Pioneering LEED greenies champion houseplants



If you’re one of those who fear the hardships of having to tend houseplants or consider them only necessary for those of us who can’t garden outside, you’ll be impressed by the non-botanist builders of the oldest LEED-platinum-certified building in the world (located in Buffalo), who not only don’t mind tending 1,000 indoor plants but also insist that they are necessary both for making nature a daily experience in all seasons and for their air purification qualities.

The building is the Ecology & Environment headquarters, built twenty years ago before LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards existed, and a model for sustainable practice well before they received the platinum status. I have to admit I was aware of E&E—I knew writers who did work for them—but hadn’t paid too much attention until I saw the pictures of the interior we’re using in the Green issue of the magazine I edit. “Geez,” I’m thinking, “Is this place an office or a terrarium?” In an article in the Buffalo paper today, the writer vaguely comments that if and when there is an infestation, “E&E brings in other bugs or natural predators to take care of the problem.” Wow. Sounds like a cool place to work. You can sit with the plants and watch the bugs fight.


E&E recently expanded the atrium where they keep many of the plants and were careful to choose those plants that would accept indoor conditions readily. Which means they’re the same old boring ivies (especially epipremnum aureum), pothos, and—yikes—spider plants (chlorophytum comosum) that you see in most offices. And sansevieria trifasciata as well, I see. But as boring as the individual cultivars might be, they look great mixed up, and especially in bulk. Though 1,000 still seems like a lot to take care of. So I feel vindicated. Think I’ll go out and buy some more pothos.

Photos by kc kratt.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. It’s all so…seventies.

    I think it might depress me more than help me fight the horror of working in an office building.

  2. You may be spoiled Michele. I work in a big office building and I appreciate the return to big areas for plants. Believe me, it’s better than not having them.

    This indication of a multifaceted approach to air quality (which is what we’re talking about here as much as aesthetics) is much better than living with the bad ventilation and SBS of the 80s-90s.

    I did forget to mention that they also don’t cut thi grass around the building and have 150 species of plants outside and have spotted the same number of different birds.

  3. Susan, as I know to my cost as Ron’s (unpaid except for free drinks) garden coach, it generally requires personal visits.

    Send me some digitals if you’re serious.

  4. Even those old fashioned 70’s plants can be found with varigations that give them a little bit of a different look. I think that the sansaverias (Mother’s in Law tongues) look amazing when they are allowed to grow 5′ tall and taller. The benefits way out shine the aspect of them being boring. Geez and if you would like a little color those cortons grow in my dry light deficient house. So there are choices.

  5. Well I actually like a lot of these plants, especially the sensaviera. I also still like some disco, 70s-era Masterpiece Theatre productions, Lois Gibbs, 70s-era Springsteen, Zeppelin, and Bowie and almost ALL 70s punk. Our class song was Freebird and I actually still like that. Though I would have preferred Smoke on the Water.

    It may not be surprising that green offices remind of the 70s, as that was a big era for the growth of environmentalism too.

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