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What can we do to combat the damaging effects of air pollution?

4 June 2019 at 4:33 pm
Luke Michael
Around 7 million people die every year because of the effects of air pollution, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. This equates to 800 people every hour or 13 people a minute.

Luke Michael | 4 June 2019 at 4:33 pm


What can we do to combat the damaging effects of air pollution?
4 June 2019 at 4:33 pm

Around 7 million people die every year because of the effects of air pollution, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. This equates to 800 people every hour or 13 people a minute.

The WHO also says 93 per cent of children worldwide breathe in air with higher concentrations of pollutants than what is considered safe to human health, causing 600,000 children to die each year.

To mark 2019 World Environment Day on Wednesday – which has the theme of air pollution – the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, called for countries to take urgent action to improve air quality.

Boyd said uncontaminated air was a core component of the right to a healthy environment, which was a legally recognised right in more than 150 countries.

“It should be globally reaffirmed to ensure the enjoyment of this right by everyone, everywhere while upholding the human rights principles of universality and non-discrimination,” Boyd said.

“In celebration of World Environment Day, I urge states to take bold action to beat air pollution, improve health, address climate change, and fulfill their human rights obligations.”

Around the world, there are already a number of projects underway or set to begin that are looking to tackle the scourge of air pollution and create a safer planet for future generations.

Here we shine a light on four examples:

City of Taj Mahal launches air pollution action plan

India is using World Environment Day to launch a comprehensive action plan to address air pollution in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and one of the country’s most polluted cities.

The plan covers targets areas such as vehicle emissions, waste burning, industrial emissions, and air pollution from construction work.

The government will roll out 650 electric buses in an effort to curb vehicle emissions, with more than 100 ready to go.

The private sector is doing its bit to help the cause, with Massive Fund proposing a $30 million project to eliminate more than 90 per cent of plastic waste from Agra under the Alliance to End Plastic.

Waste management firm Geocycle has also pledged to pilot a program to clean up the Agra’s Yamuna river, while Kanoria Industries will invest in sustainability projects in the city.

Prarthana Borah, India director of Clean Air Asia, said the action plan had a unique strategy that worked across various sectors.

“It is encouraging to have such high level representation and we look forward to working with UN Environment and other implementing partners in cleaning Agra’s air,” Borah said.

Tackling air pollution one building at a time

With the built environment responsible for around 40 per cent of global carbon emissions, reducing the carbon footprint of the world’s buildings is crucial.

Earlier this year, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) began working with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to increase the supply and demand of green buildings – which support the health, wellbeing and productivity of the people living and working in them.

These groups warn that air pollutants within buildings can be just as toxic as pollution generated outdoors from emissions or transport.

As part of their global Better Places for People project, WorldGBC and CCAC will promote strategies to lower emissions from the full life cycle of a building.

This involves raising awareness of the health and environmental threats of unsustainable construction practices, and the impact of material transport, demolition and waste across supply chains.

WorldGBC and CCAC will promote the use of sustainable, non-toxic and air-purifying building materials, and champion appropriate ventilation strategies for both energy efficiency and health-related purposes.

Cycling for clean air in Latin America

Four major hubs across Latin America have turned to cycling to reduce transportation emissions – which account for a quarter of all emissions in the region.

The Ecobici public bicycle service has operated in Mexico City since 2010, helping 170,000 people make 60 million trips.

Starting with 85 cycle stations and 1,200 bicycles, the service now boasts 480 stations and more than 6,800 bikes, 340 of which feature touchscreens with real-time maps and USB chargers.

The city of Bogotá boasts 540 kilometres of cycle lanes – the most in the region – helping 2 million people make their way through the city.

The local government aims to reach 580 kilometres of bike lanes by the end of the year, as they look to turn Bogotá into the world’s “capital city for bikes”.

In Buenos Aires, 30 volunteer cyclists are measuring the concentrations of particulate matter (made up of dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets) through sensors on their bikes.

These devices are designed by Cambridge University and allow users to identify places where people are exposed to the greatest air pollution.

The aim of the project is to offer governments reliable data that can inform clean air public policies.

Costa Rica meanwhile, will offer tax incentives for companies promoting bike use amongst staff, as part of a strategy to decarbonise the country by 2050.

This has already led local businesses to provide exclusive parking slots, showers and changing rooms to accommodate the country’s growing cycling community.

Turning air pollution into ink

“Less pollution, more art.”

That’s the mantra of Anirudh Sharma, whose start-up Graviky Labs captures particulate carbon emissions from diesel exhaust systems before they enter the atmosphere.

Graviky Labs’s unique technology attaches to diesel generator chimneys to capture the soot matter, which scientists then treat and turn into ink.

The resultant product, Air-Ink, is used by artists around the world and across the printing and fashion industries.

Sharma developed the idea while at home in Mumbai, after he noticed his shirts were gradually accumulating a dirt-like substance throughout the day.

“I realised this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma told MIT News.

“This is a major health issue.”

His start-up has already captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter – equivalent to cleaning around 1.6 trillion litres of outdoor air.

This has helped create 750 litres of Air-Ink for more than 1,000 artists across the world.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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