Mitchell Cowburn and Dylan Robertson founded the company New Earth Solutions in 2018. Two years later, they’re excited to be launching a first-of-its-kind product in the sustainable building sector, Respira. We sat down with Dylan to learn more about the business and this revolutionary new product.
Dylan: Respira is a biofilter air purifier. Or, to put it more simply, it’s an air-purifying garden that takes care of itself. The idea began when we first got involved in the living wall industry.
Interviewer: Who is New Earth Solutions?
Dylan: The original vision for New Earth Solutions was a synthesis of real estate and sustainability. In the beginning, we were selling every product under the sun that had to do with energy conservation and management but with such a diverse product line, we had no identity.
Selling everything from LEDs, solar technology, different agritech and clean tech products, to energy audits and more, Dylan and Mitchell felt like their heads were spinning. They were trying to learn everything about everything.
Dylan: We identified living walls as something we enjoyed aesthetically. We liked working with architects and designers, which made the client interaction fun, but we also saw a huge upside to the idea of plants indoors. Mitch had some experience in the industry and he noticed that everyone was selling the same type of product. We saw this as an opportunity to innovate.
And that’s how it began. They started bringing in a product from South Africa to build living walls around Ontario.
Dylan: It had become our ultimate mission to innovate this technology. In order to do so, we needed capital…So we started selling like crazy.
In their first year of business, they sold fourteen walls. This gave them the ability to bootstrap the design phase of their newest technology, Respira.
Interviewer: Where did the idea and inspiration come from for Respira?
Dylan: Drawing on our previous experience selling other systems, we knew that there were air quality benefits to living walls and a lack of these types of systems for the general public. When we reflected on these elements, we came to the concept of a modular living air purifier. The idea was so obvious we couldn’t believe nobody had thought of it yet. But I guess it just came down to the lens we were looking through formed by the unique experiences we’d had.
Respira started as a commercial product. It was a living wall, mainly installed for building performance with the intention of lowering energy bills by reducing the heating and cooling costs associated with bringing fresh outdoor air inside.
Dylan: Since the commercial market was where we had been focusing our energy initially, we naturally saw it as our ideal market.
And then COVID 19 hit. Everyone left those commercial buildings. They went home and stayed there. Nobody was working in the offices, public spaces were deserted, and decision makers for these large buildings were navigating cautiously.
Dylan: The idea of putting a massive living wall into your atrium seemed to be low on the priority list for many of our leads.
Dylan and Mitchell were already thinking about how to bring their technology into the home. A few people had been asking them about it. But suddenly, with a deadly airborne virus on the loose, indoor air quality at home was top-of-mind for practically everyone. So the pandemic offered a unique opportunity to refine the system and make it work in a more intimate setting.
Dylan: This pivot was an incredible opportunity to open up a new market with a never-before-seen product, and our team moved quickly. I spoke with Mitch and the next day, he and our team of engineers took the principles of our commercial product and gave it a more refined appearance.
After nearly two years in the works, the patents have been filed on the final design. New Earth Solutions was finally able to reveal Respira to the public on September 20, 2020.
Interviewer: Does your system only work in new homes? Or can it be retrofitted into an existing home?
Dylan: We wanted to make sure that we could retrofit it into homes so it would be as easy as installing any other home air purification system. That’s why we made it modular. It’s a click, snap, and play system that you can put together in minutes.
Your Respira unit can either be displayed on a stand, or hung on your wall, just like a painting. Respira is built with the consumer in mind. The AI technology is tasked with tracking both the growing conditions of the plants and the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your home. There’s no guesswork about keeping your plants happy, and you’ll be able to track the improvement of your IAQ.
Interviewer: Wow, that’s great! When will it be available for purchase?
Dylan: You can be part of our pre-order sale now! In January (2021) we will be launching a crowdfunding campaign. Right now, we’re gearing up for that and generally just sharing information and educating people about our products, while building our audience, and building a community of people that are interested enough to support us when we officially launch.
With their crowdfunding campaign successfully completed by the end of January, New Earth Solutions hopes to have Respira in people’s hands and homes by early spring.
Interviewer: So, what’s the company culture like at New Earth Solutions?
Dylan: Well, right now it’s overwhelmingly male, but we hope to build a more diverse team in the near future. One thing about our team is that we’re capable of supporting pretty much anyone from anywhere. Nobody is one dimensional, we all do whatever it takes to move this project forward.
Many small businesses have been faced with tough decisions because of the pandemic and the recession. But Dylan, Mitch and their team have kept their wits about them, pushing through and working hard to reach their goals. Everyone is extremely focused. Also reflecting the times, the entire team is mobile. Since they don’t work from an office, and don’t even see one another every day, there’s a high level of trust in one another to keep things going.
Dylan: It’s great to be able to trust our team and know that they're going to be putting in the work. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the fruits of our labor and celebrate the small wins, because we're so engaged in what we're doing.
Interviewer: What kind of future do you imagine for New Earth Solutions, say, five years down the road?
Dylan: We’re really excited about the possibilities for hydroponics and urban farming. The automated controller we’ve developed for the Respira unit is definitely the most advanced technology in the entire system. It’s ability to automate and manage light, water and nutrients for the plants, while simultaneously collecting data on air quality and growing conditions, we think it would make an amazing agritech product.
With the huge sustainability issues inherent in the agricultural industry, there will have to be a lot of change in the coming years. Transporting food over long distances is expensive, environmentally irresponsible, and detrimental to the quality of the food. And with an increasingly volatile climate (wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and flooding), hydroponic vertical farming is catching on in a big way worldwide.
Dylan: There’s just nothing like this out there right now for farmers. We have a vision for helping bring farming into the inner city to allow for more accessible fresh food for everyone. Our controller will allow growers to set the perfect conditions for strawberries, for instance, or tomatoes through the data that we’ve collected and stored. Farming won’t be at the mercy of the weather. Not only will the produce be higher quality, plants will also yield a larger quantity of food. More people will have access to healthier food.
New Earth Solutions’ overarching vision is to look at the largest environmental problems that humanity faces, and try to solve them with design.
Interviewer: How does Respira, along with your future aspirations, address the environmental issues we all face?
Dylan: So the first one we looked at was air quality because we felt at the time it had the biggest impact. Indoor air quality is up to five times worse than outdoor air quality. We consume 3-4L of water per day and ensure its perfectly filtered but when it comes to air, we consume 9,700L daily and its often an afterthought.
Our indoor air affects our brains, our respiratory systems, our nervous systems. Poor indoor air quality has terrible long-term health implications. With Respira, New Earth Solutions hopes to help address that issue.
Dylan: And don’t underestimate the mental and psychological benefits of feeling connected to nature. As we’re becoming more of an indoor species, an indoor generation, if you will, people need that connection even more. Having green, growing plants inside our homes is one practical way to accomplish that.
Additionally, our food supply was historically always been part of our connection with nature. Commercial agriculture has taken away that connection, to the point that many people don’t even consider where their food comes from. Bringing agriculture into the cities centre will help people regain that fundamental connection in a new age, new tech type of capacity.
We want nature to always be a part of our lives.