A car exhaust spewing pollution

Continued remote working is vital to keep air pollution low

Remote working on an ongoing basis is achievable, desired by workers and vital to keep air pollution low, according to a new survey by the Business Clean Air Taskforce.

Off the back of the survey, charity Global Action Plan is urging the continuation of remote working as an option post lockdown to prevent a second spike of coronavirus, keep the streets free for key workers, and reduce levels of air pollution.

The survey, commissioned by charities Global Action Plan and Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity on behalf of the Business Clean Air Taskforce (BCAT), found that:   

  • 87% of those currently working from home would like to continue to do so to some degree – which means that post-lockdown the UK could have 17 million regular remote workers versus 10.8m pre-lockdown.
  • Of the 19.5 million who have been working from home during lockdown, 41% were previously not allowed to do so.
  • While remote working is not suitable for all professions and is not welcomed by everyone, allowing employees the option to work from home when it suits them can improve wellbeing, with 54% of lockdown homeworkers saying they are less stressed and 65% are happier not to deal with rush hour. 

To avoid a surge in air pollution and the health issues it causes, Global Action Plan is encouraging businesses to embrace remote working fully for all employees it suits, as workplaces begin to open. This is the most immediate action companies can take to prevent employees from defaulting to driving to the office and clogging up the roads for those who must work on site. 

Maintaining lower levels of air pollution could also help the recovery and prevention of a second spike in coronavirus, which have been linked. 

The survey also found that:

  • 72% of the public believe clean air is more important now because coronavirus can affect people’s lungs.
  • 74% of the public want businesses to do more to improve air quality in their recovery. 

Analysis of Breath London Data by Environmental Defense Fund Europe shows that air pollution significantly decreased after confinement measures came into place, with notable reductions during weekday commuting hours. Across Greater London, NO2 pollution decreased around 25% during the morning commute (8-11am) and 34% in the evening (5-8pm). 

Chris Large, partner at Global Action Plan, said:

“The experiences of working from home during lockdown have unlocked a new working option for millions of employees and it has kept many businesses running. If employers support greater remote working, as many as one in five car journeys driven for business purposes could be eliminated, equating to 11 billion miles saved per year. We should take this opportunity to minimise pollution and traffic, free employees from unnecessary travel and fortify business against future disruptions. We don’t need to work from home every day to make a significant reduction to congestion on the roads which will help people breath cleaner air.” 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“Here in London, we have already made great progress in improving air quality over recent years, and this has been accelerated further during the coronavirus lockdown. But cleaner air should not just be temporary. As the Government starts to ease lockdown measures, our challenge will be to eradicate air pollution permanently. Continued working from home, where possible, is now vital for allowing essential journeys on public transport to be made safely. But alongside our ambitious new plans to enable more walking and cycling, the longer-term effects of more remote working will mean even more improvements in air quality and help us tackle the ongoing climate emergency.”

Jamie Quinn, Director Responsible Business, ENGIE UK said:

“ENGIE’s UK workforce includes thousands of employees delivering key services across hospitals, schools and other essential sectors including critical energy infrastructure and transport networks. In addition, we have a large number of office-based staff. Health and safety are our utmost priorities, combined with our purpose of Making Zero Carbon Happen for our customers – which is closely linked with improving air quality. During the period of lockdown 4,500 employees have been working remotely, providing continuity of services and supporting front-line colleagues. Although it was new for many employees, our experience has been encouraging. We have learnt new ways of working and are providing our people with the right technology and training if required. We are following government guidelines to adopt remote working where possible to eliminate risk whilst supporting the low carbon clear air agenda. We are also looking at ways of continuing to support colleagues to work more remotely after the period of lockdown.”  

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