Engineering Nature

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When employees of a Toronto business complained of headaches, irritated eyes and lethargy, all symptoms of the increasingly common "sick building syndrome," their CEO called in a biologist. Typically, the answer has been to hire a phalanx of engineers and drain the bank account in an effort to alleviate the problem. In this instance, however, biologist Wolfgang Amelung installed a "breathing wall."

This self-sustaining ecosystem is a complex combination of water, rock, frogs, fish, insects and over 400 species of plants. Contaminants in the air are absorbed by the vegetation and consumed by the micro-organisms in the soil. Excess waste is carried into a small pond where it is eaten by frogs, fish and insects. The wall acts as a biofilter, cleansing the air and circulating it naturally through the office.

Shortly after the installation, Joe Martin, the CEO of Club Monaco, perceived a noticeable improvement in the air. "Not only did the air smell sweeter, but I noticed a higher energy level among the staff," he says.

While biofiltration is not an entirely new process, Amelung's innovation has allowed him to apply the technology to indoor air quality. His company, Genetron Systems, has been creating small scale ecosystems for the past decade. The 40-square-foot breathing wall that his firm designed for Club Monaco proves that large corporate installations are possible. As he sees it, eco-engineering and Genetron Systems are ready to move up the corporate ladder.

E Magazine
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Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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