Air quality, a vital issue

Air is a public good whose deteriorating quality impacts public health and contributes to global climate change. In response, tightening regulations are imposing tough new requirements on states and industries.
Published in the dossier of April 2018

Innovation to accelerate progress

Veolia is a founding partner of Airlab, the innovation platform developed by AirParif, an air quality monitoring network in the Paris region. Airlab brings together start-ups, small and large businesses, research institutes, local authorities, governmental bodies and citizens. Drawing on this open innovation approach, Veolia has joined with the property management company Icade to launch a project to test a new generation of sensors designed by the start-ups to continuously measure air quality in office buildings. The aim is to control ventilation, recycle indoor air, measure air hygrometry and reduce emissions of CO2, fine particles and volatile organic compounds. The first tests are scheduled for the summer of 2018.

“This joint experiment will allow us to offer our commercial and industrial customers a combined solution, integrating energy efficiency and health security in buildings,” says Veolia OFIS Executive Vice President, Sabine Fauquez-Avon.

 

The quality of the air we breathe is worsening in many parts of the world. While some improvements have been achieved in recent years, progress has been sporadic and overall pollution levels are still increasing. The public stakes of dirty air are staggering. Air pollution currently causes the premature death of 6.5 million people worldwide and — with the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the planet — is on track to claim 7.5 million lives by 2040. Of these, 4.5 million would be as a result of ambient air pollution and 3 million from indoor air pollution.

Beyond the impact on humans, poor air quality carries enormous economic consequences. The OECD recently estimated the costs of air pollution, considering effects such as productivity at work, healthcare spending and agricultural impacts. The finding: a 1% increase in economic costs to global GDP — i.e. almost 2,600 billion dollars per year — by 2060.

A shifting landscape

Why the setbacks to cleaner air? One reason is a lack of sufficiently stringent fiscal and incentivizing regulations to force the development and implementation of new technologies and attract the capital to fund this negative externality. Air quality is also a complex and fluctuating problem with many sources, making it difficult both to address and to show a clear return on investment to each stakeholder. However, the market’s ability to attract investors – and therefore capital – would be a key driver in encouraging decision-makers to commit to achieving more ambitious air quality goals. Now, however, the political paralysis may be showing signs of ending as a result of rising public concerns over the health effects of dirty air. According to the Elabe survey for Veolia conducted in late 2017 in 28 countries (cf. Meeting the challenge of our resources), air quality is citizens’ second most important concern. An increasing number of public demonstrations in India, China and Europe are encouraging governments to take action. And every day, new cities are taking steps to restrict air emissions to combat local pollution.

In response to civic and other pressures, government regulations are evolving quickly, with increasingly stringent limits on ambient air emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter. Similar regulatory drivers are developing on indoor air. In France, air quality monitoring is now mandatory for all elementary schools and daycare centers, a requirement to be extended to all schools by 2020 and all public buildings by 2023.

Positioned to act

En matière de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, Veolia a beaucoup à offrir.

When it comes to combating air pollution, Veolia has a lot to offer. “We have a host of skills in this area, which are already being utilized in the Group’s entities. They have simply not yet been fully deployed. It is up to us to promote them better, with a view to providing solutions to our clients’ air quality needs,” states Veolia OFIS Executive Vice President, Sabine Fauquez-Avon.

On the strength of its building management and maintenance experience, the Group offers its clients dedicated indoor air quality solutions.

“This involves guaranteeing the health and comfort of the buildings’ users while managing the energy consumption of doing so,” explains Sabine Fauquez-Avon. In terms of ambient air quality, Veolia plays more of a service integrator role. In this respect, it can help municipalities develop a global strategy to combat air pollution.

As a water, waste and energy expert, the Group has several “bricks” of expertise with which to build to meet the challenge of air quality. These include:

  • hazardous waste incineration technologies and expertise in controlling emissions, including toxic pollutants such as mercury;
  • solutions for controlling odors from wastewater treatment plants;
  • operating experience in building energy services and HVAC systems that are directly linked to indoor air quality norms;
  • centers for remotely controlling water and energy systems (Hubgrade), which now incorporate air quality control;
  • proven audit, diagnostic and measuring capabilities developed for air and water quality in buildings.

Integrated solutions for existing customers

A matter of will

“There are many places around the world where people are breathing air that is totally contaminated. They think it’s normal that the sky is gray and not blue. It’s entirely possible to have intelligent solutions to totally eliminate toxic and carbon emissions in our cities. It can be done if companies like Veolia keep on applying their creativity and accelerating their capabilities to develop technologies that will influence consumers in the right direction. If we succeed in putting effective air pollution control measures in place, we can save thousands of lives per year. It’s not just a question of technology. It’s also a question of will, public policy and the determination of people to live in a world that is sustainable and in an environment that does not negatively affect our health.”

Maria Neira
Director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health World Health Organization (WHO)

“We are targeting offers to meeting the needs of customers in existing high growth potential markets in the short and medium term,” says Veolia Strategy Director, Jean-Christophe Taret.

For indoor air quality, Veolia is targeting the tertiary sector (offices, hospitals, commercial buildings) with an integrated air quality management approach integrate digital air quality information platforms via mobile apps for citizens, keeping them informed in real time about air quality and the mitigation measures underway. This offer will also rely on data collected by other entities in the city within a partnership framework. Overcoming hurdles Veolia is developing pilot projects at several customer sites around the world, explains Sabine Fauquez- Avon. “On internal air quality, we are working closely with Baxter Laboratory in Belgium and the Sheraton Hotel in Dubai. We are also conducting an experiment at Le V, the building that houses our head office in France, controlling the office ventilation to optimize occupant comfort.” Other pilot projects concern the ambient air quality in cities and local authorities: one involves pollen monitoring in Nice (France), while another concerns the recovery of mercury from incinerator fumes, detection of air pollution sources and identification of response strategies in Manila (the Philippines). “It will take time to implement the political, regulatory, technological, social and financial solutions to combat air pollution and the health and economic risks it creates,” underlines Jean- Christophe Taret. Veolia plans to put this time to good use to deliver solutions commensurate to the challenge. n ••• Key figures on air pollution • 4th leading cause of death in the world • 7.5 million premature deaths in 2040 of which 4.5 million from ambient air pollution and 3 million from indoor air pollution that leverages analytics, data processing and knowledge of onsite operations.

“As it already operates the energy utility for customers, Veolia possesses an insider’s knowledge of the installations, from design to operation, down to measuring air quality in real time,” explains Jean-Christophe Taret.

This knowledge allows it to identify deterioration, recommend layout changes and implement corrective actions.

For ambient air, the primary initial targets are medium to large cities in Europe and North America. The value proposition includes decision-making tools (measuring, modeling and predicting air quality in the city), offering recommendations for acting on sources of pollution and implementing mitigation actions (for example, closure of a highway to reduce peak pollution). These tools could integrate digital air quality information platforms via mobile apps for citizens, keeping them informed in real time about air quality and the mitigation measures underway. This offer will also rely on data collected by other entities in the city within a partnership framework.

Overcoming hurdles

Veolia is developing pilot projects at several customer sites around the world, explains Sabine Fauquez- Avon. “On internal air quality, we are working closely with Baxter Laboratory in Belgium and the Sheraton Hotel in Dubai. We are also conducting an experiment at Le V, the building that houses our head office in France, controlling the office ventilation to optimize occupant comfort.”

Other pilot projects concern the ambient air quality in cities and local authorities: one involves pollen monitoring in Nice (France), while another concerns the recovery of mercury from incinerator fumes, detection of air pollution sources and identification of response strategies in Manila (the Philippines).

“It will take time to implement the political, regulatory, technological, social and financial solutions to combat air pollution and the health and economic risks it creates,” underlines Jean- Christophe Taret. Veolia plans to put this time to good use to deliver solutions commensurate to the challenge.

Key figures on air pollution

  • 4th leading cause of death in the world
  • 7.5 million premature deaths in 2040 of which 4.5 million from ambient air pollution and 3 million from indoor air pollution