The Origins of Origen Air
Updated: Jul 16
A story of science, plants and an idea so crazy that it just might work.
My name is Andrew Crawford.
I am a 42-year-old entrepreneur living in Victoria, BC.
I have a jack russell terrier, a fuzzy grey cat, an amazing family and a burning desire, in the words of Seth Godin, to make things better by making better things.
Despite the varied business descriptions and geographic locations of my 20-year professional career, there are some unwavering passions that have governed my life.
A love of nature.
A love of the ocean.
A never-ending desire to build, create, invent, repair and improve upon cool ideas that pop into my big head.
The Living Wall that Started it all
Starting in 2018, it was my intention to weave my love of plants with a desire to make cool things for cool people.
I ventured out on a shoestring budget and launched my Victoria-based living wall company.
Shortly thereafter, I was happily building my first commercial sized wall in my kitchen.
138 potted plants and a few small mistakes later, I had done it and it was awesome.
Fun Fact: My first iteration of the 138 plants was in the shape of Bob Ross’ smiling face. Bob was an inspiration to me as both an artist and an all-round compassionate human who loved the planet.
There was significant improvement to the smell and energy in my kitchen. It reminded me of my days spent in an orchid nursery on Maui a few years earlier. There was a warm energy that emanated throughout the kitchen filling the entire home. I would compare it to the warm glow of a fireplace, only green, fresh and fragrant.
After successfully testing and learning from my first project, it was time to start the strategic business side of things.
The first logical question I asked myself was “Who would want to buy this level of green awesomeness?”
As a lover of plants, I elected to focus my initial marketing messaging on the added health benefits of dense, lush plants purifying indoor air spaces.
“Who doesn’t love fresh air?”
Then the mad scientist in me kicked in:
” I wonder how much oxygen these plants produce per hour?”
“I wonder how many toxins they can absorb?”
“I wonder if certain plants would absorb more toxins than others?”
“How can I measure this?”
I voraciously googled anything pertinent to plants and air quality.
Within the first hour, I stumbled upon a scientific publication from my childhood heroes, NASA….
It turns out the rocket scientists and I both had the same idea….
Let’s clean our air with plants!
Granted, NASA did it in a space station, but we both saw the same opportunity to improve indoor air with plants.
As I continued to excavate cyberspace, the news got a little bleak.
The more scientific the article, the more pessimistic the outlook.
I was starting to squirm in my seat like somebody who researched their slight headache on WebMD.
What had happened to all those happy Reddit home décor articles touting the “10 best houseplants to clean your air” or “Make your living spaces happier and healthier with THESE plants….”??
I felt duped. I felt scared.
How could this be true?
Plants clean the air.
That’s why we like them!
End of story.
After a few days of panic and furious research of everything related to this bombshell of a myth, I came to terms with the scientific truth of the matter:
If there was ever a moment to tuck my tail and sheepishly move on to the next entrepreneurial idea …. this would have been it.
I could not let it go.
As much as building living walls was a great business involving like-minded people, I wanted this next project to be something for everyone – a game changer for the greater good.
There was no way Google was going to write me a prescription for a new career just yet.
Timing + Persistence
I was on a mission.
There had to be a scientific means of achieving this plan to effectively clean indoor air spaces with plants.
As the saying goes, “Timing is everything”
I found myself sitting in my dining room office a few days later…it was a cold mid-morning day and I was listening to a CBC webcast radio interview of Dr. Stuart Strand from the University of Washington.
The topic was “Special Houseplants”. I was instantly captivated.
Through this fateful interview, Dr. Strand explained how he and fellow scientists had successfully expressed a mammalian liver gene into a common houseplant known as the Golden Pothos Ivy.
“I totally know what Golden Pothos is!”
“I use that plant in my walls.”
“Tell me more Dr. Strand.”
The reason for doing this scientific research, he explained, was to give the plant the detoxifying capacity of a mammalian liver.
In simple terms, these genetically modified house plants absorb toxins from the air and metabolize them, producing oxygen…and then they grow, and absorb more toxins, and on and on it goes…my dream plant existed!
Furthermore, they conducted tests with their genetically enhanced plants in comparison to normal plants of the same species.
Guess what they found?
The regular ones didn’t do a thing – and there’s scientific data charts to prove it.
The Intersection of Science and Business
That first phone call to the University was nerve wracking……Way scarier than calling a girl you liked in 8th grade…oh man, I hope her Dad doesn’t answer!
“Was Dr. Strand going to be one of those cool scientists?”
“Was he going to eat me for breakfast due to my lack of a PhD in Bioscience or Engineering?”
“Could we do business with an American University?”
“How does this work?”
Team Origen Assemble
Simply put, it worked because the right group of people came into my life at the exact right time.
My co-founder and CEO, Susan had recently walked away from a distinguished law career and was looking to pursue her passion for removing toxins, preserving and protecting the planet, she simply needed a project worth her time and energy.
To say that Susan has positive energy and passion is like saying the sun is bright…. she was the catalyst that drove the successful negotiations with UW and their business management associates.
Origen Air thrives under her guidance and relentless passion for the preservation and protection of the natural environment.
Throughout the development of our project, Dr. Strand and his team have been welcoming and enthusiastic in sharing their technology, resources and ideas with us.
We are grateful to be involved with such open-minded and dedicated professionals.
Between the people, the patents, the contracts, the plants, the filters, the funding, it is a chaotic symphony that keeps us dancing every day.
I would not trade this experience for anything.
As I type this article, we are literally growing a living solution to a massive human health problem.
To work with people and businesses who genuinely care about the state of our planet and the health of humanity is what drives our company and keeps us inspired.
Why Origen Air?
The company was named Origen Air, because of where we started.
When I say “We”, I mean all of us.
The origins of life on this planet.
Life on Earth was made possible by photosynthesis and the resulting plant-based lifeforms that populated our planet.
Our dynamic biosphere has supported the evolution of lifeforms, including humans for over 2 billion years.
During this time, all living things existed in careful balance with nature.
The “GEN” part of our name is not a clever misspelling for marketing purposes.
It is the acknowledgement of our deep-rooted commitment to genetic bioscience and its crucial role in producing our plant-based air purification technologies.
Our mission is to design and build the most beautiful plant-based air purification systems in the world.
Clean Air. It’s in our DNA
The Challenge Ahead
We are clearly on the fast track to a new, industrialized way of life.
By most human estimations, we are currently moving a bit too fast on this track.
By outpacing our natural environment, we are losing our connection to the living world and the health benefits it has afforded us for millions of years.
Our mission is to produce the most effective and beautiful living air purifiers in the world to restore healthy living spaces for humanity to thrive.