Plant the Air – students against smog

I really like and support small local businesses aiming not only to generate profits, but also to deliver solutions to social and environmental problems. That’s why as soon as I found out about the project Plant the Air, created by a group of students from the Warsaw School of Economics, I thought it would be a perfect topic for my blog.

We live in times when unfortunately more and more people are affected by smog. This question is really difficult to tackle. To solve it for good, we definitely need top-down measures to be taken by the state and local authorities. Nevertheless, before this happens (if at all), common people have to deal with this issue on a daily basis and – using available methods – try to reduce the impact of smog on their health and well-being.

According to the authors of the Plant the Air project one of these methods is to grow air-filtering pot plants. This is how they came up with the idea to open a small business delivering anti-smog plants to private and corporate customers. The initiative explores also the concept of upcycling and engages diverse social groups – pupils, students, scientists and business partners.

How does this look in practice? I invite you to read my recent interview with the authors of the project.

Special thanks to Karolina and Lila from the Warsaw School of Economics’ Enactus group for the time dedicated to providing answers to my questions.

Coffee, Berta Isla by one of my favourite writers – Javier Marias and a beautiful pink flamingo flower delivered to me by Plant the Air.

In the first place, I would like to discuss what Plant the Air is. Can you briefly describe this initiative? What is the idea behind it and how does it work in practice?

Plant the Air is a project aiming to prove that we can help fighting smog using simple methods such as buying plants. Smog is the biggest environmental problem that Poland is facing today. We would like to make the society aware of the fact that even small things count when it comes to improving the air quality in our country.

We sell our plants in pots made of recycled materials. We prepare them for sale together with children from the Stanisław Staszic primary school in Warsaw. In case of bigger orders, we deliver our plants to the customer’s houses or premises. Our goal has been to create a holistic project that would be environmentally friendly at all its stages.

When and in which circumstances did you come up with the idea? Why did you choose to focus on this specific problem?

Plant the Air is a project of the student organisation called Enactus at the Warsaw School of Economics. We act as soon as we notice a social or environmental problem. The organisation is currently running a few projects, each of them tackling a different kind of problem.  For those of us who have chosen to work on Plant the Air, the biggest of these challenges is smog.

Many people underestimate the influence of plants on our organisms. Not only do they clean the air – they also reduce stress and their presence improves our concentration and the general well-being. We believe that people, especially those living in big cities, should take interest in the positive influence of plants on our lives.

Our project team consists of 10 people. We all live in Warsaw and would like to make the city a little bit greener.

Who else is involved in the project? With whom and how do you cooperate? How do you find the people to work with?

Our consultant is DSc Marcin Zych, the Director of the University of Warsaw’s Botanic Garden. We want to be sure that people buying our plants know how to take care of them. To every plant sold we add a short note instructing the new owner on how to look after it.  On top of that, each project run by Enactus has a project mentor who advises the project team on how to develop the idea and comes up with tips and solutions. 

Currently we also work with the Stanisław Staszic primary school in Warsaw. We are planning to organise workshops about smog for children and together with them we will prepare pots for our plants. A part of the income from sales will be dedicated to purchase plants for this school. 

What’s more, our plant pots come from the restaurant Sexy Duck and the construction company Real Estate. These businesses donate us their used empty buckets or cans which we later transform into flower pots.

We try to cooperate with people who are aware of how serious the smog problem is. We address them directly, by sending them emails and arranging meetings.

On what do you base your knowledge about plants? What plants do you have on offer and are you planning to extend the list?

We base on most recent reports on smog and books about plants. The ones we have on offer are the 11 best air-filtering plants list by NASA. For the time being we rely solely on this list – that’s why we are not planning to extend the offer in the nearest future.

Who are your clients – are you targeting corporate or private customers?

Our main target are companies. We want to sell plants for offices. The plants not only clean the air, but they also improve well-being and efficacy within the workplace.

We plan to deliver – directly to offices – ready-made pot plants in beautiful containers filled with high-quality fresh soil. The plants sold in hipermarkets grow in a very poor quality soil, sometimes even in a sponge-like material, which is obviously not the best solution.

We realize that companies don’t have the time or human resources they could dedicate to repotting plants. That’s why we have decided to create a product that would be in 100% ready to put on shelves. 

Our offer is of course available for individual customers too. We have already had a dozen or so of such orders.

How does your online flower shop work? 

We attempt to develop sales for private customers via social media. We are active both on Facebook and Instagram. Our online flower store is available on Facebook. In the Shop section you can find the plants on offer and their prices. The only thing you need to do is to click the button “Buy now” and send us a message with all the details regarding the order. Currently, we don’t have a physical store, but we are definitely aiming to have one in the future, as our small business develops.

What are your other future development plans?

Currently, we are trying to start a partnership with various companies. We would like to find our first big business partner – this is our goal for the nearest time.

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