LØRN Case #C1072
Air quality for sustainable growth
In the fifth and last episode of the warm-up with Lørn.tech x OiW, Silvija meets the CMO of Airthings, Lauren Pedersen. Lauren’s significant goal is to get Norwegian scaleups to grow around the globe. Airthings is a Norwegian-founded company that measures air quality indoors. On OiW, they are a part of the track “solutions for the climate”. Tune in to get the answers on why it’s just as important to measure the quality of the air indoors as having a fire alarm.

Lauren Pedersen

chief marketing officer

Airthings

"How people think of air quality as a part of their health and wellbeing has been much more relevant over the last few years"

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En LØRN CASE er en kort og praktisk, lett og morsom, innovasjonshistorie. Den er fortalt på 30 minutter, er samtalebasert, og virker like bra som podkast, video eller tekst. Lytt og lær der det passer deg best! Vi dekker 15 tematiske områder om teknologi, innovasjon og ledelse, og 10 perspektiver som gründer, forsker etc. På denne siden kan du lytte, se eller lese gratis, men vi anbefaler deg å registrere deg, slik at vi kan lage personaliserte læringsstier for nettopp deg. 

Vi vil gjerne hjelpe deg komme i gang og fortsette å drive med livslang læring.

En LØRN CASE er en kort og praktisk, lett og morsom, innovasjonshistorie. Den er fortalt på 30 minutter, er samtalebasert, og virker like bra som podkast, video eller tekst. Lytt og lær der det passer deg best! Vi dekker 15 tematiske områder om teknologi, innovasjon og ledelse, og 10 perspektiver som gründer, forsker etc. På denne siden kan du lytte, se eller lese gratis, men vi anbefaler deg å registrere deg, slik at vi kan lage personaliserte læringsstier for nettopp deg. Vi vil gjerne hjelpe deg komme i gang og fortsette å drive med livslang læring.

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Who are you, and how did you become interested in innovation and technology?

I am originally from New Zealand. I took a tennis scholarship to the US to study Communications and Marketing at American University in Washington, DC. After graduating. Then I started working at big international advertising agencies, Grey Worldwide and McCann Erickson, in New York and then London. In 2007, my Norwegian husband and I moved to Oslo, where I started working with Norwegian start-up/scale-up tech companies with global ambitions.

 

What is the most important thing you do at work?

It is motivating and orchestrating Norway’s best international marketing team!

 

What do you focus on in technology/ innovation?

These days I am spending much time learning about how tech and innovation can play a role in transitioning to a more sustainable world. Airthings is all about air quality. We spend a lot of time educating people on how the air impacts us (our health and well-being) as well as how we impact the air when it comes to carbon emissions. Using tech like Airthings sensors, you can not only ensure that you are breathing healthy air at home, school or work, but you can also automate smart-building solutions to ensure that systems like ventilation and heating don’t waste energy.

 

Why is this important?

Because we only have one Earth and we know we have to make some changes to ensure that our kids and grandkids will still be able to breathe fresh and fabulous Norwegian mountain air in the decades to come! I believe that Norwegian tech should be part of the solution.

 

Why is it exciting?

It’s exciting because Norway has every opportunity to be at the forefront of technology helping to solve sustainability issues. We at Airthings have really lofty ambitions – we want to make air quality monitors as common as smoke detectors worldwide. We want people in every home, school, commercial or public building to know they are breathing safe and healthy air and to know that their building is energy efficient. It’s a massive global opportunity and I think Airthings is really well positioned to be the industry leader.

 

Your relevant projects in the last year?

One interesting project relating to the last year: We are rolling out Airthings air quality sensors in schools around the world these days. When monitoring CO2 levels inside, you basically see how much air you are breathing in that someone else has just breathed out.

 

What do you think is relevant knowledge for the future?

The link between smart, healthy and sustainable buildings. These things all hang together. We spend 90% of our time indoors, where air quality is typically 2-5 times worse than outside….and we are in buildings that use around 40% of the world’s energy….so understanding how it all works together is relevant knowledge for the future.

 

What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?

Digitization, particularly of the public sector, is very strong in Norway. It is an advantage in many areas – banking, healthcare etc. At Airthings, we work with many municipalities looking for healthy and sustainable solutions.

Who are you, and how did you become interested in innovation and technology?

I am originally from New Zealand. I took a tennis scholarship to the US to study Communications and Marketing at American University in Washington, DC. After graduating. Then I started working at big international advertising agencies, Grey Worldwide and McCann Erickson, in New York and then London. In 2007, my Norwegian husband and I moved to Oslo, where I started working with Norwegian start-up/scale-up tech companies with global ambitions.

 

What is the most important thing you do at work?

It is motivating and orchestrating Norway’s best international marketing team!

 

What do you focus on in technology/ innovation?

These days I am spending much time learning about how tech and innovation can play a role in transitioning to a more sustainable world. Airthings is all about air quality. We spend a lot of time educating people on how the air impacts us (our health and well-being) as well as how we impact the air when it comes to carbon emissions. Using tech like Airthings sensors, you can not only ensure that you are breathing healthy air at home, school or work, but you can also automate smart-building solutions to ensure that systems like ventilation and heating don’t waste energy.

 

Why is this important?

Because we only have one Earth and we know we have to make some changes to ensure that our kids and grandkids will still be able to breathe fresh and fabulous Norwegian mountain air in the decades to come! I believe that Norwegian tech should be part of the solution.

 

Why is it exciting?

It’s exciting because Norway has every opportunity to be at the forefront of technology helping to solve sustainability issues. We at Airthings have really lofty ambitions – we want to make air quality monitors as common as smoke detectors worldwide. We want people in every home, school, commercial or public building to know they are breathing safe and healthy air and to know that their building is energy efficient. It’s a massive global opportunity and I think Airthings is really well positioned to be the industry leader.

 

Your relevant projects in the last year?

One interesting project relating to the last year: We are rolling out Airthings air quality sensors in schools around the world these days. When monitoring CO2 levels inside, you basically see how much air you are breathing in that someone else has just breathed out.

 

What do you think is relevant knowledge for the future?

The link between smart, healthy and sustainable buildings. These things all hang together. We spend 90% of our time indoors, where air quality is typically 2-5 times worse than outside….and we are in buildings that use around 40% of the world’s energy….so understanding how it all works together is relevant knowledge for the future.

 

What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?

Digitization, particularly of the public sector, is very strong in Norway. It is an advantage in many areas – banking, healthcare etc. At Airthings, we work with many municipalities looking for healthy and sustainable solutions.

Vis mer
Tema: Digital strategi og nye forretningsmodeller
Organisasjon: Airthings
Perspektiv: Gründerskap
Dato: 210915
Sted: OSLO
Vert: Silvija Seres

Dette er hva du vil lære:


Indoors air qualitySustainability
Smart energy usage
Air Quality as a hygiene factor

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Tekst for Case #C1072

Velkommen til Lørn.Tech - en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn. Med Silvija Seres og venner.

 

Silvija Seres: Hello and welcome to a Lørn podcast on Oslo Innovation Week. My name is Silvija Seres and my guest today is Lauren Pedersen, who's the chief marketing officer at Airthings. Welcome, Lauren.

 

Lauren Pedersen: Thank you. Great to be here.

 

Silvija: So I'm just going to say a couple of words about the series and then we'll get the talking. This is the fifth of our Oslo Innovation Week series. We're trying to warm up people and inspire them to actually join the digital or physical events themselves. And there are five main tracks on Oslo Innovation Week this year, and this chat is representing the path of creative tech for sustainable growth. So we have a 30 minute time window to figure out what's Airthings and why is it exciting and what are your thoughts on creative tech and sustainability? Does that sound okay?

 

Lauren: Sounds great.

 

Silvija: Looking forward to it. Excellent. So with that, then we are plunging into the podcast itself and our style is very conversational and it's a chat rather than an interview. And my first question is really who are you and what drives you so that we can try to understand how you ended up with things?

 

Lauren: Yeah, well, I'm a New Zealander to start with. You probably don't have many New Zealanders coming on your podcast. So I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, and then I was lucky enough to take a tennis scholarship to the US to study in Washington, D.C., where I studied marketing and communications, and after that I started working in advertising first actually. So in some of the world's largest advertising agencies, first in New York and then in London. So Grey and McCann Erickson. So these big monster agencies. And along the way, I met my Norwegian husband who convinced me to come over and try out living in Oslo. And when I came here, I really switched from being in this big agency mode to starting to work with Norwegian tech startup scale ups and how they can grow internationally. And I think that's what I feel is my niche. And what I'm super interested in is getting Norwegian scale ups to be able to grow around the globe.

 

Silvija: And you've ended up with Airthings. Why? And tell us a little bit about Airthings.

 

Lauren: Norwegian Airthings is Norwegian founded and has gone from being this a little company that was started by these scientists who are working in CERN in Switzerland and they found a new way to detect radon gas and came up with the world's first digital radon detector. And since then, the company has grown and changed a lot to go into everything to do with air quality. They're now leaders when it comes to air quality technology around the world. Why did I join this company? I think there were three things that I saw that were happening in the market that were super interesting. First of all, people are becoming much more aware of their own health and the health of their family, their colleagues. And how air quality plays into health is becoming much more, much more known and considered around the world. Secondly, when it comes to sustainability, air quality is not only something that's a consequence of how we use energy in our buildings and what carbon emissions we have. But it also has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. So it's this combination of health and sustainability. And the third is the tech that's happening in this area when it comes to the kind of smart home and building automation and how these three things can work together. So health, sustainability and automation, technology and how Airthings is really well positioned to help this market grow around the world.

 

Silvija: I really look forward to learning more. So I have this very strong impression that you really are at this perfect storm point. Three very strong forces combined. We've seen reports of Chinese cities basically being closed down because of the air quality being unacceptable to venture outside. We have seen what air quality has to do with the health of people, not just in cities, but also in the countryside when things get too dusty, too hot to drive to something.  And so we've also seen the last 12 months a movement in sustainability where we've moved from basically talking about it and using it to greenwash big corporations to becoming a real business model. People understand that that's going to be both more efficient financially, but also unavoidable because the non-sustainable stuff is becoming a stranded asset. So, what's your long term vision? You talked about air quality sensors or apps, platforms for all kinds of air quality things or?

 

Lauren: Absolutely. I mean, we think that air quality monitors should be an essential part of every home and building the same way that a smoke detector is. For example, when it comes to air quality, most people associate bad air quality with what they see outside in Beijing or these big cities. But the fact is we spend about 90% of our time indoors, where the air is typically 2 to 5 times more polluted than what it is outside. So what Airthings does is we produce air quality monitors that are easy to install. They're wireless. They are quick to work for homes and for schools, offices and commercial buildings around the world. And they can tell you if the air that you are breathing is safe and healthy, and if not through the app or a dashboard, you can get notifications and tips on how to improve the air quality .It can be as simple as opening a door internally or opening a window. If it's radon, you might need radon mitigation, but if it's in a bigger commercial building, it can be using this data to automate the ventilation or heating systems, and that can both help the health and wellbeing of the people in these buildings. But it also can have a major impact in reducing energy usage because buildings use about 40% of the world's energy and a lot of that goes into heating and ventilating these buildings. And typically heating and ventilation is often turned on at 7:00 in the morning, maybe turned off at 7:00 at night. And it doesn't have anything to do with the occupancy in the buildings, or what the air quality is in these buildings at those times. So this data can be used in building management systems to make people breathe healthier air and also use less energy.

 

Silvija: I love the opportunity for people around the world to take Norwegian tech to every home around the world and in Norway. We are actually quite lucky to have a lot of good air. So basically a lot of nature. But maybe I'm thinking too simplistically. So I'm wondering if you can teach me a little bit about air quality. So the little I know. Let me start with that. We often think there is a lot of pollution from industry or for cars, but I can't really tell you what's what. So CO2 is one thing, but there are all these other gases I should probably know about or think about. Then there are the particles. And then there are things like radon, which I've heard about. I know it's something to do with cancer possibly, and I think it's connected to the soil. But again, I wouldn't know the first thing about what can be done.

 

Lauren: No. And that's that's the thing. A big part of our job is to educate people about the impact of healthy or unhealthy air and what can be in the air and what you can do to do about it to make sure that you're breathing healthier. In many cases, we humans can't detect it. So radon is a great example that you bring up. It's odorless. You cannot see it. It's invisible, but it's very common in buildings in Norway and in parts of North America, other parts of Europe where we work, we see that radon levels can be very high in buildings and homes. So the only way you can know if you've got radon in your building that you're in is to have a sense or a detector. And the thing with radon is also that it changes a lot over time. So in winter, for example, it's more likely that radon can creep into buildings because we're warming up the building and that will suck in radon from the ground. And because we're not airing out the buildings as often, the radon levels can become very high in buildings, particularly during winter. So that's something you need to have a long term kind of monitoring.

 

Silvija: And I was just wondering, in Norway, lots of us have spent tons of money on modernizing our houses and making them a closed loop system. And would that really help us solve the radon problem if I don't know what kind of filters we put in, but with a solution like yours, could we actually have dynamic filters?

 

Lauren: When it comes to modern buildings, we've gone a long way when it comes to trying to optimize for energy usage, but that can often mean that there is less air coming through the building to try to stop draughts. And that can cause a lot of indoor air pollution to remain in the building. It can also cause problems with humidity and mold, which can cause things like asthma and allergies. So there's a lot of things that can play into how our buildings are built today and how we can monitor the air to make sure that there is enough ventilation going through when it comes to larger commercial buildings. We really are working with getting our data from the air quality sensors, automating these building management systems to make sure that ventilation or heating is triggered based on the actual air quality rather than just turning on and off at a time of the day. 

 

Silvija: What about mold? So you've mentioned gases. You've spoken a little bit about particles. I guess those can be filtered out one way or the other, but there are things like living things in our air, especially now also with the pandemic going on.

 

Lauren: There's three things that you mentioned there. The practicals is very much when you're in a city or where you've got a lot of pollution. So particulate matter or PM 2.5 is very typical to monitor and that's something that you can have. You can filter out with certain filters that you can use in homes or buildings. When it comes to things like mold, we have launched a mold risk indicator feature which takes into account temperature and humidity and elements in the air to tell you whether you're likely to have mold growing in your home. Because the thing with mold is once you see it, it's too late. So it's important to understand what's playing into the building and to make sure that you keep yourselves healthy and also protect the building itself. And then when it comes to CO2, this is becoming extremely in demand. Now to understand how CO2 levels are in buildings because we see it's a huge indicator to make sure that you have enough ventilation to minimize the spread of virus. So when you think about CO2, it really is a level of how much air you're breathing in that someone else has breathed out essentially. So that doesn't sound great, right? You want to make sure there's enough ventilation if you're in a school or an office building to keep CO2 levels low. And we see that regulations and legislation around the world is changing so that we think it's going to become a requirement, as it has in many countries now, to make sure that you're monitoring CO2, for example, in schools.

 

Silvija: This could become basically a hygiene element both in industrial and private buildings. I'm thinking we can obsess about so many aspects of our food, and often it's about things that we actually don't eat all that much. And yet things like air and water, which we are really living from, we have so little understanding of the quality.

 

Lauren: So yeah, and I think that's going to change now. We really see a massive change when it comes to awareness around air quality. I think this was happening before the pandemic and the pandemic has just accelerated this understanding that the air has such a huge impact on us, on our health and wellbeing and how we can all stay healthy and safe. But also when it comes to the sustainability angle, how we use the energy to ventilate or heat our buildings is critical when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

 

Silvija: So now back to Airthings. What you make are these sensors and then a technology that can read them and visualise them, or tell me what's the product?

 

Lauren: Yeah. So we have different air quality monitors or sensors that you can have in your home, and some are designed specifically for the commercial segment. So Airthings for business and they are super easy to use. You pull it out of the box, you pull a battery tab and it's good to go. There's no wires. There's nothing to get started with. For the consumer version, you use the app. Mostly we have a dashboard and this gives you all the live data and historical data for you and also it will give you notifications if something's going wrong. So for example, if your CO2 levels or your radon levels are going high it will notify you and you give you tips on how to improve that.  For the Airthings for business, it really is into a dashboard and also an API. So you can use that data within your building management systems as well to improve the air quality. So we would say we're a hub hardware enabled software company.

 

Silvija: And I can, as a private person, buy the Airthings set up.

 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. And you should. You can buy Airthings, air quality monitors at airthings.com. We also sell through Amazon around the world. We're across many different retailers both in Norway and the Nordics. But most of our sales are also outside of Norway. So we work with Home Depot and Best Buy and WalMart and CVS across North America. So really trying to get as many of these into consumer hands as possible.

 

Silvija: Cool. So the really interesting thing would be, I guess, to also gather this data on a platform and then see the holistic view of it. And perhaps also over time, many people say we have too much big data, but we don't have long data. So if we're an early mover in gathering this air quality data around the world, I think you can see really interesting patterns in a matter of maybe ten years already.

 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot you can learn looking at the different regions and what's normal when it comes to humidity levels and mold risk in certain areas or radon. We launched a site called radon.com, which shows radon levels around the world bringing in aggregated data from our devices. So we really see this as an advantage because it enables our data scientists to look into what's happening around the world when it comes to indoor air quality and how we can give great advice on how to fix this.

 

Silvija: So if I'm trying to summarize very, very simply what we talked about, you have these super smart researchers that have worked, among other places in CERN, and they figured out how to measure radon in a new way in air. You've expanded that from radon to many other things that you measure in air, and you have a hardware software system now to monitor air quality. And you want to use this not just to help individuals or industrial players improve their indoor air quality, but you're talking about building a more sustainable world. And I'd like to talk a little bit about that transition. So one of the problems we have with sustainability is that it's so hard and it's so big and you know, each of us can only do so much. So talk to me a little bit about your vision for what each of us can do with things like Airthings, and perhaps how we move our societies?

 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Sustainability for us as a company has been at the core. And I think the biggest opportunity for us is working with our customers and Airthings for business because buildings use so much energy and so much of it is wasted. So by understanding the air quality and understanding how your ventilation and heating systems work and connecting the two to ensure that the people in the building are healthy while optimizing the energy usage. That is the most important thing we at Airthings can do and that our customers can do to optimize energy usage in their buildings. So we go through projects internally, we're working on our circularity models, everything we can do with or minimizing waste. But we see this is a huge opportunity to save so much energy by optimizing ventilation and heating and buildings, by understanding the air quality.

 

Silvija: And we are talking now about optimal optimizing with relation to heating, but a very large part of the world is cooling. And it's the same dynamics, I guess.

 

Lauren: Absolutely. So these things have typically been turned on at six or seven in the morning. They turned off at six or seven at night. Sometimes they're going all weekend. People don't know. There's no alerts going on. It's not based on how many people are in the building or what the air quality is. So if you understand what air quality levels you have to be at and that data triggers ventilation, heating, cooling to be turned on or turned off, we will save a lot of energy around the world and people will be healthier and have a better sort of comfort level when they're in schools or offices.

 

Silvija: Or in airplanes. I guess I'm thinking of all the close systems we have. I guess this also becomes super relevant for things like public transport, Hyperloop, etc.. So we are thinking of at least knowing about the quality of our air. And to me that's probably a very important first step towards thinking about how do we collectively improve it long term?

 

Lauren: Absolutely. I mean, monitoring is the first step and it's a super easy step to take. I mean, it's very easy for any business or homeowners to start monitoring. And we see it more and more becoming almost a hygiene factor in schools and offices that you have to be able to do this. A few days ago, we just announced an agreement with the Quebec government where we are going to be monitoring air quality in schools across Quebec. One of the biggest provinces in Canada, they're taking this seriously. They understand that CO2 is incredibly important for us to monitor in a learning environment. And we think that this is going to become something that is common around the world. So making air quality monitoring as common as smoke detectors, that's a goal for us at Airthings.

 

Silvija: Very cool. I want to ask you also as a New Zealander in Norway, what are your perspectives on Norway as an innovative nation and as a sustainability focused nation? What do you think? 

 

Lauren: I think that Norway has every opportunity to be a leader when it comes to this kind of sustainable technology. We appreciate the outdoors, we appreciate fresh air. So what has been driving us at Airthings is to be able to enable that for everyone else around the world. I've been in Norway for about 13 years and I've seen a huge change since I came to now when it comes to the whole tech sector and the start up and scale up sector. There's much more of an environment for it now and there's much more  of a community around it and financial support and in corporations getting engaged. So I think we're on a great roll and we've got to keep pushing this forward both from a government, corporate and startup entrepreneurial standpoint to take this opportunity. Because the focus is on green growth and a green economy, and it's only just starting. And we have to be at the forefront of it now to ride this wave.

 

Silvija: I wonder also, do you see any similarities to New Zealand? It's just fun talking to you. My best friend actually moved to New Zealand and I get the feeling that there are both cultural and natural similarities.

 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone says that to me. I think the South Island of New Zealand is geographically quite like Norway. You know, we've got a fjord and we love the outdoors, all of that. We're about 5 million people. So we're similar when it comes to being little guys. But we also are entrepreneurial. We punch above our weight and we're proud of it. So I love being in Norway. I do love the summers better than the winters, I have to admit that. But, you know. But yeah, I'm getting better at cross-country skiing. 

 

Silvija: Yeah, it's a big, big part of enjoying the winter, I guess is actually doing something with it.

 

Lauren: Exactly!

 

Silvija: Very cool. So what do you what's what's your dream now with Airthings? You want to go international and you want people to understand more about air quality. Say a few words about the business side of things. 

 

Lauren: I think we are international already. So the majority of our sales are exports. North America is the largest area for us, but we've announced moving into Asia as well, which is super exciting. So going really global, going into new markets, I think that's a big, big goal for us. I think it's just such a huge opportunity when it comes to air quality and I think now moving into more and more growth within this Airthings of the business sector. So going into commercial buildings, schools and office buildings for her air quality monitoring, focusing on CO2 and particulate matter, I think it's just incredible for us to keep educating people on the importance of air quality and continue that growth. Yeah, I don't know what else to say. We're kind of on this wave now and we're just we're really going for it.

 

Silvija: I think if you actually manage to open up Asia, they have almost an unlimited need for what you're selling. So it'll be a, you know, a challenge of cultural entrance and getting the right partners, etc.. But what you're doing is just the right thing for what they need, I think.

 

Lauren: Yeah, I think so. And we are really conscious of building up a very diverse and international organisation. I mean I'm sitting here in Oslo, I'm a New Zealander. That's not unique within Airthings. I would say we're from about 30 plus nationalities with 130 people now. So think about that. It's a very diverse group and we think that's incredibly important for us to be able to scale internationally and to move into new markets. So to take in those cultural understandings, that's definitely a big part of our organisation.

 

Silvija: Very cool. So towards the end, I want to ask you about the book that you've recommended, which is How bad are bananas? And, I would like you to tell me your quote at the end.

 

Lauren: Yeah, well, for the book, I think I've been learning a lot when it comes to sustainability and innovation and how we can really kind of start to quantify it a little bit more when it comes to sustainability and carbon emissions. I recommend that book. How bad are Bananas? Because it tells you about all of these products that are out there on the market and what we as consumers use and actually what kind of carbon emission impact it has. So for me, it's a great one to read and for us all to learn a little bit more about how bad is a banana or an avocado versus a flight to New York, these kinds of things. And when it comes to my quote, I think the quote I sent through was “The worst thing you can do is nothing.” And I think for me, that rings true when it comes to many areas, leadership. So you've got to be able to make decisions. So sitting on the fence for too long and not making decisions I think is a bad thing. So make a decision and go forward with it. But it's also the same thing when it comes to sustainability. We need to make decisions. We need to do the best we can. We need to have a plan and act. And the same when it comes to startups and scale ups, which I'm also passionate about, is you can spend many months planning the perfect execution, the perfect launch, the perfect product, but in many cases you've got to get going, you've got to start, have a plan and learn along the way. So get going. That's my message.

 

Silvija: Very cool. Lauren Pedersen It was a real pleasure and a very big inspiration talking to you. Thanks for participating.

 

Lauren: Thank you so much for having me.

 

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