|Many factors can contribute to poor public health in built-up areas and air quality is one of the biggest. And while action is being taken to improve air quality in the UK, new figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show there is still some way to go. The body recently published a list of UK cities that fail to meet its air quality standards, and while London was a predictable entry, it was surprising to see many regional cities rated so poorly. For instance, how can the capital’s air quality actually be better than it is in Port Talbot and Stanford-le-Hope?
Households and businesses are undoubtedly major contributors to air pollution in towns and cities, so the onus ultimately falls on them to take positive steps to address this problem. But while many firms might feel the issue is too big for them to resolve, even the smallest steps can help, as well as prove to the masses how much they are committed to meeting their environmental responsibilities. So what measures could even the smallest companies take to make a difference and drive up air quality standards in Britain’s urban heartlands?
Overhaul supply chain
The transportation of goods and supplies is one of the biggest contributors to a firm’s carbon footprint, often because of the distances involved. Businesses could benefit from taking a fresh look at their supply chain and looking at where improvements could be made. For instance, could they source goods and materials more locally and therefore cut the transportation distances and pollution levels significantly?
Encourage positive behaviour amongst your team
While business practices can be a big contributor to poor air quality, so too can the day-to-day actions of members of staff. For example, many will drive to work and therefore pollute the immediate area, even when alternatives are available. Employers should therefore take a lead on the issue by setting up car share schemes, as well as encouraging staff to cycle. For colleagues that take up these options you could provide them with branded accessories, such as hi-vis vests, reflective lights, or bicycle seat covers.
Promote flexible working
With rigid working hours, employees will all be travelling to work at the same time, contributing to congestion and air pollution at the same time. So by offering greater flexibility, employers can help to ease this problem considerably. Managers could be even more flexible by allowing staff to work remotely, perhaps from home if possible. This takes another vehicle off the road and it’s one less person commuting at the busiest times. Employers could ease the transition by providing remote workers with equipment they might need in a home-based office, such as branded notepads, folders and stationery.
Switch to greener vehicles
Small businesses with vans, lorries and other commercial vehicles could look at purchasing more eco-friendly vehicles next time they are planning to refresh their fleet. This could be both environmentally and financially prudent in light of the government’s plans to introduce Clean Air Zones in five major UK cities. Charges will be implemented in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020 in order to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles – and this approach could be adopted in even more places further down the line.
According to WHO, there are many benefits to be enjoyed when air quality improves. For instance, the cost of treating pollution-related diseases goes down, life expectancy increases and workers become more productive. The moral, business and environmental cases for taking a lead on this issue therefore seem clear – and firms need to be doing all they can to encourage behaviour changes at every level in order to reap the rewards.
Further Reading / Sources
World Health Organisation: 10 UK cities failing to meet air quality standards Business Green
What Boroughs Are Doing to Tackle Air Pollution London Councils
Improving air quality in cities Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs