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Power to the people – driving air quality behaviour change

General awareness of air pollution may be growing, but more work is needed for people to understand the impacts of their actions, writes Caroline Watson – senior partner at environmental behavioural change charity Global Action Plan.

Awareness of air pollution in London and other parts of the country is growing. However, the general public still have a gap in their understanding of the causes and the solutions.  

Caroline Watson, senior partner at Global Action Plan

Caroline Watson, senior partner at Global Action Plan

The first step towards cleaner air is for those contributing to pollution to understand what they can do to reduce their impact. This is relevant for every one of us that drives a car, bus, van, truck or taxi. And this is the message that is spearheading our Clean Air Action Fortnight in partnership with Cross River Partnership’s Clean Air Better Business (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Over a two week period we’re promoting the #noidling message – asking drivers to switch off their engines when stationary to reduce local air pollution. The goal is to change the behaviour of all those we engage with and spread the word more widely through a London wide campaign.

Our first action day on March 9 saw 50 air quality change makers out on the streets in Central London engaging directly with idling drivers. Drivers were asked to switch off and rewarded with a thank you air freshener to hang in their vehicle to remind them of the no idling behaviour.

A recent report led by the Royal College of Physicians attributes 40,000 deaths per year to exposure to outdoor air pollution (see AirQualityNews.com story). It links poor air quality to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even dementia. In total this adds up to a cost of £20 billion to our health service and business.

The scale of the challenge can seem daunting but, from years of experience at Global Action Plan (GAP), we know that to change behaviours we need to start with simple actions that offer quick rewards. Of course it’s important not to over simplify the answer, the emphasis on not idling is just the start; it’s far from the whole solution. But it’s an important first step. It provides a gateway for successful engagement on the issue and allows drivers to make the causal link between their own behaviour, the vehicles on the road and the air they breathe.

Air pollution affects us all, so it’s critical that we come together to take action in our communities. Cleaner Air Action Fortnight was possible because it drew on input from GAP, Clean Air Better Business, Business Improvement Districts, local boroughs and King’s College London, which is measuring the impact (plus funding from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund). By showing that collective action works, we hope to galvanise further action.

The air quality champions you will see on the streets in Lambeth, Wandsworth, Westminster, and other boroughs in central London during our fortnight of action are speaking to hundreds of drivers about what they can do. We hope that this type of project will be the beginning of an ongoing discussion to heighten their awareness of their role in improving air quality.

Global Action Plan is urging people to support its Clean Air Action Fortnight campaign on social media using the hashtag #noidling.

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