Greater involvement from businesses is required to further engagement around air quality issues, a panel discussion held to mark the first ever National Clean Air Day heard today (15 June).
The debate which was held at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in Central London was organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the behaviour change charity Global Action Plan, which has co-ordinated the National Clean Air Day.
Speakers included Global Action Plan director Chris Large, IPPR’s Harry Quilter-Pinner, Simon Birkett of Clean Air in London and Mark Walker of Seven Gen Strategic.
During the session, panellists discussed efforts to date to tackle air pollution, and acknowledged that public awareness around the issue has increased in recent years.
Mr Large commented that as many as 200 events were taking place nationwide to tie in with National Clean Air Day and to raise awareness of air pollution issues.
However, speaking during the question and answer session, Jamie Quinn, director of corporate responsibility at sustainability consultancy Engie, questioned whether the public sector is leading efforts to address air quality, and asked if businesses could be more involved in tackling air pollution.
He said: “We’ve heard a lot around public authorities, the media and the third sector, organisations whose sole purpose is around this agenda. My challenge back is how much engagement is there around big business, where transportation isn’t really their core?â€?
Responding to the question, Matthew Farrow director of the Environmental Industries Commission, which represents environmental technology and services businesses, said that companies such as retailers, whose customers are affected by air pollution, could be more involved in the debate.
He said: “My disappointment about the business debate is that you tend to get organisations like mine, with companies who are involved in efforts to try and tackle air pollution and often you get the motor industry and I think the missing voice in business is the sectors who should be dependent on clean air for their customers.
“I’m thinking of organisations like the tourism industry or the retail sector and I think there’s more that needs to be done with organisations for whom air quality and transport isn’t their primary concern, but whose customers are affected by this. With climate change when you had those big name companies tipping from being not that interested [to being interested], that actually gave politicians cover to be much more ambitious.â€?
Also responding to the question, Mr Large added that some large businesses are beginning to engage with issues around air pollution, where it impacts on the health of their employees.
He said: “The health and wellbeing of employees is increasingly being brought up by large organisations in the private and public sector that I speak with. Seeing air pollution as an employee wellbeing issue because your employer of course chooses where you work and when you go to work, and if that is in area of high pollution or not.
“So looking at the way businesses treat other health and safety issues can lead to businesses making plans to improve the air pollution that their employees are exposed to.â€?