Breathe Easy

Breathe Easy

When talking about the spaces where we live, learn and work, emphasis is often on how these environments physically affect our health and wellbeing. But with people now spending up to 90% of their time indoors, Nicola Capper asks, shouldn’t we think about what we can’t see, too?

Published:

18.04.2024

Writer:

Nicola Capper

Even though it’s vital to life, it’s now a well-known fact that the air we breathe is packed with pollutants. But, potentially lesser known is that, by 2035, the cost of treating the effects of this exposure on our long-term health, is estimated at £5.3 billion in England alone.

While many of us are aware that, thanks to pungent production plants and traffic-heavy roads, this is a problem we face outside, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that levels of indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher.

From wood-burning stoves, cooking and candles to household cleaning products, air fresheners, and paint; harmful chemicals and particles are ever-present in our daily lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that around 3.8 million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution, with a frankly scary list of illnesses linked to the issue. This invisible problem needs a visible solution…

Cleverly created to encourage us all to take action, Birdie is a playful new home accessory with a serious side: this simple yet stealthy piece of award-winning Danish design is, in fact, an air quality monitor.

Birdie is brainchild of co-founders and childhood friends Andreas Kofoed Sørensen and Hans Høite Augustenborg. It uses Swiss state-of-the-art CO2-sensor technology which, unlike other air quality monitors, lets you know when to ventilate your home, office or classroom – without distracting sounds, annoying digital displays, or complicated mobile apps. Instead, instead it uses storytelling and intuitive design as ‘nudge’ mechanisms to help you and those you care about to breathe better.

Over to Andreas and Hans to tell us more:

Shall we start with the Birdie backstory and what the driving force behind it was?

Andreas: Just in the EU, 80 million homes are estimated to have a poor indoor climate and, as something that remains largely unregulated, with it comes an increased risk of asthma, headache, allergies and sleep disorders. Hans realised that an answer was needed and, drawing on his experience in advertising and communications, came to think of how, back in the day, mine workers used a canary to detect toxic air in the coal mine. When the bird fainted, it was time to get out. And from this well told story, his idea was born.

So, how did two childhood friends turn this incredible idea into a reality?

Hans: Thankfully when I called my good friend Andreas up to ask if he wanted to start a bird company, he said ‘yes’. But we soon realised how expensive it was to develop, manufacture and distribute a new tech product, even if it doesn’t look like one. So, in April 2022 we launched a crowdfunding campaign to literally get Birdie off the ground. In 30 days we raised almost $500,000.

Andreas: We were blown away by the support we received from thousands of customers in more than 63 countries around the world. What began as a hobby-project, quickly turned into a full-time job, as we not only raised enough money to fulfil the orders of every backer, but enough to market Birdie as a standalone product for everyone to benefit from.

"What began as a hobby-project, quickly turned into a full-time job, as we not only raised enough money to fulfil the orders of every backer, but enough to market Birdie as a standalone product for everyone to benefit from."

When it comes to the final design you took a completely analogue approach. Why was this?

Hans: My father was an architect, so I grew up appreciating what good design looks like and understanding the impact it can have. For us, intuitive design is all about keeping things simple so, unlike other air quality monitors, Birdie prompts its users into action without overwhelming them. Made from 100% recycled plastic, it also looks appealing too and is easy to understand and engage with. There’s no noise, lights or tweets emitted, just a straightforward visual cue.

What would be your top tips for using Birdie, and how can we all improve the air quality in our homes, offices and classrooms?

Andreas: Our spaces need to breathe so we can breathe and, regardless of the time of year, health authorities worldwide recommend you ventilate your living or workspace for five to ten minutes, two to three times a day. Simply cracking open a window and letting the build-up of CO2 out not only reduces your risk of illness, but studies have shown that it can also improve your concentration, cognitive performance and productivity, as well as aid sleep and reduce the risk of a range of respiratory disorders.

Hans: To get the most out of your Birdie, one should be enough to cover a room up to 100m², and we recommend you install it in the space where you spend the most time. It’s easy to hang as it comes with a wall-mount and the integrated USB charged battery is designed to last up to eight months of regular use.

Andreas: Our little Birdie will do the rest. When it swivels round on its perch and plays dead, it means the level of CO2 in the room has been higher than 1,000 parts per million (ppm) for over ten minutes. But, as soon as the carbon dioxide concentration levels drop below 800 ppm again it will miraculously come back to life, letting you know you can close the window again.

How will Birdie continue to develop? What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

Hans: We really believe we’ve made a product that will last as well as make a difference for a very long time. That said, we are always experimenting and have already successfully teamed up with WWF Denmark on a limited edition ‘X-tinct Birdie’ where 20% of the sales were donated to protecting endangered bird species and wildlife habitats around the world.

Andreas: Long-term we all have to fundamentally change the way we live our lives if we are to protect public health from air pollution. So, throughout February, in return for every purchase made, we donated a second Birdie to a local school. Thanks to our customers generosity now more than 10,000 children across Denmark will enjoy health benefits from their new pet, Birdie.

Breathe Easy is featured in issue 20 of Ethos magazine. If you enjoyed what you read online, every issue is packed with innovation, inspiration and global good business stories. Grab your copy now!

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