The start-up making money out of thin air. Really.

Kate Jones

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but one Sydney company has proved it can be made out of fresh air.

Green & Clean sells cans of ‘pure air’ to Chinese consumers living in heavily polluted cities. Shoppers can chose cans of air priced at $18.80 each from various locations including the Blue Mountains, Gold Coast and New Zealand.

Co-founder John Dickinson admits air farming is an “out there concept” that polarises people.

“The people we told quickly fell into two camps – the ‘you’re out of your mind’ camp and the ‘this sounds cool and interesting’ camp,” he says.

“It’s funny, I often say to people if I came to them 20 to 30 years ago and said, ‘I’m going to sell bottled water’, they would have thought I was crazy.”

Cynicism surrounds the emerging business of air farming and the notion of paying for fresh air, but Dickinson says his business, unlike some overseas competitors, is not a con.

“Most of the real critics who think we’re just ripping people off have never left Australia, they’ve never been to Beijing or India, they’ve never lived in these places where life expectancies are 10 years less than us because of pollution,” he says.

“People think putting air in a can is straight-forward, but I can tell you it really isn’t. We had a mechanical engineer working with us for about four months.”

“It’s funny, I often say to people if I came to them 20 to 30 years ago and said, ‘I’m going to sell bottled water’, they would have thought I was crazy.”

When Dickinson and co-founder Theo Ruygrok launched Green & Clean in May, they were somewhat unprepared for the market response. The company didn’t initially have a Facebook page, but quickly set up a social media profile after a TV appearance sparked wide interest. The TV clip attracted three million views and Green & Clean has since sold out of air cans.

The company has not spent a cent on marketing or advertising. While he declined to reveal how much the capital had been invested into the company, Dickinson says he expects it to be profitable within two months thanks to some major distribution and retail deals.

“Domestic tourism market loves it - we’ve just signed up Melbourne, Gold Coast, Cairns airports with Sydney to follow,” he says.

World Health Organization data shows 3.7 million deaths each year are attributable to outdoor air pollution. Dickinson says the sad reality of smog-filled cities means his business is more than just a fad. 

Kate Jones

Kate Jones writes for the business and money sections of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She also writes for The New Daily, TAC, RMIT and is a news writing tutor at Monash University.

Image: John Cooke, Flickr Creative Commons License

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