Introducing the Business Clean Air Taskforce

In campaigning, as in so many walks of life, the sum is often greater than the parts. That's why Global Action Plan is collaborating with government and business in a new initiative to step up the fight against air pollution.

Introducing the Business Clean Air Taskforce

Eight companies and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) have launched the Business Clean Air Taskforce (BCAT), which we are delighted to coordinate. We see this as the beginning of a game-changing group that can radically improve our country’s air quality, and more businesses are welcome to help the effort.  

The initiative couldn’t have come sooner. Air pollution in the UK is a crisis for the environment and public health. Latest figures show 83% of UK areas failed to comply with EU legal limits on nitrogen dioxide last year.

An overwhelming number of the public want something to be done, with 93% agreeing that air pollution should be a priority for the UK. But optimism is in short supply, with more than two-thirds feeling their actions make little or no difference.

BCAT aims to turn around this depressing status quo. We’ll not need to invent new fixes for the country’s air pollution crisis. Many solutions are already out there (and not exactly a surprise). Our strategy is to speed up their implementation, with companies acting as facilitators – working with their employees, their supply chains, customers and the communities where they are based and operate.  

The solutions to air pollution are remarkably straightforward on one level. We need fewer journeys by fossil fuel-powered vehicles, and fewer polluting products in well-ventilated buildings. And most encouragingly, there are many more winners than losers in creating a clean air world, because the benefits go way beyond healthier air for every breath we take.

A clean air world can also mean safer streets with more children playing outdoors, more socially connected communities, less rush hour accidents as more people work from home, lower stress levels, greater physical activity, less cash spent on getting around and greener, more pleasant places.

Here are just three ways that businesses can really help this transition:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs): fully electric cars are already cheaper to own over four years than a petrol or diesel (ICCT 2019), but UK market share is just 1.1% (SMMT 2019). Businesses can increase the ratio of EVs to fossil fuel-powered cars through their own fleets, their company car offering and the availability of charging points in their car parks.
  • Flexi-working: 100 billion of the 254 billion car miles driven on Britain’s roads each year are for the daily commute or business trips (DfT 2018). Meanwhile 47% of workers say their employer doesn’t encourage flexi-working (Powwownow 2017). But if we achieved the same increase in flexi-working that was sparked by the London Olympics, across the country we would take seven billion miles of car driving off the roads.
  • Polluting products: air pollution can be higher indoors than outside, and indoors is where we spend 90% of our time. Many products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a major indoor pollutant, but only paint has to be labelled for VOCs. Business can help people identify products that cause pollution (beauty products, cleaning products, furnishings and furniture) and pass on ways to keep air quality high inside homes to customers and employees.

I am delighted that Environment Minister Rebecca Pow and Defra are embracing the role of businesses in implementing the government’s Clean Air Strategy, and bringing their voice and convening power to the BCAT table.

Global Action Plan, meanwhile, can offer our track record of successfully mobilising clean air action such as the Clean Van Commitment and Clean Air Hospitals Framework.

I know from our experiences with the Clean Air Day campaign that great progress can be made when government, business and NGOs come together with a shared goal. The more companies that join BCAT, the more effective we can be.

It’s time for businesses to do their bit in beating air pollution once and for all. Will you be part of it?

Chris Large is Senior Partner at environment charity Global Action Plan

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie