While Aki Soudunsaari was earning his doctorate degree in business studies at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, he took a yearlong sabbatical to work as a teacher. He spent half of his time outdoors as a coach and the rest of the time teaching theoretical subjects in the classroom. That’s when he discovered what he calls “sick building syndrome.”
“I got dry eyes, bronchitis and lost my voice,” he says. “I suffered from ‘brain fog’ and developed cognitive problems— but only when I taught indoors.”
Back at his graduate school, he was inspired by a colleague who was using algae to purify water. Could plants purify our air in the same way? Studies from NASA confirmed this, but it’s not the leaves that do the work—it’s the roots. This insight led Soudunsaari to start his company Naava in 2012, which builds portable biological air purifiers. The purifier consists of green screens with a water tank at the bottom and a wall of miniplants growing in small compartments. At the top is a fan system and computer equipment that measures the conditions in the room and makes sure the system is working optimally.
The plants don’t grow in soil, but in a porous growth medium that keeps the roots in contact with the air. The ventilation inside the wall itself circulates air through the system.
“Creating forest air indoors is a partnership between biology and technology,” he explains. “The microbes in the roots devour particles in the indoor air, which purifies it.”
Cognitive tests in classrooms and measurements of stress hormones and blood oxygenation of people in rooms with and without a Naava wall confirm that the air purifier gives results.
Air is just one of many parameters that contribute to human health and wellbeing indoors; others include noise, light and movement. It’s all about making the facilities reflect the good leadership of the company, and doing so requires focusing on the employees’ needs.