Getting up early, taking a quick coffee, getting to the office and spend almost the whole day there – that’s the everyday working routine of most employees worldwide. Since we spend so much time in our office spaces, decor is clearly important for our mood and efficiency. Large corporations can afford to spend a lot of money to have architectural firms outfit their offices, while smaller companies rely on their own ingenuity. But both have to decide how they want their employees to work: in open or closed rooms; against a backdrop of white or colorful walls; surrounded by edgy art – or perhaps even out in nature.
To date, the last option has only been possible with the help of a great number of potted plants and rubber trees, which isn’t necessarily the smartest of options. But a new innovation is now making green surroundings accessible for even the most elegant offices: The Grofie greenwall from Hungary allows firms to bring a tropical forest, vegetable or herb garden right into the office. Tamas Koltay is one of the green office interior design’s inventors.
The Grofie greenwall is essentially an indoor wall designed to support plants. How does it work exactly?
We have chosen a textile solution: Imagine a vertical surface with different sized textile pockets mounted on a solid surface. The plants grow in these pockets. We added artificial LED lights for lightning during winter and autumn, as well as an automatic watering system that uses sensor technology: The sensor sends information to the cloud, so we can control it remotely.
The Grofie greenwall allows firms to bring a tropical forest, vegetable or herb garden right into the office.
What sort of plants can this greenwall support?
Tropical plants work quite well, as they are easy to maintain and like the indoor conditions. We’ve primarily worked with 30-35 species so far such as philodendrons, begonias, ficus, and marantha. But as there is growing demand for herbs and vegetables, so we’re also developing new solutions such as our indoor herb wall. Since herbs and vegetables are originally outdoor plants, we have to choose the species carefully though.
Who cares for the plants can be a heated issue in offices. What about maintenance for the greenwall: Do customers have to water or clean it regularly?
No, because so far we only offer the Grofie Greenwall System as an all-round service: We plan, build and maintain the wall for a fixed monthly cost per square meter. There is no option to “buy” the wall for a one-time, fixed price and care for it yourself. This is useful, as some plants inevitably have to be cut back or culled from time to time, and all plants should be checked regularly for illnesses.
This payment model has another advantage as well: The customer doesn’t have to make a huge financial investment at the beginning too.
Definitely. But in future, especially when we introduce the edible walls, we would also like to develop a do-it-yourself modular system that is easy for the customer to install. Here you would just have to buy the kit, choose a wall – whether the surface is glass, concrete or wood – and take care of it yourself.
Why do you sell the green walls specifically to office spaces and not to private homes?
In Hungary, green walls aren’t very well known yet, so we needed a good marketing strategy. Apparently the best way to make people aware of our walls was to install them in community places like offices. Another reason is maintenance: Private customers won’t want us to come to their houses every two weeks for maintenance, which is another reason we are working on a do-it-yourself solution for private customers.
Indoor plants need quite a lot of electricity and water to survive. Isn’t resource consumption rather huge in comparison to the positive environmental effect of the greenwall?
We are very aware of conscious consumption. We have optimized the watering system to make sure there is no overwatering, for instance. When it comes to lighting, we try to install the walls in places where we can exploit as much natural light as possible. On the other hand, there are more positive effects to a greenwall than just CO2 reduction: For instance, a green working environment can affect people’s mental wellbeing and increase their affection for the environment.
That is your mission too, right? Bringing people back to nature.
Exactly. Especially in our urbanized environment, we’ve lost the connection to nature. But we all feel better in a well-managed green area: This is instinctual, but we tend to forget it. That’s why we are also involved in activities such as gardening with autistic people, urban farming, education, and environmental awareness raising.
Grofie emerged as kind of a side project while you were actually working on another project. How did you come up with the idea?
We had in fact been working on an indoor modular harvesting system. But the development process was long and costly, and we had to finance it somehow. Greenwalls are easier to build and require less technical background, so we decided to run different projects that supported each other. That was half a year ago. Today, we can invest money from the greenwalls in the harvesting system.
Who is the team behind Grofie?
We are three founders: a biologist, an engineer and an economist. Of course, we have some external support, but we do the main operative work ourselves. Most of the time, this is far more than a full-time job; we really had to give up a lot of our free time.
How many greenwalls have you set up so far and which ones do you like most?
We built our eighth wall last month and there are more on the way. This is a great result here in Hungary. We really like working in places with challenging conditions; it inspires us. For instance, we once had to bring the water from 35m away, which is very far, but we did it.
We noticed that there was almost no agro-innovation in Hungary at all. Core venture investors just don’t know what it is.
If I now want to by a Grofie greenwall – what countries can I purchase one in?
So far only in Hungary. But our plan is to expand to more countries, perhaps using a franchising system.
What were the best and the worst day in Grofie’s life so far?
The worst day was when we ran out of money and thought we had to shut down. Actually it has happened few times, but somehow life stepped in to help... The best day was when we finally found a private investor willing to support us. When we founded Grofie, we noticed that there was almost no agro-innovation in Hungary at all. Core venture investors or business angels just don’t know what it is, so they don’t invest in it, of course. That’s why we used to face hard periods. Our current investor supports the company because he believes in us.