Clean air is good for business

The announcements from the UN’s Climate Action Summit shared one distinct feature – each thematic focus included a private sector CEO that accepted the challenge to act on climate and air pollution. It was a clear message to the world leaders gathered at the General Assembly: in order to solve the global climate and air crisis businesses need to play a key role.

This is welcomed – the WHO has analyzed that air pollution affects more than 90% of the world’s population – making this a global health priority that requires action at comparable levels by both the public and private sectors.

Poor air quality can have a very negative effect on economies, leading to trillions in costs, particularly in healthcare and reduced labour productivity. Poor air quality makes it much more likely that employees will get sick – from coughs and sore throats to lung cancer and heart disease – and that cognitive performance will drop, and productivity with it. It is predicted that by 2060, there will be 3.8 billion lost working days annually due to the effects of air pollution.

Air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths in 2013, and these numbers are rising.
Image: OECD’s The Economic Consequences of Air Pollution
Air pollution causes illness and lost working days.
Image: OECD’s The Economic Consequences of Air Pollution

Some sectors suffer more consequences than others: pollution leads to reduced crop yieldsreduced electricity generation from solar panels and the stifling of international tourism. Polluted cities like Delhi are experiencing new levels of brain drain, with people who have the capacity and means migrating to cities with better air quality.

Businesses can lead the way in changing the course of our response to the air crisis by injecting a sense of urgency. They can do so by raising awareness among employees and customers and actively reducing emissions from production and transportation. The private sector can also support innovation in clean technologies, sustainable products and clean air solutions. Forbes reports that 88% of people surveyed want brands that are ethical and do good for the environment.

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