The partnership aims to help organisations understand, report and take action on air pollution. It is being managed by Ricardo, with support from the Clean Air Fund and Impact on Urban Health. All three organisations are working to create a future where everyone breathes clean air.

So what is air pollution?

The World Health Organization (WHO) have a good, simple definition of air pollution. The WHO define air pollution as a mix of hazardous substances from both human-made and natural sources. Human made sources of pollution are referred to as anthropogenic sources.

There are a wide range of sources of anthropogenic emissions. These include emissions from vehicles, space heating and cooling, and power generation. Burning some fuels leads to much greater emissions relative to others.

Air pollution is important because it has damaging impacts on human health, productivity, and the health of the environment. These detrimental impacts have associated economic, and wider social costs, and commonly are known as external costs or damage costs. Understanding these costs can help determine the scale of mitigation action needed.

Emissions and concentrations – how are they related?

Air pollutant emissions are the quantity of a pollutant emitted in given time from a source – for example, in tonnes per year. Once an emission of an air pollutant is released to air and mixes into the atmosphere, it will become a concentration – and it is then expressed as the amount of pollution in a volume of air. It is then the concentration of these pollutants in the air we breathe that determines their health and wider environmental impacts. The diagram below shows the relationships between emissions, concentrations and human health impacts.

A diagram showing the three sectors emissions combining with background concentration levels, dispersion and chemistry to create air pollution concentration levels which then affect humans and their health

Which pollutants are important?

There are a wide range of air pollutants (AP) that are emitted when fuels are burnt. Some pollutants are much more important than others because they can be emitted in sufficiently large quantities to be harmful to human health and the environment. Local air quality can be affected by emissions of air pollutants. Some pollutants can travel large distances – beyond county and country borders. These are referred to as transboundary pollutants.

The largest source of emissions my vary from pollutant to pollutant. However, in general terms, the combustion of solid and liquid fuels such as coal, wood, and oil tend to produce the highest emissions per unit of fuel burned.

The spreadsheet tool concentrates on three important pollutants released when fuels are burnt: NOx, and two variants of particulate matter; PM10 and PM2.5.

What are the sources of air pollution?

The UK’s National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) tell us that the most important sources of direct air pollution emissions are transport, combustion plants and non or off-road mobile machinery (NRMM).

Our tool focuses on these three areas:

  • Minibus

    Road Transport

    This is your own vehicle fleet and staff business travel.

  • factory

    Heat and power

    The fuel you burn in boilers and other combustion plants, and your use of electricity.

  • digger

    Off-road machinery

    Off road equipment that are used for materials handling or construction. Also known as Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM).

Watch our launch day video

As an engineering and energy solutions provider delivering FM excellence across circa 35 healthcare contracts, we recognise the importance of air quality and the positive impact we can have on mitigating carbon emissions. When Ricardo approached us about participating in their air pollution footprint pilot scheme, we jumped at the opportunity. Guidance and tools on reporting of emissions relevant to air quality are lacking, especially when you compare it with reporting and guidance for GHG emissions. Therefore, having the chance to test the tools they have created for this was insightful and assuring.        
The tools developed for transport, heat and power, and non-road mobile machinery are particularly effective and being able to customise the filters we feel is hugely beneficial. Furthermore, we found the damage costs associated to the emissions intuitive.        
Going forward, we are looking to integrate emissions regarding air quality into our standard carbon emissions reporting. 

Bouygues Energies & Services UK

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