Technology: Commercial Spaces Breathe Easy

By Adrienne Ciskey, Lab Project Manager, Center for REALTOR® Technology, NAR

A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air: Plants for Commercial Spaces is the first in a series of guides written to help REALTORS® lead the way in thinking about making indoor spaces better places to live and work. The EPA estimates that we spend about 90% of our time indoors, but that the air inside is actually worse than the air outside due to high levels of CO2 and other gasses. Knowing how to mitigate these gasses before they cause health problems can help us all live better lives, and by adding just a few plants to our indoor spaces, we can be on our way to a healthier lifestyle.

Over the past few months, the NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology (CRT) Labs, Member Support, and Information Technology departments have been working together to research and write a guide for commercial practitioners who are interested in educating their clients about indoor environmental quality concerns. With a focus on easily-accessible plants, the Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air serves as a valuable tool for REALTORS® to assist office managers, company executives, and others in making decisions that can positively impact office workers’ moods, productivity, and quality of life.

Research shows that not only does maintaining consistent, high-quality air directly impact workers’ quality of life, but that those making decisions about where a company’s offices are located are willing to spend more money for green features – with indoor air quality considerations being the feature most often requested when looking at new spaces. Instead of installing expensive new HVAC systems with filtration, plants can be used to improve indoor air quality at a fraction of the cost.

Inside this book, we take a look at ten plants, originally studied by NASA in the 70s and 80s, which were proven to be effective at cleaning the air and mitigating common indoor environmental pollutants. These plants were used by NASA to keep the air clean for astronauts – and we think that’s a pretty good indicator that they’ll keep your office air fresh as well. Common indoor pollutants include carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). CO2 is a familiar culprit of indoor air quality issues, causing increased headaches, tiredness, and loss of concentration. You’ve likely encountered this yourself if you’ve been in a large, closed off meeting room and felt yourself drifting away from the presentation you’re watching. As more and more people exhale, CO2 is building in the air you’ll be breathing.

These pollutants can, over time, cause a variety of health concerns, and simply trying to “get rid” of CO2 or VOCs can be a daunting task. VOCs are especially prevalent; an easy way to describe just how common they are is to think about how many smells you encounter in an office on any given day. Did you just get the office repainted? Those fumes contain VOCs. Are you near the highway and smell exhaust? Also VOCs. These VOCs occur in construction materials, cleaning supplies, cigarette smoke – they’re everywhere. The right plants can mitigate these pollutants.

We chose the plants in this guide based on their availability (easily found in home-and-garden centers), ease of care (since these are tropical plants, they require misting from water bottles, which is easier to maintain than traditionally watering with a can), and general aesthetics (they all look really good together). Charts are included in the book that highlight the air quality concerns that each plant mitigates, which allows you to pick and choose which plants would work best for the concerns of your clients. Clients moving into brand-new construction are exposed to different VOCs than those moving into an older building, and our plants work well at mitigating both categories. We also have plants that help control humidity and mold, which are concerns for clients living in muggier conditions.

The Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air is available for print-on-demand purchase.  Simply go to to get your copy – or several copies for your most valuable clients – and start breathing cleaner air while you work.

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