To fight air pollution, a global menace that claims 7 million lives each year, everybody has to do their part - from governments, to businesses to individuals.
To mark this year's World Environment Day, Veolia--a global waste management group with 171,000 employees in 40 countries--has thrown considerable weight behind the movement to clear the air.
The company has asked every one of its employees to sign up to a World Environment Day challenge to ditch their cars and travel to work by walking, cycling, skating or using public transport. Employees will post a selfie of themselves travelling sustainably. For each selfie, the company will plant a tree. It will also give away three electric bikes.
Switching to low-emission forms of travel is one of the main ways to reduce air pollution. The transport sector is responsible for a huge amount of outdoor air pollution. Diesel emissions cause almost half of all deaths by transport-related air pollution. The global transport sector also accounts for almost one quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, making it a major contributor to climate change.
Air pollution comes from many other sources: power generation, industry, agriculture, poor waste management, and dirty indoor cooking and heating. Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to air pollutants that exceed World Health Organization safe levels. The end result is many deaths, reduced life expectancy, long-term illnesses and damage to economies that runs into trillions of dollars each year, according to the World Bank.
The wide-ranging nature of air pollution means that tackling transport alone won't solve the issue. This is why Veolia is also looking in other areas, alongside its work on waste and energy management solutions that contribute to sustainable development. This year, the group decided to increase its work on air pollution and will unveil its indoor air quality strategy and release a study on indoor air pollution.
Awareness-raising activities on what people can do to reduce air pollution--including using less energy in their daily lives--will be front-and-centre in the campaign.
"We have an erroneous notion that we are not directly involved, but we are," said Antonio Neves Da Silva, Director, Building Energy Services Activities, Hong Kong & South East Asia. "This is why at work our main focus is raising awareness.
"Once we are conscious of our impact, we can halve it with simple life choices: minimizing the unnecessary use of air conditioning, living close to work, turning off lights, computers and electrical appliances whenever they are not needed, driving less, line drying clothes."
The company's business activities are also contributing to cutting air pollution, driven by committed individuals such as Jerome Vanachter, who was inspired to act while living in Beijing.
"In 2013, air pollution in Beijing attracted global media attention and sparked strong concerns among the local communities," said Vanachter, who is General Manager at Beijing Yansan Veolia Water Co., Ltd.
"Living and working in Beijing, I remember it as a monumental wake-up call among the population. I believe that air pollution is one of most pressing challenge that we are facing in the 21st century.
After 2013, one thing was clear. The situation had to improve, and I was convinced that everyone, me included, should strive to be part of the solution."
Vanachter became closely involved when a major industrial client had to respond to the Chinese government's new rules to combat air pollution by minimizing the impacts of volatile organic compounds and odors released by wastewater treatment plants. Veolia's local arm developed a solution to collect air and treat those substances.
"Like many of my colleagues, I believe in fostering innovative solutions to create positive impact for our stakeholders," he said. "It's exactly what we tried to achieve. It might be only a drop in the ocean but it's something I'm really proud of. At my level, with all my colleagues, we are all doing something to tackle air pollution."
Air pollution was the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution?
The 2019 World Environment Day was hosted by China.