Are clean air zones the future of retail?

27 : 07 : 2017 Pollution : Technology : Smog Life

The Clean Air Bench is a future-facing retail experience powered by advanced technology that could radically change how consumers shop. LS:N Global travelled to Bird Street in London to speak to Sophie Power, co-founder and CEO of Airlabs, about the pioneering concept.

The Clean Air Bench by Airlabs, London The Clean Air Bench by Airlabs, London
Bird Street, London Bird Street, London
Pollution-fighting Bus Shelter by Airlabs, JCDecaux and The Body Shop, London

What is Airlabs and how did you become involved with the Bird Street project?

We are a team of atmospheric chemists and airflow engineers, and we have created the world’s first outdoor clean air zone in Bird Street using our Clean Air Bench. It’s the first technology proven to remove nitrogen dioxide, which is the main pollutant in London, derived mainly from diesel vehicles, from the air. Oxford Street is one of the most polluted streets in London – the air pollution levels are 2.5 times the legal average. It is the perfect place to create a safe and healthy zone for shoppers to relax in.

Bird Street is a relatively small area compared to Oxford Street. How can projects such as these be scaled to cover a wider area?

The Clean Air Bench is almost like an art installation designed to promote discussion and show that we can create a clean air zone. We are very focused on exposure in global cities, because 80% of people living in urban areas worldwide are exposed to poor-quality air. We create clean air zones outdoors, but also work indoors, looking at people’s exposure to air pollution over the course of their day. We can roll out our technology across transport networks, inside offices, and even create clean air zones outside for leisure, relaxation and at outdoor restaurants, for example.

The retail spaces of the future will probably need clean air zones because shoppers are far more likely to go to stores where the quality of the air is better.

Are you looking to create consumer-facing products or receive government funding?

Both. We have had a high level of interest from architects and developers because people are willing to pay for their health and high-quality air. In London alone, air pollution takes 16 months off our lives, and this figure is higher in other cities, particularly across Asia and parts of Europe. We would love to collaborate with governments and believe there is huge potential across the transport network and in public buildings such as schools and hospitals – places inhabited by the young and elderly, who are more severely affected by air pollution. We also see in retail that shoppers are increasingly interested in air quality. The retail spaces of the future will probably need clean air zones because shoppers are far more likely to go to stores where the quality of the air is better.

Can you explain the partnership for your pollution-fighting bus shelter campaign?

Bus shelters are one of the worst exposure hot spots during the day because you’re right next to the road. So we collaborated with The Body Shop [on bus shelter ads that filter pollutants out of the air] to raise awareness of the issue of pollution and encourage people to think a little more about their own impact on the environment, and how they can reduce exposure in their daily lives.

The Big Picture

  • Consumers are increasingly concerned about air pollution and brands are responding with new products and services that aim to mitigate the negative effects. For more, see our pollution series Smog Life
  • To learn more about how to future-proof your business in this new landscape, look out for our forthcoming Pollution Report
  • Brands such as Airlabs and Pavegen – one of the disruptors featured at our Global Futures Forum 2016 – are helping to boost Bird Street’s reputation as the world’s first eco-friendly smart street. Purchase tickets to this year’s event here