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Interview: Jane Burston on why companies need an air pollution footprint

Air pollution and climate change are widely seen as two sides of the same coin, however, businesses currently have no way of accurately measuring their contribution to poor air quality.

At COP26, Air Quality News caught up with Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund to hear how they plan to change this through the new Alliance for Clean Air. 

The Alliance was launched at COP26 by the World Economic Forum in partnership with the Clean Air Fund. 

As part of the alliance, 10 founding corporate members have committed to: 

  • Measuring and decreasing their air pollution footprint
  • Using their assets innovatively to accelerate clean air solutions 
  • Championing clean air with customers and other stakeholders

‘Public demand for clean air has grown significantly and evidence about the health impacts has become overwhelming, yet corporate action is scarce,’ says Jane. 

‘So the Clean Air Fund started working with the World Economic Forum to explore whether we could get a group of businesses from around the world to come together to figure out how they can measure their air pollution footprint.’ 

Since then 10 businesses including Siemens, IKEA and Google have come together to create this alliance. 

On a panel at COP26 earlier in the day, IKEA explained how they are already accelerating action within their assets by buying crops from farmers in India that would otherwise have been burned to make their products.

Google is also planning to put reference-grade air quality monitors in their street view cars. This means that as they are driving around they can sample air pollution at 30-metre intervals and help to build up a much more granular map of air pollution. 

‘Whatever assets the company has, they need to use these to further the cause,’ explains Jane.  

aerial photo of parking lot during daytime

The methodology to measure the air pollution footprint doesn’t exist yet, but according to Jane, IKEA is already working on it with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the UN Climate and Clean Air Coalition. 

‘What’s going to be important is making sure that we’re plugging into existing climate reporting and not creating yet another gigantic reporting burden for companies. 

‘Yes, companies need to understand their baseline in order to figure out their reduction targets, to monitor for progress and for us to be able to hold them to account. But we want to make sure that they’re spending the majority of their time and efforts on the reduction initiatives, not the measurements.’ 

Once the methodology is firmly created, Jane hopes that smaller businesses will then be able to pick it up. 

‘I very much hope that over time, air pollution monitoring will be mandated at the same time as greenhouse gas reporting. I can understand why it’s not at the moment because it’s not mainstream, and there’s not the methodology out there at the moment. But that’s one of the things that we’re hoping to accelerate with this alliance. It’s a no brainer for climate change and air pollution to be tackled at the same time.’

Photo by Christian Chen

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