While carbon emissions might dominate our attention when it comes to environmental matters, there are more localised problems to be concerned about. Air pollution comes in a range of forms, and from a range of sources. It’s a problem not just for human beings, but for plants, animals, and ecosystems.
According to government statistics, sourced from UK-AIR, there’s reason to be optimistic. Levels of NO2 and particulate matter have shown a sustained drop over the long term (though ozone levels remain ‘moderate’.) Thus we can be fairly sure that the situation is improving – and that it can be improved still further.
For business, the negative consequences of air pollution are often diffuse and hard to pinpoint. In some cases, however, we can see the results directly.
Air pollution contributes to respiratory illness, which, among other things, can prevent employers from coming into work. The evidence suggests that pollution can contribute to asthma, diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, and stunted cognitive development. Lower-level problems include soughing, headaches, and stinging eyes. All of this can contribute to heightened levels of absenteeism, which can stunt the growth of the business.
The presence of pollution can create a smell that might displease both staff and customers. If you’re a customer-facing business, then you might find it harder to attract shoppers if you’re sited right next to a sewage treatment plant.
Loss of Productivity
A report by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health created a stir in 2016 with the announcement that air pollution is contributing to 40,000 excess deaths every year. These are mostly concentrated around urban centres where emissions are most concentrated. It’s easy to be sceptical of figures like this – they rely on a whole range of assumptions and are subject to wild variation.
Workers who die prematurely aren’t going to do so instantly – instead, we’ll find a broader drop-off in productivity felt over the longer term, even by workers who aren’t going to die from inhaling fumes.
Disruption in Public Services
It might seem implausible that pollution would get so bad that flights would be grounded and cars would crash into one another. But that’s precisely what happened in Delhi in 2017. AQI values crept up beyond 1000. To put that into perspective, any figure higher than 300 is considered ‘hazardous’. For businesses reliant on developing economies like India and China, air quality can be a severe logistical problem.
What can be Done?
The solutions to this problem are twofold. On the one hand, we can reduce the emissions we’re making in the first place – by transitioning to electric vehicles, moving industrial facilities away from populated areas, and by walking to work instead of driving. The second solution is technological: modify the source of emissions to ensure that the problem is mitigated. ERG pollution control offers a range of services designed to limit the impact of pollution – including odour control systems, scrubbers, and industrial gas cleaning.