National Clean Air Day is this Thursday (15/06) – and Energy Saving Trust is supporting it. We spoke to Group Director of Transport, Andrew Benfield, about why the awareness-raising campaign is needed, and how transport in the UK can clean up its act.
Air pollution has been in the news a lot in the last couple of years, with levels of harmful pollutants being found to be above legally-agreed limits in a number of parts of the country. The breaches and subsequent plans have faced several major legal challenges and firm warnings to tackle the issue which can have severe health effects.
It seems, then, that a National Clean Air Day is well-timed.
Benfield said: “The day is about talking with UK businesses and individuals about air quality. There’s been a number of reports going into detail on the issue, but this aims to make it more personal – what we can do about it, and how can we avoid it. This is just the start, as it’s going to turn into a long-running campaign.”
Energy Saving Trust has been working with individuals and businesses for many years, making the case for low carbon travel options and to improve driving practices. So it’s no surprise where the organisation’s focus is in the drive to reduce air pollution.
He said: “What we’re interested in is road transport and how it can contribute to a low emissions future. In a sense, air quality is a very localised issue in that it can be about a small part of a city at a certain time, such as a busy junction. This is where pollutants can exceed safe levels as a proportion of the air.
“Reducing unnecessary mileage is really important. The more people that can leave their cars at homes at peak times, the better. Grey fleet usage is key too, where people use their own cars for work.”
Grey fleet vehicles emit 8,156 tonnes of NOx, a dangerous air pollutant, every year – equivalent to twice the emissions from Transport for London buses. A study between BVRLA, the trade body for the vehicle rental and leasing sector, and Energy Saving Trust from last year revealed the considerable scale of the issue.
Benfield explained: “Our research found that 1.5 billion miles a year are being driven in these vehicles, which tend to be older and dirtier. They are a significant contributor to the UK’s air quality issues.
“There are cleaner alternatives, such as daily rentals and car clubs, which tend to use newer models. We’re working with organisations to illustrate the benefits of moving towards options like these, in terms of economic benefits and reducing pollution.
“We’re also helping decision-makers understand the business case of moving to ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEVs). These are vehicles that don’t produce any tailpipe emissions at all when on the road. We want to really bear down on the role of cars and in air pollution.”
As part of this, a series of videos have been released together with TV presenter and electric vehicle (EV) enthusiast, Robert Llewellyn, which look at the basics of EVs as well as the issue of pollution. Watch the short video on the benefits of EVs here:
It’s important to get to grips with issues in areas most badly affected by high levels of pollutants. At least five cities around the UK are set to have Clean Air Zones by 2020 – and Energy Saving Trust, through its fleet consultancy team, is working to support them.
Benfield said: “We want to get companies in those areas really understanding the impact of pollution, and looking to go beyond compliance. Those conversations are already happening, and although the election has affected this a little, we’ll be looking to get cracking imminently.
“It’s not just in those areas that we’re looking to help organisations, though. There is an important role for any organisation to play here, big or small – and the reasons to get to grips with how employees travel are compelling.”
Finding new approaches to mitigate pollution is also important. Energy Saving Trust will soon be unveiling new research that reveals the link between driving techniques and harmful emissions, promising to bring an interesting new perspective on the challenge.
Benfield added: “Our study is looking at how we drive, and its effect on air pollution. We’ve worked with over 26,000 drivers over the last five years, promoting driving techniques proven to reduce CO2 emissions. We’re looking to see if improved vehicle performance due to smarter driving effects NOx pollutants, and should be publishing the results in the summer.”