On Air: Interview with City of London’s Ruth Calderwood
To coincide with the announcement of the 2011/12 Sustainable City Awards this month, we took the opportunity to talk to Ruth Calderwood, the City’s environmental
policy officer about some of the unique aspects of air quality work in the heart of London.
(KCL) - What led you to work in the air quality field?
(RC) - There are many sustainability issues but few have a direct, causal link to public health. Air quality is just one example and peaked my interest as local actions can have a real and immediate impact. When I left University I worked in arboriculture and conservation for a while but I have stayed working in air quality since as I like the mix of science and technology and policy development.
(KCL) - The Sustainable City Awards for 2011/12 have just been announced. What do you look for in the air quality entrants?
(RC) - We are in the second year of the Sustainable City Award for air quality and choosing a winner for the award has posed a real challenge as the entrants have been of such a high quality. The submissions are judged with the King’s College London Environmental Research Group and Environmental Protection UK. We look for submissions that demonstrate more than just best practice. Successful applicants have to promote innovation and leadership as well as a commitment to continuous improvement.
(KCL) - Many people see environmental concerns and business concerns as opposites. How has the Corporation engaged with the business community on the CityAir project?
(RC) - The single most important facet of any business engagement strategy is understanding their needs, concerns and business drivers. If you listen, bring the real impact of air quality to the business audience and ask them what the main barriers are and offer solutions, they are more than willing to help. The CityAir project has revealed just that. Dozens of companies supported the development of best practice documentation and case studies to make a real impact to addressing local poor air quality. The City has found real air quality business champions in the most unlikely places.
(KCL) - What projects are you working on at the moment?
(RC) - One of the key messages that came out of the business engagement work is that people still do not know that London has an air quality problem. Consequently, in addition to continuing to roll out CityAir, I'm working on a City-wide air quality communications campaign. I'm also implementing a project to reduce the amount of unnecessary vehicle idling.
I'm interested in future options for NOx-based Low Emission Zones, and given the uncertainty about the success of the Euro Standards in bringing down NOx emissions, I'm working with a range of partners to test emissions from different vehicle types in urban driving conditions.
(KCL) - Lastly, we always ask our interviewees what they think the future holds for air quality in London.
(RC) - There has been a lot of reliance on technological fixes to improve air quality over the past 10 years or so and we haven't seen the improvements that were anticipated. Unfortunately we are not at the stage yet of the widespread use of electric vehicles, or other low emission fuels such as gas, which would go a long way towards helping the situation. We therefore need to be thinking more broadly in the short term. In a City the size of London it is important to get public support for improving air quality and convey the health messages adequately. I think that a sustained and wide scale publicity campaign could bring about a sizeable amount of behavioural change which would help to reduce polluton in the capital. It should also lead to greater support for other potentially unpopular policy decisions such as further vehicle restrictions.
I remain concerned about the potential air quality impact of emerging alternative fuels which are being badged as renewable and carbon neutral. We should be pushing for non-combustion renewables across London to address the carbon reduction and air quality targets together. I also think the amount of on site Combined Heat and Power in London should be restricted whilst we have such a problem with levels of nitrogen dioxide.
Our thanks to Ruth for talking to us this month. If you want to find out more about the CityAir campaign you can check out the CityAir website
here and follow @_cityair