Breathing Easy Indoors

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Refrigerators are stocked with blueberries these days partly because organizations like the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council promoted the fact over the last several years that they’re abundant with antioxidants. Consumers, obviously, bought into the message.

Now, Costa Farms is in the early stages of a similar marketing campaign in O2 For You: Plants With A Purpose, a program that’s designed to spread awareness of the dangers of indoor air pollution and educate about the health benefits of having plants in the home and at work.

"We want to make plants the new blueberries," says Marta Maria Garcia, marketing manager at Costa. "Many people are not aware of all the pollutants that exist in the indoor air environment – the glue used on rugs, the tint used in photocopying in the office. We should be concerned equally about the indoor environment as we are the outdoors."

Considering the information Costa gathered to build the O2 For You campaign, indoor air pollution should indeed be a concern. The National Safety Council, for starters, says that roughly 90 percent of a person’s time is spent indoors. A recent EPA study found that indoor air pollution can be two to five times higher – sometimes even worse – than the pollution outdoors. And the World Health Organization reports that 1.5 million people die each year because of the ill effects of indoor air pollution.

Plants As Natural Air Filters

Plants aren’t just for looking pretty. They’re designed with specific purposes, like these:
• Bromeliads, orchids and succulents are recommended for bedrooms because they exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide at night. Anthuriums can do the same at the office during the day.
• If you smoke or have detergents, synthetic fibers or rubber products around your house, Costa Farms suggests peace lilies, dracaenas, gerbera daisies, ivy, chrysanthemums or Chinese evergreens for absorbing benzene.
• For rooms that were just painted or had carpet cleaned, a philodendron, spider plant, snake plant, bamboo palm or golden pathos can absorb the formaldehyde.

Those statistics were eye openers for Garcia and Charlie Acevedo, vice president of sales and marketing at Costa. The statistics were also probable cause for a plant marketing campaign like O2 For You.

"Those [findings] are some of the tidbits we want to take and communicate," Acevedo says. "The fact that plants remove toxins – nicotine, benzene, tobacco smoke, the chemicals found in paint – is worth noting."  

Kicking Off O2

Until 18 months ago, Costa Farms’ marketing department was in the development stages. Acevedo was still relatively new to the industry, at the time, after doing sales and marketing for Anheuser-Busch and managing his own alcoholic beverage distributorship. Garcia, meanwhile, was still working for Bacardi planning its marketing initiatives in Miami and Puerto Rico.

But today, Acevedo and Garcia are key contributors to Costa’s success in the South Florida area, and they’re moving full-speed ahead with the O2 For You message of better living through plants. The O2 For You campaign actually launched May 6 in New York, and Costa teamed a group of volunteers from Earth Day New York and Garden Media Group there to deliver plants as gifts to mothers of newborn babies.

The group delivered plants to mothers at Bellevue Hospital Center and NYU Langone Medical Center, and a tour of more hospitals will follow this summer in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami.

"If you’re going to start somewhere, you might as well start with health experts because they’re going to support this message," says Garcia, who’s also promoting the message of placing houseplants every 100 square feet through O2 For You to create purer indoor environments. "We want to create healing centers and have lots of plants in those areas so you can really notice the difference when you walk into a room."

O2 For You is still in the grassroots stages, but Garcia plans to build credibility by continuing to visit mothers in hospitals and delivering "clean air" to their babies. Costa doesn’t have a huge budget for O2 For You, either, but it intends to spread its message through public relations, YouTube videos and, at some point, a standalone Web site devoted to O2 For You. For now, Costa is offering more information online at www.costafarms.com.

"From experience, it’s sometimes better for the consumer to discover your message on their own," Garcia says. "We want people to be the ambassadors of spreading the message to their friends. We don’t want to be in their face."

Eventually, Costa would like to involve its own customers, too. Several of Costa’s customers have expressed interest in O2 For You for next year’s Earth Day. Costa is considering the development of plant sleeves with the O2 For You logo to promote the message at retail, Garcia says, and it would like to open the program up to other growers.

"We’re leading the charge, but we’re not making this exclusive to Costa," she says. "We really want this to be an industry initiative and for everybody to get on board. Hopefully, we can keep promoting the message."

But in the short term, Costa simply wants to educate consumers.

"If we can get consumers to understand the message that plants clean the air you breathe, then we’ve accomplished the first part of our goal," Acevedo says. "The actual purchase behavior will follow."

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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