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Building healthier schools for future generations

There is no doubt about it: climate change is happening now. Last month saw the hottest February day since records began. Only a mere few weeks after the UK was blanketed in snow. But although everyone enjoyed the sun, temperatures warm enough to rival the average British summer day also sparked concern.

As greenhouse gases continue to be released into the atmosphere at a rapid rate, air pollution is an increasing worry. When we talk about halting the effects of climate change, CO2 often comes to mind. And indeed, both national and international efforts have largely focused on limiting CO2 emissions by trying to cut the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. However, there’s more to air pollution than just carbon dioxide. Ozone, black carbon and other ‘local’ pollutants are also major drivers of climate change.

Not only does this have a detrimental effect on the planet – but it can also be incredibly harmful to human health and quality of life. Particularly in big cities such as London where pollution levels are dangerously high.

Worrying findings

For many years, air pollution has been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. But researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health have also found a link between obesity and air pollution exposure levels at school and the home – the two environments where children spend most of their time.

The researchers recruited 2,660 children between the ages of seven and 10 at 39 different schools across Barcelona. Published in the Environment International Journal, the findings showed that most children were exposed to air pollution levels above those recommended by the World Health Organization – both at school and at home. More specifically, over 75% were exposed to particle matter levels above those recommended and more than 50% breathed nitrogen dioxide levels above those considered safe.

Crucially, the researchers also found that children who were exposed to medium or high levels of air pollution – including ultrafine particles, nitrogen dioxide, particle matter and elemental carbon – had a higher risk of being obese or overweight than those exposed to lower levels.

These are worrying findings; fortunately, there is still time to reverse the effects of air pollution. But it will require a greater push from governments, companies and people worldwide.

An integrated approach to tackling air pollution

Often, the sources of both CO2 and local air pollutants are the same – including vehicle exhausts, factory chimneys, energy and heating. Which is why it is important to tackle climate change in an integrated way; focusing on all the issues together to eliminate harmful pollutants.

 At NetZero Buildings, we’ve designed and manufactured over 100 new energy-efficient school buildings. Traditionally, energy has been generated through the combustion of fossil fuels which, in turn, produces CO2. Our approach to this environmental challenge is to design and build structures that consume as little energy as possible – whilst generating clean energy through integrated renewable energy sources.

For example, we use solar photovoltaic panels to generate energy and our state-of-the-art ventilation and heat recovery technology recycles over 90% of the heat in the building. Because we manufacture these buildings off-site, there are also up to 90% fewer vehicle movements – meaning reduced carbon emissions. Waste is almost completely eliminated as well, and we use wood off-cuts as biomass fuel to provide heating in our manufacturing facility.

As of this year, we will also be working with a leading UK property partner to deliver 250 off-site manufactured electric houses a year at sites across the country. Helping to create not only healthier schools for future generations – but healthier homes too.

To find out more about our integrated approach and how our innovative buildings help to reverse the effects of climate change, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.