The immediate health threat is posed by tiny particles known as particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the respiratory tissue and even the bloodstream.2 In addition to the long term impacts of greenhouse emissions the quality of the air we breath is a major environmental and social issue.
In the developing world, particulates are most commonly created through the use of open fires in the home. They are the fourth largest health threat to women and children after water-borne diseases, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.3
In more industrialised settings particulates are no less dangerous and are primarily emitted by traffic, industry and domestic heating.
This means that the transport and construction sectors not only have significant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions but also on local air quality. As industries that interact with most individuals and organisations we consider their impacts and the actions that can be undertaken to minimise them.
The airline industry has been firmly in the media spotlight. With aircraft producing approximately 5.5% of UK emissions4 and set to rise, the case for urgent action is compelling.
There are some efforts underway to improve performance. The EU’s ‘Clean Sky’ Joint Technology initiative, led by industry and backed by the private sector, is a seven-year public research initiative, aiming to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% and NO2 by 60%.5 Work is also underway to design more efficient aircraft and calls have been made for more efficient flight paths.
In the short term, the responsibility for offsetting emissions has largely been transferred to the discretion of individual consumers through the availability of additional offset products. These are products where, for an additional cost, customers can invest in emission reducing activities such as tree plantings or renewable energy to neutralise the impact of the emissions from their flight.
Few companies currently include offsets within the ticketed price. Rail provider Eurostar is one exception recently announcing that they will be offering carbon neutral journeys at no extra cost. As well as committing to a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions per traveller, from November 2007 all remaining emissions will be automatically offset within the ticket price.6
As outlined in this edition’s case studies local authorities, including Camden Council in London are taking up initiatives to reduce the impacts of traffic on local air quality with some encouraging results.
What can I do to minimise my impact?
The good news is that a number of organisations, including BT and Folksam have made significant improvements in their environmental footprint by adopting a more sustainable approach to transport.
For those organisations engaging with the issue this starts with a formal policy for responsible transport. These policies typically explore options such as teleconferencing, using rail in preference to air and offering staff interest free loans to purchase bicycles and season tickets for public transport. This also involves providing adequate storage and change room facilities for those staff who wish to ride, walk or run to work.
Flexible workplace options including working from home also have a role to play in minimising the impact of transportation.
This has been the case at BT where the use of teleconferencing is estimated to have saved 54,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. In addition they report that more than 80% of employees work from home at least some of the time.7
Camden Council developed its first Green Transport Strategy in 1997 to achieve traffic reduction and meet air quality and CO2 emissions targets. Also included is a Staff Travel Plan to reduce the number of staff travelling by car. A survey in January 2004 showed a 60% reduction since 1998.8
Swedish insurer Folksam has developed a travel policy that includes taking trains rather than domestic flights. The policy has contributed to an annual reduction in emissions of 650 tonnes per year.9
But what if your business involves transportation? The purchase of low emission fleet vehicles, ensuring high levels of maintenance and careful route planning can all minimise the impact.
Construction industry and efficient buildings
The building and construction industries impact air quality both pre- and post-construction. A number of activities contribute to air pollution during the construction phase but also important is the legacy these buildings leave in regards to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.
Land clearing, the use of diesel engines, demolition and burning are all potentially polluting activities.
Construction sites generate high levels of dust, typically from concrete, cement, wood, stone and silica, which when air borne can travel large distances over a long period of time. Construction dust is classified as PM10 - particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter and invisible to the naked eye.
There are a number of activities that can be undertaken onsite to minimise levels of PM10.
The first step is to prepare environmental risk assessments for all construction activities and materials likely to cause pollution. Specific measures can then be taken to mitigate these risks including:
Leaving maximum vegetation cover, for instance banks of trees, to prevent erosion, minimise land disturbance and screen noise;
Controlling dust through fine water sprays used to dampen down the site;
Screening the site to stop dust spreading, or placing fine mesh screening close to the dust source;
Covering skips and trucks loaded with construction materials and continually damping down with low levels of water;
Covering piles of building materials like cement, sand and other powders;
Using low sulphur diesel oil in all vehicle and equipment engines, and incorporating the latest specifications of particulate filters and catalytic converters; and
Not burning materials on site.10
There are also a number of post-construction air quality issues that should be considered in the design and construction of new or refurbished sites. In particular are the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from energy use, particularly heating and cooling systems which account for 58% of all domestic energy use.11 (See our case study on Johnson Controls for more information on developments in efficient heating systems.)
What can I do to minimise my impact?
When undertaking or commissioning construction projects, ensure that suppliers undertake activities to minimise particulates during the build and that energy efficiency is incorporated into the design.
Undertake an energy audit of your organisation to understand the impact of your current greenhouse gas emissions. There are a number of activities that can be undertaken in the home and office to minimise energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. These can be things as simple as turning off equipment when not in use, including lights and computers through to installing insulation and timing devices.
For an example of efficient ventilation see our case study profiling Arup’s wind turbine cooling system.
Consider going the way of Marks & Spencer, HSBC, The Body Shop and the New Zealand Government who have all pledged to operate carbon neutral operations through minimising emissions and purchasing offsets, including renewable energy.
In a twist on this edition’s air theme these renewable targets are often achieved through the purchase of wind energy.
This has been the case for Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. Despite its energy intensive business it has engaged three key strategies to meet a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions, a particularly aggressive target given expected baseline increases of 67%.
The approach is based on increasing productivity to reduce per unit energy consumption, identifying and implementing energy savings initiatives and converting to renewable energy supplies.
In implementing their renewable strategy Novo Nordisk have partnered with fellow Danish provider DONG Energy. Savings from energy reduction strategies are now used to buy green energy from new wind farms. The solution is not only cost neutral but increases the overall market for renewable energy. Novo Nordisk aim to supply all of its Danish operations (where 90% of its emissions occur) with renewable energy by 2014.12
Global insurer, Aviva, is also an early adopter of carbon neutrality. Key to reducing its environmental footprint has been improving the energy efficiency of its property portfolio, reducing energy consumption associated with transport, the introduction of energy saving campaigns within each of its businesses, improving waste management and reducing paper consumption. All remaining emissions are offset through a series of global projects that are a blend of social and commercial projects. For instance, a biogas project in Sri Lanka uses cow manure as a free sustainable source of power.13
Local air quality and emissions have a startling impact on human health. Whilst traditionally large manufacturers have been targeted over their environmental performance the impacts are also much closer to home, from the way we build and heat our homes and offices through to the way we choose to travel to work. Both structural and behavioural changes are required if we are to make improvements to the quality of air we breathe.
Also in this feature:
© Article 13 – September 2007