London air quality drive kicks off ahead of Olympics

Social enterprise Change London brokers round table event hosted by Defra at which businesses, NGOs and government discuss need to raise awareness, writes Caelia Quinault.

A campaign to create awareness of the high level of air pollution in London and develop strategies to address it kicked off this week (May 30) with a roundtable event in Westminster.

Social enterprise Change London, which works with businesses and councils to drive sustainability, organised the meeting which was attended by business leaders, government officials, NGOs and academics to discuss air quality challenges. The meeting took place at Defra’s Ergon house.

Change London is seeking to raise awareness of air pollution in London

The roundtable marked the first stage in a new three week campaign by Change London to create awareness of high levels of air pollution in the capital and to identify possible solutions ahead of the Olympics, when an increase in visitors and hot weather will bring the problem into sharp focus.

While carbon emissions and climate change is widely understood, Change London claims the pollutants that affect air quality – such as nitrogen dioxide (NOX) and particulates (such as PM10) — and their impact on human health are little understood.

According to the social enterprise, London has some of the worst air quality problems in Europe. It cites the London Assembly’s environment committee which states that more than 2,900 Londoners die early each year as a result of airborne pollution, and the cost to the economy is measured in billions.


The key unanimous findings of the roundtable were:

  • The public health challenge of poor air quality in London is a major concern that requires significant further attention;
  • There is a pressing need to simplify and disseminate the public message in a responsible and informative way;
  • The Change London scheme offers the potential to improve cross-sectoral collaboration in air quality data and projects;
  • Change London will work with Defra, London boroughs, and major businesses to launch compelling calls to action during the next 3 weeks.

Jonathan Steel, Change London chairman, said “I’m particularly pleased that a meeting such as this with widely differing interests represented was unanimous in recognising the need for urgent action.  I look forward to working with all participants and our existing membership to achieve the air quality improvements we need so badly in London.”

Change London

Change London was founded in December 2011 by Mr Steel, who is chief executive of IT specialist the Bathwick Group and Lee Wickens, the corporate social responsibility manager for minicab company Addison Lee. It works with businesses to help them minimise their environmental impacts on the land, sea and air.

Speaking to, Mr Wickens said that the campaign was interested in getting businesses, local authorities and government together to help improve air quality rather than taking a confrontational approach.

He said: “We are not campaigning for policy change. That doesn’t help. We want to help policy makers and businesses to come together for the common good.”

“We are hoping to meet up with ministers in the next few weeks to pass some messages on and ask them questions.”

At the core of Change London’s message about air quality is the need to engage with businesses to get them change their behaviour without being overly prescriptive. The organisation offers an IT platform which SMEs can access for free and use to record their emissions such as PM10 and NOX and other data.


As an example of improvements that can be made by businesses, Mr Wickens said that Addison Lee had achieved a 90% cut in PM10 emissions by investing £28m in a new fleet of Ford Galaxy cars which have a particulate filter.

Speaking from a personal perspective about his views on air quality, Mr Wickens said: “I have got a baby on the way. Air quality in London affects baby’s lung development. It is going to get worse if people don’t do something about it.”

“Air quality is not like carbon. If you stop polluting tomorrow and there is rain and wind you have no issue any more. It is a direct and current issue.”


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Susan Aldridge
Susan Aldridge
12 years ago

I walked past the Olympics countdown ‘sculpture’ in Trafalgar Square yesterday. 54 days to go and just now we have this meeting! Of course, any plan to action is welcome, but surely planning should have begun when the Olympics were awarded to London in 2005? Can any expert tell me what improvements are achievable in 54 days or fewer? Anyway, as I’m putting together a post for Allergy Cosmos reviewing pre-Olympic London air, I will certainly note and link to this meeting.

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