By Dave Harrison
I once came across an air freshener in an office lavatory labelled as “stockyard strength.” I can’t imagine an odour this freshener couldn’t suppress, and if there was one such example, I’d hate to be the person sent in to do the spraying.
Every general merchandising retailer has at least one aisle of products devoted to air freshening products. There are dozens of them, including scented candles, pressurized spray cans, carpet deodorizing powders, and systems you plug into an electrical outlet. North Americans can’t get enough of them. We’re obsessed with odours, and will spend a lot of money to hide them. Fragrant reminders of last night’s boiled fish and cabbage casserole can easily be blocked by a Sea Breeze spritz or two, or perhaps a generous clouding of Mountain Meadow sprays.
Why aren’t we marketing houseplants as air freshening agents? We clearly have the technical advantage. Houseplants are extremely energy efficient, look much nicer than wallplug deodorizing dispensers ($4.99 each, and they last 30 days), and they come with the added benefit of cleansing a day’s weariness off of your soul simply by sharing a room with them. They’re environmentally safe and completely compostable. Some are fragrant, and many will absorb common household chemicals.
We have science on our side. The leading expert on the topic is Dr. B.C. “Bill” Wolverton. He worked for many years on NASA studies involving the effectiveness of plants in maintaining comfort levels in enclosed spaces. Wolverton found that many common plants are quite effective in removing certain pollutants from indoor environments.
On his Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc. website, Dr. Wolverton explains how plants keep certain toxic chemicals at bay. “Plant leaves can absorb certain organic chemicals and destroy these chemicals by a process called metabolic breakdown.” He cites a 1994 German study as demonstrating this ability. Dr. Wolverton also wrote the book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.
I like the air freshener idea of promoting plants. In this era of environmental awareness and sensitivity, using plants to do this job makes a lot of sense (and cents). The emotional benefits of houseplants are much better known, as is the positive impact on workplace productivity. Even students benefit in the classroom from plant exposure. Among recent studies, researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that people are clearly energized by looking at flowers first thing in the morning. “The final study results demonstrate that flowers impact people emotionally at home, causing them to feel less anxious and more compassionate. They even reported a boost of energy that lasted through their day.”
For too long, we’ve marketed only home décor and indoor gardening products. The benefits of houseplants go well beyond all that. Getting the health and wellness messages to consumers will go a long way toward growing this industry. Consumers need to admire plants at more than face value.
Next time you’re in a garden centre, check out the Family Wellness aisle. Me? I’ll be in the Environmental Purification Systems section.