Smogovka: wildflowers for clean air and biodiversity
By sowing flowering, tall, bushy, hairy or sticky plants we create 'living air filters' that also feed wild bees and urban-area pollinators
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Flower meadow in Białystok (eastern Poland) where we've already sown 5 ha of meadows and 10 ha more are to come in 2020 and 2021. Located near major roads, 1 m sq. of it captures particulate matter as effectively as a 5-year-old tree. The plant species in the fields are diversified in terms of flowering periods so that they provide pollen and nectar to the bees from May to early September. They are big enough to constitute habitats for some species of wild bees throughout all the insects' lives
Initiative's representative name
President of Fundacja Łąka (Meadow Foundation) and Państwo Łąka (State of Meadows)
Initiative's representative date of birth
22nd January 1987
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Bialystok, Czestochowa, Łomza, Suprasl, Kolobrzeg, Lubon and many more: cities big and small spread throughout the whole area of Poland.
Website or social media url(s)
Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
Maciej’s direct stimulus to start Łąka came after a decision of The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Poland that did not take into account maintaining of biodiversity in the Rural Development Program 2014-2020. It was a moment when Maciej realized that if he wanted something to be done, he had to initiate it himself. Maciej grew up in a nature-loving family (almost every member is educated in the field of natural sciences). Maciej’s mother works as a biology teacher, his father is a researcher in plant introduction and acclimatization. Working with plants came naturally, so it's difficult to point to one 'WOW' moment. However, the advantages of flowering plants over grass lawns are amazing, so knowing this is an inspiration.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Many cities in the world face the problem of unhealthy levels of particulate matter emitted to the air from automobile transportation they rely on. At the same time, it is often impossible to plant trees near roads, even though it is believed to be an effective solution, due to conflicts with infrastructure and road safety. Another concern is the loss of biodiversity, especially the rapid decline of the numbers of pollinators. Our solution is multifunctional and helps both humans and urban bees
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Łąka has been setting up flower meadows and educating on their advantages, including the loss of biodiversity prevention, since 2014. Our goal now is to implement Smogovka: a scientifically examined roadside mix of meadow plants that is significantly more effective in intercepting particulate matter from transportation than the usual low-cut lawns. However, the used flowering plants are still very efficient in feeding pollinators. The species in the fields are diversified in terms of flowering periods so that they provide pollen and nectar to the bees from May to early September. The plots are big enough to constitute habitats for some species of wild bees throughout all the insects' lives. In contrast to the usual 'green desert' lawn, the wildflower meadows do not need pesticides, therefore the insects are not killed prematurely. Because the mixes consist mainly or entirely of perennials, they need to be cut down only once a year - in the Autumn, that is when the insects have already lived their lives and died naturally. The life cycles of the bees and butterflies are therefore not disrupted. We have already set up 100 ha of different flower meadows throughout Poland.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
In 2017, after having set up 10 ha of flower meadows near roads in Krakow, one of - then - most polluted cities in Poland, Maciej decided to cooperate with the University of Life Sciences in Warsaw in order to examine how wildflowers react to the pollution. Even the preliminary research has shown that they are very effective. The surface of the leaves od 1 square meters of a fully developed flower meadow is equal to the leaf surface of a 5-year-old tree. Trees are considered the most effective phytoremediators. However, perennial herbaceous plants are often covered in hair or wax, may also be tall and bushy, so the total surface is even greater. They may also be sown where trees cannot be planted, to the solution is more versatile.
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
We specialise in large-scale projects executed together with municipalities. During 5 years in operation, we completed 100 ha of meadows. The change in the approach to green spaces in Polish cities is very popular with the inhabitants; the sowing part is often done together with the general public as a fun and educational workshop that we prepare and conduct. Part of the projects were also set up as part of corporate social responsibility activities together with companies that wished to contribute to the quality of urban space. The earliest projects were introduced in Warsaw thanks to participatory budgeting. These small pilot plots became very popular with the locals and ensured that flower meadows became interesting to the media on local and national levels. We also try to engage in advocacy and talk to decision-makers to make them aware that including even one sentence about biodiversity in their project can change the environmental impact of built infrastructure entirely.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
With over a dozen big cities in our portfolio, about 130 projects completed and hundreds of participants in our educational/CSR workshops, we could speak of thousands of people benefited over the last 5 years. Research shows that flower meadows change micro-climates and influence air purity locally. We believe that removing particulate matter from the air benefits every urban resident. We are also aware that our operations need significant scaling to change the environmental situation regionally or globally in terms of preventing biodiversity loss. Cities might become safe havens for insects, since, paradoxically, the rural areas become more and more hostile to them due to the use of insecticides and lack of biodiversity in large-scale crop fields. Urban flower meadows may become islands of biodiversity for many insect species and small wildlife until we find a way to detox the countryside and ensure the rebuilding of invertebrate populations.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
With the planned investment, we envisage to expanded human resources (to 10 persons) and maintain the positive track-record thanks to long-term relationships with 30-40 new municipalities. We would be able to create 1 800 K sq. m of new meadows established through services to municipalities, procure 6420 kg of seeds to be sold and cover an additional 3 mln sq. m of meadows (w/o our involvement in services); and involve partners in each of the 16 Polish regions.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
Some of the outcomes would be: 20 mln g of dust particles absorbed; growth of biodiversity by 60-70% in areas of our operations; and about 4,5 million EUR of public money saved: now Poland has 100,000 hectares of municipal lawns across the country, uses over 40 million litres of gasoline a year to care for these lawns (which costs approx. 463 590 000 EUR). Our impact would be turning Poland’s public lawns into thriving meadow ecosystems with restored biodiversity and additional advantage of air purification.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Laka has been successfully growing its business and network for the past five years. This process has given the company full knowledge of the market and needs. Its strong track record is also a contributing factor to winning new contracts and expanding the circle of municipality partners. At the same time, Laka only now touches a small % of the Polish market and still has lots of room to grow. We are constantly contracting new large-scale projects with ever-growing number of partners. Bigger projects are more profitable even if the price per m2 is lower; they ensure stable income so we can offer better terms to our customers and ensure our growing competitive advantage over the few other initiatives of our kind.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Maciej Podyma: Founder, CEO. Biologist. Main contact with officials and decision-makers. Ashoka fellow.
Piotr Kotliński: Head of Services. Horticulturist, expert in flower meadow setting-up and care.
Bartosz Zwoliński: Agriculture services. Expert in flower meadow setting-up and care.
Agnieszka Nowak: Office and Communications. Internal coordinator, head of CSR and education.
Natalia Podyma: On-line shop. Plant expert, creator of seed mixes.
Rajmund Scholtz: Plant producer, chief of stock.
11. How did you hear about this challenge?