Clearing the air

Opportunities for business in tackling air pollution

Like the climate emergency, the quality of the air in our streets is an issue we often can't see, but it is something to which we all contribute.

These are global issues, but also ones where individuals and organisations – businesses as much as anyone – can make a real difference. But to tackle these problems we need to transform the status quo; we need to change how we power our homes, businesses, communities and our transport systems.

This is not just a peripheral issue - poor air quality is the largest environmental threat to public health in the UK, and is associated with asthma, heart disease, and more.

Air pollutants come from a range of sources, both man-made and naturally occurring, as well as from a range of industries. Those include transport, manufacturing, energy, as well as the more basic heating, cooling and power needs of millions of offices, retail spaces and other business premises.

The business community can be at the forefront of the effort to find new solutions to clean our air. For example:

  • Energy producers can lead the way by replacing fossil fuels with renewables and low carbon clean power – driven by end-user demand.
  • Commercial property owners can embrace smart controls, waste heat recycling, on-site generation and flexibility, as well as efficient design.
  • Businesses and site owners can provide greater access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and give greater confidence to private and fleet drivers looking to switch from petrol and diesel vehicles.

We're working with our industry partners to make buildings smarter and to allow businesses to take control of their energy, including producing it themselves and even taking an active part in helping to run the UK’s energy system more efficiently, making greater use of our ever growing renewable power sources. Here are some additional ideas for workplaces to help clear the air.

Small steps, big impact

The workplaces in which we operate have a key role to play in determining the quality of air that we breathe. To that end, businesses can follow some simple guidance: be lean, clean and green.

Be lean - eliminate waste and unnecessary emissions, without compromising operational effectiveness or productivity.

Building management systems offer an intelligent interface for controlling lighting, power systems, ventilation, air conditioning, heating and other mechanical equipment. Marks & Spencer, working with E.ON, achieved a 34% energy reduction with a lean philosophy based around a building management system.

Replacing high energy bulbs with LED lights is another way to cut unnecessary energy use. While more expensive to purchase, they last longer - typically 10,000 to 15,000 hours - and usually consume 85% less energy than incandescent lights. This reduces maintenance costs, which is especially significant when awkwardly-placed fixtures need a cherry picker and team simply to replace bulbs.

Be clean - switch to more environmentally-friendly energy sources. For example, a heat pump can reduce heating and cooling costs while also lowering emissions. Other options include:

  • District heating. As with domestic properties, district heating offers a step change for businesses able to access an existing network. The economies of scale from centralised production make it an efficient, lower carbon solution that contributes to better air quality.
  • Combined heat and power. For large facilities such as manufacturers, paper mills and chemicals plants, a CHP plant offers high efficiency and on-demand energy. CHPs burn fuel to generate power, then recycle the heat waste for secondary purposes.

Be green - the ultimate solution for air quality to radically improve is to cut our reliance on carbon.

Solar technologies are zero carbon and often a practical solution for many facilities, especially those with large roof areas. What's more, new battery storage systems mean that you can take advantage of the sun's energy even when the sun is not shining.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles are increasingly well-suited for many enterprises, including couriers and other businesses that rely on short journeys or include light-deliveries. You can also help encourage your employees to turn to electric vehicles by installing charging points and offering financial incentives to switch to an electric vehicle.

Steps to getting started

Appoint an Energy Champion. Ideally a senior manager or board member who can promote initiatives and maintain productivity and efficiency. The champion will also initiate investigations into leaner working practices and energy efficient control systems, and work with an energy partner to explore new opportunities.

Commission an energy audit. Experts, usually from an energy partner or consultancy, review how the company functions and examine opportunities to benefit from new technologies. An audit can help to unite disparate parts of the energy equation; for example, results might indicate using solar energy in tandem with a battery storage solution.

You can find more suggestions and information on how your business can help clear the air in our clean air white paper.


Posted February 2020