Quantifying The Quality

For greenhouse growers, the U.S. Green Building Council is a tough nut to crack, especially when it comes to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process.

LEED is a prestigious third-party certification program and a national benchmark that promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability in five key areas of human and environmental health, says Dr. Bodie Pennisi, Horticulture Department, University of Georgia. These five areas include: LEED development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

This certification lacks any official agricultural connection to indoor plants and the role they play in improving human health by improving indoor air quality, Pennisi says. Green Plants For Green Buildings (GPGB) President Mike Lewis adds, “Ironically enough, you can have the greenest building on the planet and do not have a single living plant in it. Isn’t that weird?

“If you look at the ads and catalogs of all the vendors that supply LEED certified buildings with their cabinets, carpet, paint, the HVAC, those pages are filled with pictures of palm trees and blooming plants, because people identify plants with being green.”

Project Carbon is hoping to bridge that disconnect through the work of Drs. Bodie Pennisi and Marc van Iersel from the University of Georgia, which is funded by the National Foliage Foundation (NFF).

Cold, Hard Facts

Project Carbon, short for Quantification of Carbon Assimilation in Interiorscape Plants, aims to address this question: If an interiorscape of a certain size and plant species is implemented under typical light levels, how much carbon would be removed from the air over a given period?

Pennisi and van Iersel worked with 216 4-inch plants under three light levels. The plants used were Ficus benjamina, pothos, philodendron, sansevieria, aglaonema and spathiphyllum. After a ten-week period, these plants “fixed” a total of 700 grams of carbon under simulated conditions, Pennisi reports.
Also in their findings she adds, “Plants absorb carbon dioxide as a molecule. One might argue that what should be reported as a positive impact on the environment is the carbon dioxide removal and not just carbon removal.”

The results of Project Carbon are currently in the preliminary stage. Pennisi will be presenting her and van Iersel’s findings at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) this month, January 14-16.

Along with carbon dioxide removal, prior research has found indoor plants excel at removing a significant amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In what Pennisi calls “phytoremediation,” plants in closed quarters can aid in depleting the air of octane, benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, to name a few. These VOCs emanate from such things as carpeting, occupants, newspapers, CD players and adhesives.

LEEDing Role
According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally recognized green building certification system,  providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.  LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Bill Lyden of Farm Life Tropical Foliage says, “The direction for any new construction is towards green, eco-friendly buildings. If we ever do get LEED points awarded for getting plants inside of these buildings, then I think there will be a huge demand for interior plant material. This would be quite an opportunity for growers to capitalize on and put in their marketing programs.”

The three key issues responsible for keeping indoor plants down and out of LEED’s current rating system are maintenance, transportation and a presumed expendability, Lyden says.

“Moving plants from South Florida where they’re grown to Minneapolis where a new building is can use too much fossil fuel. Also, in a recession like the one we’re in right now, it’s hard to justify keeping a plant program if people are getting laid off. Whereas, if plants are part of what makes a building green and part of the LEED criteria, the plants will stay.”

“We’re seeing some shift away from using plants in newly designed buildings because of cleaner, more stylized designs,” GPGB President Mike Lewis says. “We feel it’s important that at a table when a building is being designed or renovated that plants be represented. Lacking any real data regarding the carbon removal capabilities of live plants, it was difficult to make that case.”

Lewis goes on to say that a new, fresh scientific argument is needed in earnest to make a real impression on today’s architects, interior designers and building owners. “We’re not out of the game by any means and that’s why we’re pushing hard with Project Carbon,” Lewis says.

Before the Funding

Well before the NFF funding, the groundwork for research efforts like Project Carbon was laid by the U.S. Military and NASA research scientist Bill Wolverton back in the 1960s, Pennisi says.

Wolverton began to experiment with water hyacinths and other swamp plants. He tested their ability to clean up contaminates from water, specifically Agent Orange. He then moved his work to the BioHome at NASA’s Stennis Space Center to study indoor house plants as air purifiers.
Pennisi says Wolverton hypothesized that plants emit water vapor that creates a pumping action to pull contaminated air down around a plant’s roots. There, it’s converted into food for the plant.

She adds that other researchers have shown VOC removal through a plant’s stomatal uptake, absorption and adsorption to plant surfaces. “Plants do a lot more than people realize,” Lewis says. “Scientists know it, people know it, but no one has done any quantifiable measurement on exactly what they do. We need good, strong talking points–Project Carbon being one of them.”

Leave a Reply

More From Grow Initiative...

May 1, 2015

18 New Grasses To Grow

Ornamental grasses fit in with the needs of today’s landscapers and consumers better than ever. Whether your customers are looking for creative solutions for patio containers or a mass planting in a landscape, some of the 18 new varieties included here are sure to meet the need.

Read More

May 1, 2015

Restoration Landscapes: A Specialized Market For Natives And Grasses

Restoration landscapes, depending on their purpose, often require straight native species, along with a confirmation of their known provenance. Research is key in this area and good recordkeeping is a must.

Read More

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Financial Administrator

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Latest Stories

April 29, 2015

Field To Vase Dinner Tour Promotes American Grown Flowe…

For the first time last month, guests at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, Calif. were treated to a four-course, gourmet, farm-to-fork style meal in the middle of the fields. The event was part of the 10-city Certified American Grown “Field to Vase” Dinner Tour. The tour is a series of private, intimate gatherings that place seasonal, local and sustainable American Grown flowers at the center of the table where locally grown food, beer and wine is served by a farm-to-table chef. The Flower Fields event was one of four dinners that will be held in the state this year. It featured chef Marissa Gerlach, executive chef at the Vista Valley Country Club, Vista, Calif. Mike Mellano, a third generation flower farmer with a Ph.D. in plant pathology, led guests on tours of the fields. Guests were given a floral arrangement as a symbol of the evening’s theme: Celebrating Local American […]

Read More

April 21, 2015

There’s Still Time Left In Crown Bees’ Camp…

There is a little more than a week left in Crown Bees’ Indiegogo fund-raising venture designed to give garden center retailers a chance to help increase awareness of native bees, and to increase the number of bees to pollinate local food. The company is raising $100,000 to redesign “Bee with Me,” a social network that connects, maps and empowers bee boosters across the U.S. Garden centers that take part in the campaign can: Be listed as a local resource for products and supplies in the online network Get access to and activate a new group of customers Be viewed as a leader in the community Be seen as a source of local expertise. Within your own store and brand, there are several ways you can also help to raise awareness about native bees, such as educating customers about the gentle nature of solitary bees. Visit CrownBees.com for some easy facts to pass […]

Read More
Todd Woodfield

April 8, 2015

Sustainable Horticulture Pays Off

Practicing holistic horticulture has saved money and improved plant quality for Abby Farms. Its manager shares where the operation has seen differences from conventional production.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Philadelphia Flower Show Draws More Than 250,000 Attend…

With more than 250,000 consumers attending the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show in March each year, it's a great opportunity to get flowers and gardening products into the public eye. This year's show displays took on family favorites at the movies, with a focus on Disney and Pixar films. Check out some of the highlights in our slideshow.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Peace Tree Farms Grows Its Customer Base

Over the past five years, Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, Pa., has concentrated on growing its business by providing plant material for the displays at the illustrious Philadelphia Flower Show. We caught up with Peace Tree Farms’ Lloyd Traven to ask about how the Flower Show figures into his business plan.

Read More
Bloomtown_Screen Shot 2015-03-10

March 24, 2015

Bloomtown Exposes Consumers To The World Of Horticultur…

A new web series called Bloomtown is all about the mud, sweat and tears of horticulture. Filmed in St. Louis, Mo., it chronicles the world of horticulture using local flower growers, greenhouses, wholesalers, florists, consumers, retail shops and arborists, with the goal of opening consumers’ eyes to the world of horticulture around them.

Read More

March 18, 2015

Growers Ask For Immigration And Healthcare Reform Durin…

Nearly 90 growers, retailers, suppliers and wholesales attended the Society of American Florists' (SAF) 2015 Congressional Action Days March 9-10. The delegation, representing 18 states, arrived on Capitol Hill at a time when two major industry issues - immigration and healthcare reform - are especially prominent in national headlines.

Read More
Nexus Corporation's Cheryl Longtin Encourages Women To Seek Volunteer Leadership Opportunities

March 4, 2015

Nexus Corporation’s Cheryl Longtin Encourages Wom…

When Cheryl Longtin came to the horticulture business in 1994, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production. Longtin says horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry compared to other industries, but women in horticulture must continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.

Read More
Smart Herb Garden

March 2, 2015

Smartpot Uses Sensors And Cartridges To Ensure Success …

Click & Grow helps make it simple for consumers to grow their own herbs and spices at home, even if they have little experience with plants.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Student Flash Mob At TPIE Has Roots In Floriculture

The local FFA students who entertained TPIE attendees in 2014 and 2015 received industry donations of plants and a greenhouse structure to help expand their horticultural program.

Read More

February 12, 2015

GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, we need to promote our professions as vital to healthier living.

Read More
bee photo

February 11, 2015

26 Ways Growers Improve The Green Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW Initiative’s five pillars: How are you driving consumer success, cultivating new customers, demanding quality, investing in the industry and sharpening business management? Through your candid responses, we learned about some of the ideas you’ve implemented and steps you’re taking for 2015. Here are just a few.

Read More
Noble Foundation

February 3, 2015

Lloyd Noble Scholars Program Application Period Now Ope…

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is offering college students an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Noble Foundation’s renowned agricultural consultants and researchers through the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture program, a summer internship that provides students the opportunity to enhance their in-class education with real-world application and experiences.

Read More

January 7, 2015

GROW Summit 2014 Homes In On The Issues That Keep You U…

During Greenhouse Grower’s third annual GROW Summit in December a number of ideas, questions and calls-to-action transpired. Here are a few of the highlights.

Read More

January 6, 2015

Growers Resolve To Educate Public About Their Operation…

See what growers plan to work on for their 2015 business resolutions.

Read More

December 22, 2014

National Garden Bureau Launches Therapeutic Garden Prog…

National Garden Bureau has chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as the first beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort "Growing For Futures."

Read More

December 19, 2014

Hydroponic Food Production Course Serves Up Life Lesson…

Students in the new HORT 331X Hydroponic Food Crop Production course at Iowa State University are producing more food than they can eat, so they began donating the vegetables they produce to a local food pantry and free meal program.

Read More

December 8, 2014

“The Cheapest Generation” Will Be Tomorrow&…

Members of the Millennial generation aren’t buying cars and houses the way their parents did, and according to a recent article from The Atlantic titled “The Cheapest Generation,” it might be more than an effect of a bad economy. So what does this mean for horticulture? Industry members weigh in.

Read More