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You may have read recent reports about ongoing issues in mainland Europe and the UK with air quality. This has led to such short-term measures being implemented as the UK government’s department of health advising the general population – not just those with heart and lung problems – to reduce any strenuous physical activity and the city of Paris offering free public transportation to get cars off the road. The root cause appears to be unusual weather patterns across the continent. Truly worrisome.

And now, in an effort to improve its air quality, the city of Madrid has introduced a new device that could prove to be even more effective in keeping cars – or at least environmentally unfriendly cars – off the road than Paris’s free transport plan: a ‘smart’ parking meter that will charge more for the worst polluters. A report on the UK’s Guardian (my go-to source for all things environmental!) explains how the parking fee will be determined by the type of engine the car has, and the year it was manufactured. When the scheme launches this July, hybrid cars will pay 20% less for their space, and electric cars will park for free.

Using parking meters in the environmental battleground is certainly an interesting development, not least from the perspective of living in San Francisco where the city has just controversially voted to eliminate Sunday parking meter charges. The Madrid innovation also spurred me to look into what other smart measures are being adopted to help improve air quality.

Here are the ones that really caught my eye:

  • Trees and the Clean Air Act in the U.S. Here in the U.S. any state that has unhealthy air quality is required by the Clean Air Act to submit a plan proposing means of rectifying the situation. In California, that meant devising a plan to strategically plant 1 million trees by 2018 in and around Sacramento, a city with a significant air problem.
  • The Netherlands’ motorway noise barriers that positively benefit air quality. Back in 2005, the ever forward-thinking Dutch(!) created the Air Quality Innovation Programme (AQIP) to find new smart and creative ways to tackle the poor air quality problem. One of the AQIP’s findings was that as well as being highly effective in reducing freeway sound, noise barriers also have a surprising but significant impact on improving air quality by helping to contain the spread of emissions.
  • Edinburgh’s hiked parking permit prices for gas-guzzlers. In similar thinking to the Madrid scheme, drivers in Edinburgh of the most polluting cars pay around $500 a year for a city parking permit, with greener cars paying around $23 – which makes for a pretty compelling motivation to go “auto-green”!
  • London’s electric vehicle trials for businesses. Affecting behavioral change is one of the major challenges in sustainability. The London borough of Camden is helping businesses make that change by providing free 2-week loans on a range of electric cars. Results of this initiative suggest that this scheme at the very least is helping improve opinion of these eco-friendlier cars as well as increasing the propensity to buy.

As ever, if you’d like to learn more about steps you can take to take your company green, I’d love to hear from you, so please do get in touch!

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