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Charity launches “breathable billboard” to mark new campaign to build back cleaner air

The charity behind Clean Air Day, Global Action Plan, today launches a “breathable billboard” to mark a new in-depth report and campaign toolkit which sets out the urgent case for immediate action on tackling air pollution as part of the UK’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.


30th July 2020 - Global Action Plan reveals a breathable billboard to mark the launch of a new in-depth report and campaign toolkit to enable local authorities, campaigning organisations, and national charities to support the campaign.


The “breathable billboards” based at Canary Wharf; Finchley Road and Westfield White City, use flowering lungs to remind commuters to be conscious about their travel choices to prevent pre-COVID-19 levels of air pollution returning. The lungs react in real-time to localised pollution data from the Clean Air Hub.

When air pollution levels are low the lungs bloom, but when air pollution is high or approaching illegal levels, the lungs appear withered. The #BuildBackCleanerAir campaign, which launches in tandem with the billboard, highlights the renewed case for action on air pollution to help people protect themselves from COVID-19. Based on primary social research and secondary scientific data over the lockdown period, the report and campaign toolkit present evidence for government, local authorities, and campaigners to build back cleaner air more urgently than ever.


The findings from the report, which was funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, are threefold:


  • There is a detrimental health link between COVID-19 and air pollution.

It is likely that: air pollution makes people more vulnerable to catching COVID-19; patients of COVID-19 from areas of high air pollution are more susceptible to complications and death due to underlying health conditions related to air pollution; and poor air quality will impact patients long-term recovery from COVID-19.


  • It is possible to reduce air pollution – and the public have noticed.

Over lockdown levels of air pollution dropped dramatically, primarily from a reduction in private car use. Since the outbreak: 59% of the UK public reported noticing an improvement in air quality; 72% now feel that clean air is more important than ever; 9 out of 10 have experienced the benefits of cleaner air during lockdown; 62% want government and businesses to tackle air pollution more urgently than before the outbreak of the virus.


  • Millions have changed their routines in a way that reduces air pollution and are willing to continue to do so.

This includes 40% now working from home, 1 in 3 are walking, and cycling more. 


flower lungs reading the air quality is currently good

Larissa Lockwood, Head of Air Quality at Global Action Plan says: “We have an unprecedented opportunity to build back cleaner air as part of our ‘new normal’ as we recover from this COVID-19 crisis. As this report shows, the case for action on air pollution has never been greater, or more important, because air pollution looks to be making us more vulnerable to this coronavirus. COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last pandemic we see, so it is imperative that we future proof our health by cleaning up our air.  And we know that cleaner air is possible – during lockdown we smelt and felt it as air pollution levels plummeted, and people want to keep it that way. We saw massive shifts towards low pollution behaviours as people worked from home and walked and cycled instead of driving short trips. Moments to maintain profound change like this rarely come along.  By presenting this clear mandate from the public for decision makers and businesses to act more urgently and more radically to tackle air pollution, we must together seize this moment and build back cleaner air.”


Kate Langford, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity says: The pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than ever before that health outcomes are the result of complex and inter-related determinants of health. If you live in an urban area, you are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution. You are also more likely to live with multiple long-term health conditions, have lower paid employment or be unemployed, or be from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background: all factors that have been associated with a higher risk of testing positive for and dying from COVID-19. Action to reduce air pollution should therefore be regarded not only in terms of reducing the health impacts of poor air quality, but as an essential route to addressing the health inequalities that we see nationally.”