With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, love is in the air.

However, so is a terrifying amount of pollution… with tragic consequences.

Notably, in December 2020, Coroner Philip Barlow’s landmark ruling found air pollution culpable for nine-year-old Londoner Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death.[i]

The effect of air pollution is significant and indisputable, claiming close to 5% of UK deaths annually. A study commissioned by the Mayor of London showed that 9,500 early deaths were caused by air pollution in London each year in 2015 – it is likely the number has increased since then. These figures reveal a twofold increase on previous predictions and exceed the number of smoking-induced deaths says Healthy Air, who campaign for action to be brought against the invisible health crisis.[ii]

However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In fact, Civil Engineering and Construction industries are expertly placed to eliminate air pollution worldwide.

How exactly can the industry unlock this crucial potential?

For a start, improved public transport systems can encourage citizens to leave their cars behind, significantly bettering air quality. Therefore, the more government spending invested in public transport infrastructure like HS2 and tram systems, the greater positive effects on the public.

Equally, since cars are such a massive culprit behind emissions, the shift to electric vehicles will be fundamental in cutting air pollution. India has announced that as of 2030 it will sell exclusively electric vehicles – a move predicted to save the country $60 billion in energy costs.[iii]

Moreover, ambitious ‘Green’ innovations like New York’s Roosevelt Island residential tower ‘Mandragore’ designed by Rescubika will push the boundaries of existing sustainability practices. How so? Well, the building will feature an interior forest, including almost 300,000 square feet of living  plant walls and 1,600 trees. The project also makes uber-efficient use of passive heating techniques to conserve energy and is packed full of carbon capture technologies and strategies.[iv]

In the UK, the Green Revolution is equally taking hold.

A love of the planet is fuelling ambitious projects. For instance, the UK’s first purpose-built biophilic primary school, which Tilbury Douglas were just last month appointed to head up. The new St Mary’s Catholic Voluntary Academy in the Midlands will transform the previous site, which was burned down in October 2020.[v]

What is ‘biophilia?’

Well, defined as ‘the love of life or living things,’ biophilic engineering projects seek to forge connections with nature.

The new primary school will achieve proximity to the outdoors through what Tilbury Douglas’ Simon Butler (Managing Director Building Central) has termed a “biophilic approach” – fostering proximity to the outdoors for building users by “focusing on landscaping.” Butler has proudly claimed that their project, a Department for Education pilot scheme, will inspire “the next generation of school design” to follow suit, as the concept of Green Building blossoms in the Construction industry.[vi]

Furthermore, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has a series of events and courses lined up for 2023, including the “Whole Life Carbon Roadmap Stakeholder Series: Social landlords, Owners, Property Managers (Residential)” on 26th January, exploring how stakeholders across the built environment sector can contribute to the ‘Roadmap’ which, in November 2021, outlined plans to achieve net-zero goals by 2050 in the UK’s infrastructure and construction industry.[vii]

Current live projects of the UKGBC include their Social Value Programme. A hot topic right now in Construction and Civil Engineering, Social Value is not only defined by the high standards of sustainability, it also focuses on a just and fair approach toward achieving goals like net zero.

The sky really is the limit, unlocking massive potential for developments throughout the UK, where the government has invested £84 million in technology to propel a green aviation transformation.

The three aerospace projects are based in Bedford, Bristol, and Cranfield respectively, and will bring close to 5,000 new jobs. It is expected that by the end of this year, zero-emissions flights could be a reality.[viii]

Let’s take a closer look at the winning innovations –

Based in Bristol, GKN Aerospace-led ‘H2GEAR’ hopes to eliminate CO2 emissions by producing a liquid hydrogen system which only produces water as a by-product. Initially intended for domestic flights, the technology could later be scaled up for larger aircraft and long-haul flights. The project is expected to create 3120 engineering and manufacturing jobs within the decade throughout Bristol, Coventry, and Loughborough.

The second project, ZeroAvia’s ‘HyFlyer II’, aims to have the quickest results, hoping that in 2023 customers will be able to fly on 19-seater zero-emissions aircraft. Based in Bedfordshire, the company have secured a whopping £24.6 million government investment, matched by industry funding.

Last, but not least, Blue Bear Systems Research are leading the creation of a compact, quiet and powerful fully electric propulsion system for small aircraft with their project ‘InCEPTion’. It is predicted that this development could potentially transform the world of commuting.[ix]

In conclusion, then, there is every reason to remain optimistic about the future – especially for those carving a career in the engineering industry.


[i] Sandra Laville, “Air pollution a cause in girl’s death, coroner rules in landmark case,” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/16/girls-death-contributed-to-by-air-pollution-coroner-rules-in-landmark-case 16 Dec 2020.

[ii] Healthy Air, https://www.healthyair.org.uk/the-problem/ accessed 11/01/2023

[iii] Chistopher McFadden, “15+ Projects That Could End Air Pollution Around the World,” Interesting Engineering, https://interestingengineering.com/science/15-projects-that-could-end-air-pollution-around-the-world 12 Sep 2020.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] ‘Tilbury Douglas to lead construction of the UK’s first purpose built biophilic primary school,’ Tilbury Douglas, https://tilburydouglas.co.uk/press-release/tilbury-douglas-to-lead-construction-of-new-sustainable-derby-primary-school-that-was-destroyed-by-fire/ 5 Jan 2023

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] UKGBC, https://www.ukgbc.org/events/whole-life-carbon-roadmap-stakeholder-series-4/

[viii] Paul Scully MP & Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, GOV.UK, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/84-million-boost-for-technology-to-power-a-green-aviation-revolution 27 Jan 2021

[ix] Ibid.

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