Air pollution is a business problem too

You don't have to relocate to the middle of nowhere to protect your employees from nasty particulates.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 14 Jun 2017

Sometimes, all you need is the air that you breathe. Nice sentiment, though it seems somewhat less inspiring when the air that you actually breathe is full of toxic particulates...

According to the Every Breath We Take report by the Royal College of Physicians, particulates and nitrogen dioxide cause a reduction of life expectancy equivalent to 40,000 additional deaths a year. Put another way, breathing the air in London has roughly the same impact on life expectancy as smoking a cigarette a day.

This is not something businesses should ignore. Enlightened organisations have long since realised that a happy employee is a productive employee, and the same goes for health. An estimated six million work days are lost in the UK as a result of air pollution. And even if workers don’t succumb on the way to the office, they’re not going to be fully engaged if they believe their employer doesn’t care about their wellbeing.

But what, you may ask, can you do? We don’t build offices in busy cities because we feel like it – we build them there because cities concentrate talent and expertise. The stimulation of a diverse environment encourages creativity and serendipitous exchange – unfortunately, it also means traffic and congestion.

There are things companies can do to limit their employees’ exposure though. Clearly it will be less individually if we’re not stuck in traffic – pollution on busy routes can be 70% higher than neighbouring quiet routes - and less for everyone if we’re not taking the (non-electric) car to work when we could cycle or take public transport.

Remote working clearly helps in this regard, as do staggered hours. Little things like providing showers and ample space in bike racks can make the decision to cycle an easier one. Ultimately, awareness still counts for a lot – if we don’t realise what the risks are, we won’t make intelligent or responsible decisions, will we?

Thursday this week (15 June) is National Clean Air Day, designed to raise the profile of air pollution and skewer some of the misconceptions surrounding it. Did you know, for instance, that your overall exposure during a car journey can be up to nine times higher than if you’d cycled? Find out more here

Image credit: Ruben de Rijcke/Wikipedia

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