With human activity at an all-time low since global lockdowns were implemented, Edward Harbison, Corporate Marketing Manager at Instant Offices, delves into how businesses can learn to become more sustainable post-COVID-19.
Air Pollution Makes Us More Vulnerable to COVID-19 Symptoms
Coinciding with this unprecedented global pause in daily activities, particulate matter, or PM2.5, one of the most hazardous and prominent types of air pollution, saw a considerable decline. In addition to reduced PM2.5 and other pollutants, studies also show COVID-19 is set to cause the most substantial dip in CO2 emissions the world has ever seen.
According to the World Health Organisation, particulate matter, or PM2.5 is one of the most prominent air pollutants linked to poor-health. It not only impacts air quality and contributes to the foggy haze we often see in cities and industrial areas but inhaling these ultrafine particles with every breath can add to a range of health problems in the short and long-term, including respiratory issues.
Recent studies show air pollution contributed to 1 in 10 deaths worldwide in 2017 – almost 5 million people. PM2.5 specifically contributed to 3 million early deaths, with the majority occurring in China and India. A Harvard study recently linked long-term exposure to air pollution with increased COVID-19 death rates, stating that if Manhattan had a lower PM2.5 level by just one point, it could have reduced COVID-19 deaths by 248 in the month of March.
The link between COVID-19 and air quality was first seen from space when satellite data showed reduced pollution over Italy as a result of lockdown measures. Soon after, we observed reduced boat traffic in Venice as the canals ran clearer.
A Harvard study recently linked long-term exposure to air pollution with increased COVID-19 death rates, stating that if Manhattan had a lower PM2.5 level by just one point, it could have reduced COVID-19 deaths by 248 in the month of March.
Helpful tips to contribute to a more sustainable future going forward
Measure your carbon footprint: The first step to reducing the carbon footprint of your business is to measure your current output. Setting a benchmark is the first step in planning a reduction strategy. A third-party audit enables companies to calculate and map emissions throughout the organisation, from office space and operations to travel and logistics. This plan will help you identify the strategy needed to reach net-zero.
Set reduction targets: Each industry faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to business and climate change, but the one way you can measure success as you move towards becoming more sustainable is by setting reduction targets. This could be around the energy efficiency of your office space or commercial space, staff training, and using sustainable energy and electricity. It is crucial to sense-check that your targets are realistic and fit in with overall business goals.
Support climate policies: Enable your organisation to support climate action that is working towards a more sustainable future. Discover what action your city is taking to help reduce climate change and get involved. C40 Cities has a useful tool that enables you to filter cities according to initiative. Some of the greenest cities in the world have some strong actions in place. In the UK, greener designs could save the economy an estimated £15.3bn by 2025.
Other ways to reduce your business impact
Continue with remote working: Companies have already invested in remote working during the crisis, and the trend is set to continue. As well as reducing business overheads, remote working reduces fuel usage, office waste, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, working from home half the week could reduce emissions by 54 million tons a year.
Reduce commuting for staff: Road traffic is responsible for up to 50% of particulate matter around the world. In addition to reducing time spent wasted commuting in some of the most congested cities in the world, and thereby increasing staff happiness, a reduced commute could also positively impact the environment by reducing transport-generated air pollution. This could be done by increasing remote working options for staff, or by encouraging the utilisation of coworking space, serviced offices or flexible commercial property close to home.