then we’re also measuring parts-per-million of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide’s the main driver for kind of ventilating our buildings but it’s volatile organics that build up in our indoor spaces to very high levels and very dangerous levels. It’s the volatile organics that actually make indoor air more toxic than outdoor air so it’s really important for us to measure total volatile organics as your air enters the unit. And then as the system runs and we keep recirculating this now clean air in your room or in your space, we’re going to be updating that data with this kind of this diluted air pollution. So over time as the system runs longer and longer, we’re able to track how much better your air is getting as we circulate this new clean air through the system. And then we reuse some of the data like temperature and humidity to actually alter the way the plants are cared for.
So I think it’s crazy to imagine that say installing this in a home in Denver in winter is going to require different water cycles and different lighting needs than one that’s installed in a condo in Miami. So we have to use the data of the space that it’s in to alter the firmware that kind of guides the water in in automation cycles. And then more than that, we have a Wi-Fi chip built into the system so all this data is shareable with yourself, the customer and then also Biome on the backend so that we can start to get the metadata on what indoor air quality is like across a lot of different spaces. This is really important data as we start to try to seek out better regulation for what kinds of materials and chemicals get put into our indoor spaces.
Logan: You were mentioning the VOCs. Is that a grouping that contains a whole bunch of different chemicals like formaldehyde and other things I’ve heard that are being off-gas from our carpets, mattresses and furniture, that sort of thing?
Collin: Yes. It’s a broad range of manmade chemicals. They are found in nature to some small degree, very low concentrations but volatile organics have crept into manmade products, everything from technology products like televisions. When you unbox a TV or a laptop or a speaker or even a refrigerator, all of these manmade products are often coated or are used in the manufacturing process. So bringing new things into a space increases the toxicity substantially of your space and over time, these products as they heat up during the summer months or in a very humid space, they’ll continue to off-gas high levels of these toxins.
You’re right. Formaldehyde is one of the main pollutants. It’s actually found in about 90% of indoor spaces. From the shopping mall to your bedroom to the places you work, formaldehyde is pretty much always with you and it shouldn’t be. It’s highly toxic and it’s in our spaces for a lot of reasons that we can sort of rationalize. It’s been uses as a fire retardant so that our buildings don’t catch on fires quickly. That’s been going for decades where we put formaldehyde in our mattresses so they don’t catch on fire while we’re sleeping or carpeting. A lot of these products that we want to prevent from combusting, to sustain us if there’s an emergency, we’re actually finding is that they’re slowly poisoning us and it’s causing this longer disaster, this kind of slower disaster which is affecting human health now in a much more measurable way than ever before.
Logan: That’s something I’d like to talk about. So what are these VOCs, these chemicals that are in our homes, that are just floating through the air that we don’t see or really smell? Actually, on the smell, that’s one thing interesting. If you’re unboxing a TV or something, you usually do smell it, right? That so much of that stuff is coming off, that if you have that new car smell or something basically a chemical smell. But normally, when it’s lower levels you don’t smell it. But what are these things doing to our health?
Collin: That’s a really great question and it’s something that a lot more research needs to start uncovering. One of the biggest challenges in this research though is there are some very unfortunate regulations in place with the US and chemical companies. A lot of chemicals have never actually been tested on humans. Chemical companies haven’t had to test their chemicals, their new creations on people and as a result, there are about 60,000 to 65,000 manmade chemicals that are sold in the US and used in products for consumers that have never been tested on people. That’s worrisome but then what we start to think of as like this slurry, this kind of soup of chemicals, we haven’t tested them individually but we also haven’t tested them when we have a hundred different ones surrounding someone. And so there’s a number of unknowns around how bad these chemicals can be because they’re often interacting with other chemicals in the air.
But we know for sure that indoor air and also outdoor air, but specifically for this conversation indoor air, has been directly related to heart disease. Pulmonary disease is one of the biggest impacts from this kind of chemistry in our air. Cancers throughout the body but particularly lung cancers are extremely relatable to breathing in air toxins. We’re finding though that a lot of the impacts are somewhat more delayed. So more research is coming out about cognitive decay. If you just imagine taking a breath and you inhale all of this air, there are millions and millions of molecules of things entering your lungs and these manmade molecules are so small that they are able to pass right through your lungs and into your bloodstream. These molecules, they travel around basically the highways of your body and they find places to stick to or they find a receptive place for them to just hang out at. What we’re finding is our bodies are sort of bioaccumulating these toxins in different places. Some people will store different chemicals in their brains and some people will store different chemicals in their livers. Our bodies haven’t evolved pathways to eliminate a lot of these toxins and so they’re building up.
We’re seeing now that—this is outrageous—even Alzheimer’s and dementia are being increasingly related to air pollution. It’s creating sort of a pandemic because it’s not just a health issue. It’s not something like asbestos where we can point our finger at it and say it’s going to give you lung disease. It’s really a systemic failure of your body’s immune system and ability to fight these things off. And a lot of them are pure carcinogens. A lot of these chemicals are not safe at any level, like a single molecule could feasibly disrupt your DNA. So as carcinogenic compounds, any amount could be the cause for cancer. So we can’t say for sure that having a certain amount of formaldehyde in your air is going to give you cancer. But we can say statistically that breathing air pollution puts you at increasing risk of developing these forms of diseases.
Logan: Yeah, just this air quality thing is one of those pieces why in this day and age like our health is under attack and it’s by these things that really unless you’re going to go live out in nature away from all of civilization, you can’t really avoid these things. The truth is that our manmade chemicals have made it through pretty far reaches of nature. I’m curious about the whole detoxification pathways in the human body. We aren’t able to handle some level of chemicals. The body excretes these in the waste, in the breath, in the sweat, that sort of thing. There’s a difference between fat and water-soluble toxins. Of these VOCs, is there a mix of the fat and water-soluble type or are they more of one than the other?
Collin: That’s a really good question. I don’t have an answer for that. So it’s something for us to figure out and report back on, I think.
Logan: Yeah. That’s just interesting because basically my understanding is that the fat-soluble toxins can be a bit harder to remove from the body. They often get shuttled into the fat cells and there they’re going to remain for a long time unless you do some more active things to get rid of them, whereas water-soluble, that stuff passes around the body quite a bit more and then can be eliminated a bit easier so I’d be curious to look into that.
Collin: Yeah, I agree.
Logan: So you mentioned cancer and heart disease, dementia or different cognitive declines, so all of these different things, this is one of the factors that is going to not necessarily cause but contribute towards one of these things. Is that a good way of putting it?
Collin: Yeah, it definitely is a good way of putting it and for some perspective on what we look at as preventable deaths, World Health Organization has some pretty good global reports out on air pollution broadly and for perspective, we’re not really just saying that air pollution might make you live a little shorter. Air pollution now is the world’s single largest cause of preventable death. It’s larger than cigarettes which kill about 5 million people. Tobacco products preventably kill about 5 million people a year and then car accidents, which there’s so much hype around automated cars saving people’s lives, there’s like 1.25 million people dying a year and then air pollution is already at 7 million people a year.
There’s this really cool study out—maybe not cool but insightful piece of research out that the average European would live about three years longer if the air quality standards were met. So we’re looking at western countries as well. This isn’t like a China and India problem. This is definitely western countries as well. So while the science is still coming out about how immediate these health issues can be, there’s no question that they’re very real.
Logan: So is that, those studies, do they have to do with both indoor and outdoor pollution? On that note, how much is the air quality of say just living in the city? Basically, that’s going to be the overall air quality of what’s inside of our homes, except just added more chemicals from our furniture and that sort of that thing.
Collin: Yes and no. Largely, our outdoor city environment does impact our indoor air a lot. So living along a bus route or near a highway can provide extremely high levels of PM 2.5, which are largely slightly molecules that we deal with. With our products, we’re really focused on these volatile organics. But yeah, having a window open and allowing this air into your house or office, that will certainly add to the slurry. One of the really interesting ironies in green building has been the idea of energy efficiency and let’s make sure our buildings don’t leak ventilated air out into the streets or something so we can be more energy-efficient. So once we heat the air in our building, we’ll keep all the heat inside. What we’ve actually started doing with some of these green buildings is concentrating the air pollution more and more by not allowing the indoor chemicals to flow out.
That’s part of the reason that indoor environments are more toxic than outdoor environments. There’s very little flow of fresh air or at least a changing of air. So yes, your outdoor air largely can define the larger particles, the 2.5 but in terms of the smaller molecules—we’re talking about these VOCs—there’s much more of an awareness gap. So people that know that VOCs are an issue can design a really clean living space in the midst of the city and do very well with that and breathe great air. And I think this gets to the deeper issue about not all parts of the city breathe the same air. It’s usually an economic-social issue at part. I live in Oakland fairly close the port and Oakland breathes significantly more polluted air than San Francisco does because San Francisco doesn’t have a port to its west. So it’s a systemic problem on a city scale but there are a lot of things that can be done within the home or within the office to remedy that.
Logan: Yeah, that’s the perfect segue. I’d like to ask, so besides getting one of these plant installations with the roots exposed—and we’ll definitely have a link over to the site and all that and I recommend people check that out—what are some other things that people can do within their homes just to increase their air quality?
Collin: Sure. The general rule of thumb is if you can open a window, do it. This is the most helpful thing you can do because what we’re saying is indoor air, you can rely on it being more toxic for you than your outdoor air. So any amount of fresh air you can get is great. That’s always not feasible. In Arizona in the summer, you’re probably not going to want to do that and in the winter in the north, you’re probably not going to want to do that either. So we obviously need some other solutions
HEPA filters are pretty well known. I think most people sort of understand that they catch a lot of air pollution and they are good with the kind of air pollution which comes in from outside, like this 2.5-sized air pollution, often like car exhaust, like smoke if you see smoke in your house. HEPA is great for that kind of stuff. But these volatile organics go right through HEPA filters. These molecules are so small they just pass right through. HEPA is a great step. Most people should have a HEPA filter. If they don’t, a lot of large buildings, commercial buildings already use HEPA. The challenge here is replacement costs because right now everything in the air business except for one new product that came out, which is pretty cool and I’ll mention that, are filter-based. This requires replacing them on time. If you’re living in an apartment complex where you don’t manage your own air filters or if you’re in an office at work and you don’t manage your own air filters, how confident are you that they have been replaced on time? These are questions that you can ask your facility managers or your building managers of any kind. It might be hard to get a good response but it’s definitely worth checking into.
Then after that, adding plants just generally into your place is huge. There’s a really great TED Talk, which maybe we should post a link to of a gentleman in India who started developing cleaner air offices where he grows three specific kinds of plants in offices in pretty high concentrations. We’re talking like 600 plants for 150 people inside of a traditional office space. He was able to cut back the amount of fresh air they bring into the space. Now this isn’t like an optimized system like ours so you need a lot of plants but the side benefit of bringing plants into your space is that it’s also therapeutic, relaxing and beautiful. So the plant leaves still do a pretty good job at removing PM 2.5, these larger particles so plants are still super helpful.
And then pick any off-the-shelf off of Amazon air filter and it’ll help. Still replacement filters and it’s still just trapping your air pollution inside of this little membrane and then you have to dispose of that. Opening your machine up and dealing with that can be a really toxic event for anyone to do so you really want to be careful about exposing any of these filters because these essentially just accumulated just a whole bunch of horribly toxic stuff.
Again, those filters though generally aren’t trapping VOCs. You need to upgrade and get activated carbon filters. These are again sort of like your BRITA filter. These will go usually there’s a slot in your air filter of your central heating, ventilation and cooling ducts to slide these filters in and they’ll do a pretty good job at trapping VOCs for a little bit, for a very short time period. They fill up quickly and there has also been some research coming out now that they can potentially actually re-emit the air pollution after a certain amount of time, after a few weeks so more research coming on that needs to happen.
Then I’d say one of the coolest products out there right now is a company called Molekule. I don’t have the product yet. It’s not even delivered yet but Molekule with a K. They’re doing a pretty cool, I think, it’s a UV light in the chamber which can deactivate bacteria and viruses in the air and I think neutralizes volatile organics as well. That looks like a pretty interesting consumer technology. And we’re really just at the tip of the iceberg with these kinds of products, Logan. Air pollution is sort of where water pollution and water quality was maybe 30 years ago. Now if we look at the bottled water, filtered water market, it’s huge. It’s like $30 billion in the US. So I think we’re just starting to understand a) the issues with bad air and then also just getting to the tip of the iceberg with the kinds of products that are going to come out to solve this.
Of course, the best thing you can do is don’t put toxic things into your house but that’s extraordinarily hard to do because manufacturers don’t have to publish what’s in their products. So one thing that is great for readers to look at is called the Red List. The Red List was pioneered by two groups actually, architecture firm Perkins + Will and then Google. So Google has been a pioneer in indoor building health and air quality. Together, these partners worked on a building for Google that was sort of Red List-certified. Google just said let’s not even put any bad chemicals into our building at all. That sometimes required waiting six to ten extra months for a bookcase to arrive that wasn’t coated in formaldehyde because the manufacturers had to create a new product line that didn’t use these chemicals. But it’s starting and there are places to become more aware of what’s in our products. But the general rule of thumb is it’s kind of like eating well. If your grandparents didn’t eat or didn’t buy something, you might want to think twice about ingesting it because by bringing something into your house, you’re breathing it. It’s becoming part of you. So what we surround ourselves with is something we should really take consideration of.
Logan: Yeah, I feel that most of the health attention is paid on what we eat, and of course that is very important, but I’d say air quality like water quality and these other factors which aren’t paid nearly as much attention it are right up there in importance with it. Speaking of what you were just saying, would you say that the quality of your beds would probably be one of the best places to start if you’re looking sort of upgrading what you have? Because if you’re sleeping on that eight hours per night, all the chemicals that might be in your mattress, in your bedding, your pillows, that sort of thing, you’re probably going to be breathing in more of that than maybe let’s say on your couch.
Collin: 100% yes. It really comes where you spend your time and invest in products that in that immediate space that can help you. So yeah, spot on with the bed. We say the bedroom is the most important place to create a healthy environment not just because sleep is so important for the body but because that’s where you breathe your most air. There are some good quality mattresses out there that are naturally made, natural latex and of course they’re a premium but I’m sure you can relate that people that are proactively thinking about their health are more interested in spending a relatively small amount more now to prevent something more dramatic down the road. I think that this is perfectly in line with this idea of preventive medicine.
Logan: Right and I like that. With something like a mattress, that’s something that you’re going to use for years and years so if you kind of spread out that investment or think of it in that term, then it can yeah. I did recently, maybe a year or so ago, got a nice, organic mattress and it definitely wasn’t cheap but I’m very happy with the decision.
Collin: Nice. It does in a way make you rest easier once you know what you could be sleeping with. I think that creates significantly less amount of stress. The bedroom is also one of the best places to have an abundance of plants. One plant in particular called mother-in-law’s tongue or the snake plant, it’s a really unique plant that has a different metabolism than most other plants and it actually emits oxygen at night. So that is a really great plant to have around and there are virtually no other plants that can offer that that are really easy to care for.
Logan: Yeah, I actually have quite a large one in my office right here. I do not have the greenest of thumbs. I’m working on that a little but it’s a pretty amazing plant. I should get a few more of those. I’m looking and I was like I don’t have enough plants in my house as we’re talking. On that note, besides have your unit which cleans the air 200x more than plants, per square footage how many different plants would be a good thing to shoot for? Is there really no ideals to have there?
Collin: Well, there are a few variables that make this not the easiest thing to answer. One is some plants are great at removing carbon, growing oxygen, some are great at removing volatile organics. The TED Talk that we should link to this, it explains pretty well these three species and what they use as a reference point in their study which has now been accepted by the government of India as a baseline is I think four large palm plants. These are like head height palms. Then I think four to six of two other species of plants. Really, they’re talking about like 15 to 18 fairly large plants per person. Now this is if you’re going to live in a sealed space. Literally they say that you can probably subsist off of this amount of air in a totally sealed chamber. You’re not going to need quite that much but that’s probably the best data point we have for just ambient plants in your indoor space.
Logan: Now that’s really cool to think about. You have enough plants producing enough oxygen to sustain you.
Collin: Yeah, it’s really just a mini biome at that point. It’s like a whole planetary scale dynamic. That’s what we should be seeking out on a global scale with our human emissions globally versus what nature can replenish for us. I don’t want to sidetrack the conversation but then again, that’s really what we should be looking for in terms of sustainability – how do we all live on the amount of fresh oxygen that nature can provide us? It’s a really neat metaphor that we can bring back on to the personal scale. So if I get these 15 plants, I could really sustain myself.
One of the other relevant piece of research in this field is that NASA was able to shrink this down. We’re talking about like 18 large plants. That’s a lot of biomass. That’s literally like 18 people, the size of people in your space. But NASA figured out that if you grow plants the way we’re growing them, you can use 30 really small plants. We’re talking about like little three- to four-inch potted plants. That can clean the air of a thousand square feet, like a small apartment. That’s a significantly smaller amount of biomass. We’re maybe talking about one or two large plants’ worth of green leaves and roots. So there are ways that we can work with these natural systems and help them do a better job in a tighter space, which is really important as we get more urbanized and as our cities get bigger and our apartments get smaller and we don’t have room for 18 large plants. We can still try to get some of that benefit.
Logan: Yeah, I love this idea of really combining our technology with nature in a way that’s both helpful to us without destroying nature as so much of our technology has done. I’m curious. What are some other interesting combinations of this that you see that may have to do with air quality or anything else?
Collin: Interesting combinations of technology and nature?
Collin: Okay. Well, the program of study that I created a few years ago is bio-mimicry, which is now getting a little more traction as a respected discipline. Not all biomimeticists think of bringing technology into the nature space. There are a couple of terms involved here. I think what we do is bio-optimization. We’re basically taking nature and optimizing it with technology. There are some other cool concepts around more standard bio-mimicry, which is the study of biological systems and then the goal of copying them.
One of the neat ones was one of the greenest carpets in the world called Interface Carpeting. They are one of the most sustainable companies in the world. I think they’re going to be totally energy neutral by 2020, net zero impact. They’ve really gone into this world in a big way. They studied the feet of geckos to understand how a gecko foot can cling to a perfectly polished glass surface without sliding or falling off because that’s pretty remarkable. There’s no adhesive. There’s no glue. There are no mechanical fixtures to keep this thing there. And their goal was well, if we can study how nature has created this suction or this adhesion, maybe we can put this on our carpet tiles so that we don’t have use glues that emit volatile organic compounds into the air when installers are putting in a carpet. That would make us greener. They hired some really great scientists and they really got into how this is happening. They were able to successfully mimic this and now they have a whole line of carpets that are not adhesive. It just uses some proprietary technology that’s solely based around nature. I think that’s one of the really cool bio-mimicry stories.
I have to say though that the bio-optimization, the really combining of nature and technology is still sort of infantile. I guess you could look at genetic modification as kind of combining these two worlds but I think that that leaves me a little concerned. It seems like more of a domestication of nature rather than an enhancement of nature. So what I’d really love to see is how we can have nature help us solve climate change. Nature has already balanced our climate a few times in the past. If we can help nature do a better job of balancing our climate, I think that’s going to be maybe one of our more powerful tools to balancing the outer atmosphere. So I think there’s a lot more work to be done in bio-optimization.
Logan: Yeah. Something that comes to mind—I don’t know if it really fits in that category—is looking at using different mushrooms with mycelium to clean up oil spills and that sort of thing, so using something from nature to at least kind of help with some problems we’ve created.
Collin: Yeah. Those systems are really powerful, too. Bioremediation in land is also getting really scientific and efficient, basically taking a brown field that’s been polluted by industry for decades and now isn’t usable and nothing will live there and being able to grow successive layers of plants that can remove those toxins because they’ve evolved pathways in their metabolisms through their roots to absorb the stuff. And then we can turn polluted land back into healthy land or relatively healthy land. Same with cleaning up water and air. I think our species has a lot of work to do to sort of undo some of the work that we’ve done to our natural environment over the past 100, 150 years.
Logan: Yeah. Another thing that came to my mind is I’m studying with some herbalists and on the topic of alchemy, like actually alchemical preparations of the herbs and how they started doing a lot of stuff there was by looking at nature and basically doing similar processes as what happens in nature with evaporation or boiling and condensing down, that sort of thing, but doing it on a small and sped up scale. That was basically where they learned how to do those things. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting to see where this is going to go in the future.
Collin: Yeah, some very cool applications. I haven’t heard of that one yet.
Logan: Another thing that I think people find interesting that we haven’t really touched upon is yeah, the health is important and I think all the people listening here but so many people don’t consider their health in like the longer term, right. They’re all short term thinking. One thing that a lot of people are interested in is being productive, the whole sort of bio-hacking movement or anyone involved in business or basically our entire western society is built around this idea of being productive. But there have been some interesting studies around air quality and how this enhances productivity, correct?
Collin: Yes, indeed. It’s an incomplete science but there are some pretty remarkable pieces of research out. Harvard School of Public Health in October 2015 came out with a remarkable piece of research, not conclusive, this isn’t a law of the universe but they found that employees and people did three different qualities of work. At the high end, they considered were creative jobs, marketing, branding, creative works that were very kind of like thought-intensive and brain-heavy. And then the second tier and then the third tier were sort of like data entry, not very complex work, not a lot of thought required but very repetitive and required a lot of attention and being accurate. And across these three tiers, they found that people that worked in a cleaner air environment, their number was 61% more cognitively productive.
I think that’s incredible. I almost don’t believe it. I think it’s an extremely high number but I can only go by what they published. This is definitely a highly reputable school with a very reputable department coming out with this. And there is more and more data that’s showing that this really could be right. This could be a reasonable figure to imagine. Some more research that was studied on air pollution and depression found that people that have poor air quality definitely—I’m trying to think of the right words to use here—their brains just don’t respond as well to our external environment when we’re bombarded with air pollution and our brains literally get clouded with molecules that we don’t want in them. This can lead to a lot of accidents in the workspace, inconsistencies in work. So productivity is starting to be measured. It’s still kind of a soft science of how we’re going to quantify this. There is some more interesting research around memory—memory is probably a little easier to try to track in a study—concentration, all of which are like increased by about 9% to 11% in cleaner air environments. So we know that the brain is highly optimized around clean air, just as it would be when you eat a clean diet and you work out in the morning. This is just the next frontier around optimizing your brain and it’s totally on point.
There’s a really neat standard coming out, sort of like the Lead Standard but even more interesting I believe. It’s called the Well Standard and the Well Standard says that a building is not your walls. The building is what you eat in it, it’s what you breathe in it, it is how much light you get in it. It’s all these factors and I like this approach because they don’t say air quality boosts your productivity. They say that a healthy balanced building and space with a healthy diet and all these things allow you to become more productive. Because if you have clean air but you had a major family catastrophe or you have a cigarette-smoking spouse in your house, it’s really hard to say you’re going to be more productive. But if we can enable people to be as productive as possible given there are other influences in their lives we can’t control, then we’re being honest with our data and we’re also not making sort of false promises around how much better you’re going to be able to work. But I will say that a lot of very large companies spend a lot of money to make their indoor air as clean as possible for employees. It’s not really an amenity anymore. It’s a bottom line necessity.
Logan: Yeah, it really makes sense. If people, I know doctors 30 years ago would say what you eat doesn’t affect your mind at all, we have the whole mind-body split although that’s complete BS—obviously things are very much tied together so what you eat, if it’s something your body is allergic to or there are some chemicals that are having some sort of effect and who knows, because you know, as you were saying, most of those chemicals haven’t been studied for what they do, but that can bring about brain fog. So yeah, it makes sense that the VOCs or other things in the air can do exactly the same. In fact, it kind of makes more sense that you breathe them in and they’re volatile and kind of raise up to the brain and do who knows up there.
Collin: Yeah. It can be very quick, too. This is like fairly instantaneous stuff. Sick Building Syndrome is a known issue. It’s a known health issue that you can walk into a building that uses poor quality materials in it and a good number of people will legitimately become ill and sick. Headaches are the start of this but runny noses and eyes, itchy eyes, these are all signs that your indoor air is really, really horrible. In a smaller scale, the indoor like conference rooms where you get ten people together around a table and everyone starts to get lethargic about a half hour into it, well science has shown that that’s not because people are tired of working after a half hour. It’s because carbon dioxide levels have gotten so high in that space that we’re not breathing enough oxygen for our brains to be awake. It’s really just an air quality issue that we’re not being productive in conferences because there are too many people in a small room.
Logan: Right. Another question just popped into my head. Do the plants or certain filters, because I’ve been hearing a lot more and actually just had some issues around mold so mold spores—obviously, if that’s in your home you want to take care of it—but there are mold particles throughout the air, even in the cleanest areas but just how many of them so what kind of things can be done to help with mold that can be very similar to dealing with VOCs and other things?
Collin: It’s a little different. Molds can require—it’s a good question. The best way to control mold is balancing the humidity in your space. That can dramatically prevent the growth and the distribution of molds. Plants have been shown to be able to reduce mold colony concentrations and there are some filters out that I think should be able to trap most molds. There are some air filters that use ultraviolet light, which can help with not necessarily molds but viruses and bacteria in the air which is definitely another concern about kind of an open workspace or any large open commercial space. The transmission of just common colds and the flu through the air column, sort of like being on a plane where you have this recirculating air. Anything that can zap flu viruses and bacteria is great. Filters can do that but usually it requires an ultraviolet light or some type of biological pathway to help reduce that.
Logan: Yeah. Earlier, you were mentioning that air is kind of like where water was few decades ago and the other day when we were talking, you were talking about people who are actually buying bottled air. Could you tell us a little about this because I hadn’t thought that before and I thought that was pretty incredible but I guess it kind of makes sense?
Collin: Yeah, I’d say that this has not approached the United States yet but certainly in China air is, for instance a lot of offices will import bottled canisters of oxygen and release that oxygen indoors inside the offices to provide fresh air because they don’t want to bring the outdoor air near Beijing or Shanghai or many of the other places in China indoors. So they are getting this optimization boost by just carting in industrial-sized containers of oxygen. That’s a real market that’s established that happens.
The kind of thing that’s getting more attention lately in the media is a startup out of Canada, I think out of British Columbia. They started bottling just air. They went to the top of the mountain and they pressurized air into containers and people in China are buying these things up. It’s becoming a real thing, to import air from different places that are known to have fresh air. It’s really supply and demand. If you live in China and you don’t want your seven-year old to develop allergies or significantly worse things and you can afford to import air, you’re probably going to want to because it’s your kid, right? This is people just trying to live healthy lives when their external environment is saying no, you can’t.
So that’s sort of a desperate side of air pollution right now. There are a lot of people that obviously can’t afford that luxury. We spoke with a gentleman in China who pays $12,000 a year to filter the air in his apartment. That’s an incredible sort of tax on your well-being. If you can’t afford that tax then society is going to have to help pay for your health problems. So we’re going to I think start seeing that air has to be regulated because it’s going to become a public health crisis which is going to become a financial burden on governments. Granted it already is, especially in China but there’s inability to sort of now fix that because the goal of economic growth. So yeah, importing air is probably going to keep happening. It seems more and more that we’re going to be developing larger commercial buildings that allow people to live in a space, work in the same building and eat in the same building without ever leaving it. That’s sort of the easiest way to not deal with horrible outdoor air pollution but if that does become the case, we have to be super concerned about the indoor space still.
Logan: Wow. I didn’t think about that, but not going outside, I suppose that is completely possible but kind of scary for me to think about.
Collin: Indeed. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to deal with that. There definitely are parts of the world0 that are going to have to do that. It’s often common in the higher income brackets of China that you get into your car that has highly optimized air filtration in it that allows you to not breathe the outdoor air at all, sort of like the Tesla’s new air filter that they’ve incorporated to their cars. It’s definitely a sign of things. Tesla just created—I forget what they’re calling the air filter—like bioweapon. It’s designed for you to survive a biological warfare attack in your car. Nothing gets in it. They demoed this by building a plastic enclosure around one of their cars and pumping the enclosure with—I wish I knew; I was just thinking about it—but we’re talking about absurd amount of pollution. I mean this could probably kill someone in like a few minutes to an hour or something. They had people in the car breathing just fine. This is technology that’s already in a lot of high end cars in China, just so that while you’re having to go between two buildings, you’re not actually breathing polluted air.
Logan: Wow. That’s some fascinating stuff. And it’s cool to see technology being used in ways that are helpful to us, not just harmful though hopefully there’s much more of that coming in the future. It’s about time to wrap up this call so where would you like people to go to find out more about you or Biome?
Collin: Sure. We’ll include a link at the bottom but I guess I can verbally share it. We’re Biome.us. We are a designed-in-California, made-in-California company trying to really stick to what it means to create jobs and create quality products that improve quality of life. I can probably include a personal link to a blog or something as well, if that works for you.
Logan: Well, great. I definitely recommend people check this out. It’s a very cool thing. Nothing else quite like there on it. I plan to get myself one for my home in the future just because one, I think it’s really cool and I believe that air quality is important. So even though I’m trying to use organic furniture and everything, I don’t have a perfect home so I can see how this can help. Well, thank you so much, Collin. I think people are going to really going to get a kick out of this call because there are some interesting stuff that very few people are talking about.
Collin: Well, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you, Logan. If another conversation results with anyone that’s listens, definitely feel free to clue me in and it’ll be great to continue the chat.
Logan: All right. Well, thanks everyone for listening. You can always reach out to us if there are any specific guests you’d like to have us have on here or any question for past guests or anything we can help you with. Love to hear from you. And as always, reviews over on iTunes are very much appreciated. Take care and have a good day.
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