David Pogue's TED2009 roundup

New York Times columnist David Pogue has a nice roundup of some of the talks from TED2009, which was held in Long Beach, Calif. last week.
Kamal Meattle reported the results of his efforts to fill an office building with plants, in an effort to reduce headache, asthma, and other productivity-sapping aliments in thickly polluted India. After researching NASA documents, he concluded that a set of three particular common, waist-high houseplants—areca palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, and Money Plant—could be combined to scrub the air of carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and other pollutants.

At about four plants per occupant (1200 plants in all), the building’s air freshened considerably, and the health and productivity results were staggering. Eye irritation dropped by 52 percent, lower respiratory symptoms by 34 percent, headaches by 24 percent and asthma by 9 percent. There were fewer sick days, employee productivity increased, and energy costs dropped by 15 percent.

Next stop: a larger-scale experiment in a 1.75-million-square-foot office tower, featuring over 60,000 plants.

TED’s Greatest Hits


  1. I bet just about anyone would look groovy and knowledgeable with that radiating design on their picture! Black turtleneck, casual yet thoughtful and frank gaze at the viewer. A deep low buzzing sound would totally complete the effect. Massive brainpower illustrated!

  2. I really wish i could have watched Jennifer Mather’s talk but i can’t seem to find it on TED’s site.

  3. We always had spider plants hanging all through our puppet shop to help soak up the glue fumes. It wasn’t perfect but it did help. We also made sure we had specially ventilated rooms and masks to work with – but the plants made the whole thing liveable.

  4. Hmm, I think I should look into whether those plants are cat-safe; if they are, I’m putting some in my new apartment.

  5. And the answer is areca palm is safe for pets but the other two are dangerous. (Also, what he’s calling money plant isn’t the one with the white translucent disc leaves many people know by that name.) Four waist high plants is an awful lot to have in a studio apartment, though – seems like what you gain in air quality you lose in space. Unless he’s talking about a much bigger room – I wish there were a plants/area calculation in this someplace.

  6. The original NASA report is here:

    Wolverton, B. C., A. Johnson and K. Bounds, “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement,” NASA/ALCA Final Report, Plants for Clean Air Council, Davidsonville, Maryland, 1989


    The Rubber plant is also a good low-maintenance choice for better indoor air quality.

  7. I have a cat and a dog, and seeing how many of these plants appear to be toxic to both, I’m wondering if there are alternatives with most or all of the benefit but without the animal toxicity.

  8. I’m sorry, but that office plant experiment seems completely useless.

    There was no control and only one building tested!

    It could have been the age of the building, the ventilation system, the lifestyles of the people working in the building, the location of the building, the type of perfume people who work there wear, the type of foods they eat or the frequency people dust or a million other things.

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