Leading Lights: Renaissance College students on their award-winning yet simple idea to improve air quality in their school and beyond

Jane, Tiffany, Taylor and Nathan to improve the Hong Kong's air quality one school at a time

Nicola Chan |

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(From left) Nathan, Taylor, Tiffany, and Jane, initially wanted to improve the city’s air quality but decided to start with their school first.

Sprucing up a classroom with a  plant or two can not only lift up  a person’s mood, but can also improve air quality, as a team  of students from Renaissance College has proved.

There are clear benefits to having plants indoors. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people who worked in offices with indoor plants were more productive and satisfied with their jobs than people who worked in offices without them. US space agency Nasa even found that many indoor plants remove indoor pollutants from the air.

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Four environmentally conscious students – 16-year-old Jane Chan, 17-year-old Tiffany Wong, and 15-year-olds Taylor Chung and Nathan Ng – put these claims to the test by placing four different types of plants around their campus to improve their school’s overall indoor air quality.

They were one of three winning school teams that brought home the Outstanding Team Award in the 2018 Nature Works Hong Kong Environmental innovation and Leadership Programme on October 27 last year. The programme was organised by the Nature Conservancy, which is an environmental organisation. 

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While the four students were trying to promote a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, they also raised awareness about plant care and air pollution among their school community as a result of their initiative. The team collected data from 37 locations around their school over the course of a month using a Kaiterra Laser Egg, which is a tool used to measure air quality. 

Some indoor plants can purify the air.

After identifying which rooms in school  had the worst air quality, they put spider plants, snake plants, Devil’s Ivy, and Chinese evergreen in them to clean the air of pollutants.

Taylor said a lot of teachers reacted positively to the initiative, and asked if they could put a plant in their classrooms as well. Nathan said the project had made the team more aware of the air quality at the school and in the neighbourhood. “We’ve never noticed there were areas with poor air quality. There was a construction site not far from our school, and we had never imagined it would have such a bad effect on our campus’ air quality.” 

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Jane said being able to talk to experts in the environmental field helped the team figure out how to improve indoor air quality. 

Taylor said they especially benefited from learning about the indoor air quality maintenance system used by Swire Properties in all of their shopping centres on the mainland. “We learned about how Swire maintain good indoor quality, and how we could implement that in our school,” said Taylor. 

Taylor went on to explain they had initially been caught between two ideas – whether to use a giant air purifier like the Smog Free Tower in the Netherlands, or using plants to directly improve their school’s air quality. Ultimately, because of costs, they decided on the latter.

The 7-metre tall Smog Free Tower produces clean air in public spaces.

“Even though our project wasn’t as ambitious as we had thought it would be, we were still able to give a stellar presentation, get the funding, and win the proposal,” Jane said. “It’s something that we are really proud of.” 

The students said that, in future, they want to see every single classroom in their school supplied with a plant or two, so that their fellow students can benefit from a learning environment that meets the World Health Organisation's standard for good air quality. 

“We also want to expand this project to other schools across Hong Kong,” added Nathan. “We think that this would help increase the greenery in Hong Kong, and make our city a greener place to live in.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda