Whilst the health benefits of clean air have been well researched and documented as well as potential savings to health services, less attention has been paid to the economic benefits. A desire to quantify the economic benefits of clean air is what brought the CBI and Clean Air Fund together. Whilst you can’t put a price on good health, you can put a price on clean air.
A major new report ‘Breathing life into the UK economy: Quantifying the economic benefits of cleaner air’ by CBI Economics, the CBI’s economic analysis arm, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, examines the economic impacts of the UK achieving World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air pollution, and finds:
- A £1.6bn annual economic benefit to the UK could be realised by meeting WHO guidelines for safe air
- 17,000 premature deaths could be prevented every year from respiratory diseases
- Three million working days could be gained by reducing worker sickness absence or absence due to sick children.
This research shows that cleaning our air won’t just improve our health, it will boost our economy too. If businesses and government work together to ensure clean air for all, we can protect our health and re-energise the economy at this critical time. Ministers must commit to binding targets to cut air pollution in line with WHO guidelines by 2030.— Jane Burston , Executive Director, Clean Air Fund
Improving health outcomes and the link to business productivity
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the important link between human health and the health of our economy. Businesses cannot exist without human ingenuity and the work of a healthy workforce to produce the goods and services on which we all rely. Nor can they exist without a vibrant consumer market to generate the demand to fuel their firm’s income.
CBI Economics research on behalf of the Clean Air Fund explored this relationship in detail and found strong academic empirical evidence that reducing mortality and disease linked to poor air quality will lead to fewer deaths, work absences and less days an individual attends work ill. Not only does this benefit the individual and their family and friends but a healthier nation brings with it important economic benefits from retaining the critical skills and experiences of these people.
Aside from the human health impacts, air quality also affects the productivity of our land and natural environment - for example, affecting yields from the agricultural industry. It can also affect the performance of a firm’s capital equipment, increasing maintenance costs or shortening the life of assets.
It is clear from the evidence that an improvement in air quality creates a healthier nation, which can significantly increase the productive capacity of an economy, with the benefits shared amongst individuals, business, and government across the UK. As the economy and society begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic there will be important lessons to learn about the link between health and economic resilience. A green economic recovery is now needed, where economic success goes hand in hand with a healthy nation and cleaner air.
Cities may benefit most from the productivity impacts of clean air
The CBI Economics research explored how these national economic gains were shared across four of the UK’s cities - London, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester:
- London – could see an annual economic benefit of £500m, a significant proportion of the total UK gain due to its size as well as its performance against air quality metrics, which is below other parts of the country
- Birmingham – could see an annual economic benefit of £25m primarily driven by a reduction in concentration levels of PM2.5
- Bristol – could see an annual economic benefit of £7m. Bristol is one of the UK cities with the highest quality air but could still gain from preventing 16,000 working days being lost each year if it were to meet WHO guidelines
- Manchester – could see an annual economic benefit of £28m driven by preventing 290 premature deaths each year and gaining 60,000 working days per annum from reduced staff absences.
The CBI is delighted to have been able to work on this important piece of research. Improving air quality should be a key part of the UK’s journey to net zero. With air pollution hitting the balance sheets of businesses across the country, and cutting the earnings of their employees, cleaning up our air would help us to lead healthier and more productive lives, while delivering a green jobs boost for the economy.— Rain Newton-Smith, Chief Economist, CBI
What it means for business
The findings in the CBI Economics report give further weight to calls from campaigners urging the UK government to commit to meeting WHO air quality guidelines by 2030. The relevance of these findings reaches far beyond the shores of the UK. They should act as a wake-up call to local and national governments around the world to ensure clean air is considered a fundamental necessity as they re-grow their economies in ways that support the health and well-being of all their citizens as well as the environment.
There’s also a clear message for business here: action on air pollution benefits the bottom line as well as employee health. It is apparent from the analysis that air pollution is hitting the balance sheets of business across the country. That is why businesses across all sectors support a sustainable and green future and many companies are already committed to doing what they can to help the UK reach its net zero target for emissions in 2050.
With such a striking economic rationale for reducing air pollution, it is evident that meeting WHO air quality guidelines is a crucial element of the green recovery.