Ray Greenstreet met Mark Prescott at a trade show six years ago. Greenstreet, the owner of Greenstreet Growers in Lothian, Maryland, and Prescott, a former nursery owner and then the president of AgriSci Inc., a company developing plant-driven air purifying technology were discussing how the green indstury might evolve. While the two were at dinner considering potential business opportunities, Prescott brought up green walls. It caught Greenstreet’s attention.
Greenstreet worked on creative planting projects at malls and halls during the ’80s and ’90s, giving him insight into how plants can factor into different types of design projects. As the market developed, however, plants became less of a focus in new constructions — something Greenstreet attributes to design choices and/or budgetary reasons.
Believing green walls to be a smart business opportunity, Greenstreet partnered with Prescott, and the two started installing green walls at different businesses a few months after their trade show chat. These walls not only added green to otherwise sterile spaces, but also filtered clean air back into the space to create a cleaner environment. The technology they installed takes dirty air from inside a building and runs it through the roof. Different plants adorn the wall, putting the green in its name.
“It’s a way to get green back in the green walls,” Greenstreet says.
Fast forward to 2017, and Greenstreet says customers began asking for a smaller version of their green wall, something that they could put on their desk or in their home. And as it turned out, Prescott was already working on a design for the product — an air purifier based on the power of plants. Known as breth (pronounced breath), it debuted on Kickstarter in September. Prescott is the brains behind the concept, while Greenstreet is tasked with being the public face of the business and helping it establish a brand.
“It started off as two big bricks on your desk. It was a little ugly,” Greenstreet says. “But we started with the idea. And then we just kept toning it down and toning it down. It’s something that people wanted and we saw the opportunity for cubicles and nightstands and babies’ rooms, where people are concerned about air quality. As buildings have gotten tighter, bringing in fresh air is really important.”
The basics of breth
breth is a scaled-down version of the air-cleaning green walls Greenstreet and Prescott were already installing. It has a few key components — a full-spectrum LED light to stimulate plant growth, a water tank, a fan, small pots for growing media and the plant itself. It’s vital that the plant be both actively and healthy for breth to work. The system starts by delivering moisture and air into the plants’ root system, where it moves through the growing media in the pot. Then, the plants absorb the bacteria and gases being used in air conditioning systems as a food source and then sends clean air back into the surrounding area. By pushing air through a filtration system, breth is actively cleaning the air instead of letting the plants do the same work passively.
Greenstreet says that the user needs to change the water every 10 to 12 days; a sensor on the breth lets them know when they need to refill it. The light is also regulated automatically on a 12-hour timer. A breth app that lets users know when something in their system needs their attention will be available in the next few months.
“We wanted something that was easy to maintain that you could have a lot of success with,” Greenstreet says. “A lot of people think they have brown thumbs and that they can’t grow plants.”
Before releasing breth into the market, it was tested by a New York City-based laboratory that has been testing building air quality in buildings affected by 9/11 and other areas where air quality is a concern.
“The researchers that have been doing the work for us said they have never seen a green product work [for air purification],” Greenstreet says. “And they said this works. We were getting over 70 percent reduction in formaldehyde. And this wasn’t just one shot. We were continuously feeding formaldehyde directly into the fan, which was pushing air through breth [and cleaning it].”
As for the plants, they are currently grown in Greenstreet’s greenhouses. Three plant combinations — Green & Pure, Garden Bloom and Exotic Combo — were available during the Kickstarter campaign. But if they want to, they can swap out the plants for one of their own choice.
“If you want to pop one of the breth pots out at Christmas, and put a poinsettia in, you’ll be able to do that,” Greenstreet says.
Hopes for the future
breth first received its funding through its Kickstarter campaign launched in September 2018. It reached its funding goal of $50,000 in 10 days. When it closed on Oct. 15, breth had 779 backers and $139,684 in funding. Greenstreet attributes this success to existing market demand for a product of this type, especially in key consumer groups like Millennials.
“Millennials want to see a little bit of green coming back inside,” Greenstreet says.
After the Kickstarter campaign ends, the next step for breth is making it available via different avenues, such as independent garden centers, which Greenstreet says are a key market for the product. There, he hopes that consumers who come already looking for a new plant might also consider purchasing an air purifier that incorporates plants. Another market they hope to reach are companies who want to add some plant life into their offices and cubicles.
He also says that there are plans to expand the line beyond the original small desk air purifiers. In theory, Greenstreet says, the technology that makes breth work could be larger air purifiers for office spaces or integrated into office décor. The hope, he says, is to keep using green to benefit people’s overall wellness.
“This breth unit is really about the individual, their space,” Greenstreet says.