The Role of Business in Driving Down Air Pollution
The impacts of air pollution are as invasive as the particulates that more than 9 in 10 people living in Asia are breathing at unsafe levels. The health implications range from premature deaths and asthma-related emergency room visits to mental ill-health. UNEP has highlighted that solutions to this systemic challenge are interrelated; changes in lifestyle, technology and policy. However, rapid urbanization coupled with affluence-enabled consumption are driving air pollutant levels ever higher. How are governments and businesses responding? What solutions are they providing? And are consumers demanding the products that enable businesses to profit from improving environmental and human health?
The figures are staggering. WHO reports that globally, 4.2 million deaths every year as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution with an additional 3.8 million deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels. These are two of many sources that produce fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) that cause significant health problems. Other sources include power plants, motor vehicles, airplanes, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, volcanic eruptions and dust storms.
Recent data satellite observations suggest that PM2.5 have decreased significantly over eastern North America, and have increased over much of Asia. This will come as no surprise to readers of mainstream media who regularly see stories heralding the ‘airpocalyspe’ in cities across the region.
Figure 1: Annual average PM2.5 concentrations in 2016 compared with the WHO Air Quality guideline and interim (Source: UNEP, 2019)
International agreements have been successful in addressing specific chemicals that contribute to air pollution, however the UNEP report that new chemical risks are emerging, and the outlook is that air pollution will worsen before it improves. Companies need to recognize they have a key role to play in driving down particulate matter through more responsible production processes and products, and industries such as transportation and construction are already seeing the benefits of aligning business practices with sustainable development while industries that can’t move on feel the impact:
- Fossil fuels contribute significantly to concentrations of indoor as well as outdoor air pollutants and their effects on climate are well documented. Divestment began in 2011, but by 2018 spanned 37 nations and had risen to $6tn, and has continued strongly in 2019.
- Leading car manufacturers are committing to stopping the design of disproportionately polluting combustion-engine only cars and switching to hybrid and electric vehicles. Global electric vehicle deliveries reached 2.1 million units for 2018, 64% higher than for 2017, and performed well in markets such as China despite tumbling car sales overall.
- Building developers, owners, and investors are discovering the business value of delivering to their markets healthy, green buildings due to ease of leasing and commanding premium rents.
CSR Asia Summit 2019: Session Preview
Clearing the Air: The Role of Business in Driving Down Air Pollution
This September 18 at CSR Asia Summit 2019 in Bangkok, we’ll be diving into air pollution related issues and exploring how the private sector is responding through responsible, profitable and desirable solutions.
UNEP will set the stage with insights on air pollution framed by its Global Environment Outlook 6. Launched earlier this year and billed as “an essential check-up for our planet”, the Asia-specific context will be set against the backdrop of global trends, and cross-industry impact on air quality driven by lifestyle choices and processes of production will be brought to light.
With the significant contribution of the combustion engine to urban ambient air pollution, we feature Nissan Motor (Thailand) who will share how cleaner production and supplying electric vehicles for changing consumer demand are fueling the drive toward the company’s goal of zero impact on air quality.
Rapid urbanization in Asia has led to cities wheezing under a shroud of smog. However, while most coverage focuses on ambient air pollution, we host International WELL Building Institute who will talk about the effects of poor indoor air quality and solutions that provide for occupant health and well-being.
Air pollution is a key challenge driven by the impacts of human activity on the atmosphere. This panel will highlight how these solutions can be exploited to the benefit of populations, the planet and private sector actors willing to make a change. We look forward to having you participate in this important dialogue and welcoming you to our 13th annual CSR Asia Summit.
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