Business ideas for 2017: Pollution protection

With 90% of city dwellers breathing bad air on a daily basis, something needs to be done. 2017 will see face masks and air purifiers become big business 

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Recently revealed to be the cause of over 300 premature deaths a year, 2017 will be the year UK consumers finally start to take the dangers of air pollution seriously.

Worryingly, reports reveal that 90% of  European city dwellers breath bad air on a daily basis, with 98% exposed to dangerous concentrations of ground-level ozone. Brixton Road in South London even breached its annual air pollution limit only five days into the new year – a clear sign something needs to be done.

Since 2011, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has pledged over £2bn to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles, support greener transport schemes and create Clean Air Zones. This includes promises of a further £290m for the development of alternate fuels in the Autumn Statement; proof that even the government deem pollution to be an issue worth tackling.

However, as the old saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of all inventions’ and plenty of opportunities exist for start-ups and socially-minded businesses to help fulfil the need for cleaner cities.

Want to start a businesses with an environmental agenda? Well in 2017, pollution protection could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for…

Starting a pollution protection business: Why it’s a good business idea

While pollution protection products haven’t yet achieved mainstream status in the UK or Europe just yet, they’ve long been popular with consumers in Asian countries that are traditionally blighted by toxic air problems and smog.

According to Mintel’s research, 83% of Chinese citizens own a facemask and 56% own an air purifier, while 38% of all new beauty products launched in the Asia Pacific market carry some form of an anti-pollution claim – and there are signs us Brits are starting to catch on.

Just this month, environmental law firm ClientEarth received a £100,000 grant from the City of London Corporation to work with, and help, businesses in the capital to become more informed about the impact of air pollution, while Kings College London has joined forces with the government body to launch the City Air app.

Designed to show capital commuters the least polluted routes through London, the app alerts users on days when pollution is forecast to be high and offers suggestions of alternative routes they can take.

Furthermore, according to study of 20,000 European shoppers by consumer goods giant Unilever, 33% of people now actively buy from brands which they view as doing some kind of environmental good; a sign that a market exists for new businesses.

Pollution protection business opportunities

The most obvious and cost effective product to help combat air pollution are protective masks. Cheap to manufacture, most of these masks come in a standard size with a rather clinical appearance as they are white in colour. This design makes the product rife for disruption from entrepreneurs looking to get creative.

Indeed, Swedish start-up Airinum has begun to develop “fashionable and functional” face masks where users can adjust the ventilation depending on the type of environment they are in.

Similarly, the Dettol Protect Air Mask contains changeable filters and can be adjusted to wear on motorcycles and bikes and is already a hit in Asia, with plans to launch globally this year.

At the other end of the market, air purifiers can remove anything from mould spores to pet dander in homes or offices and are particularly attractive to those who suffer from asthma or from pet allergies.

While on the cosmetic side of things, skin care ranges carrying ‘pollution-prevention’ messages also look set to take charge this year, as consumers begin to realise the negative impact that nitrogen dioxide has on skin – such as causing age spots and hyperpigmentation.

Clarins, Dr Andrew Weil for Origins, and Kiehl’s all have skincare ranges dedicated to fighting the effects of pollution, while Bobbi Brown’s Instant Detox Mask advertises that it “helps remove city grime”.

There has also been a rise of wearable tech and pollution protective clothing. New York city-based designer Nikolas Bentel recently released new line of long-sleeved shirts called Aerochromics which change colour, according to pollution levels in the air.

Upon detecting unsafe levels of pollutants in the air like radioactivity, carbon monoxide and particle pollution, the dye ‘Aerochromic’ starts to turn the fabric from black to white.

Finally, if you’re green-fingered, there are ranges of flowers and plants that can help elevate nasty odours and toxic gases – a potential quirky, yet unique selling point, if you want to start a gardening, landscaping or floristry business.

Insider opinion

On consumer appetite for pollution protection products, Richard Cope, senior trends analyst at Mintel, has remarked:

“Consumers are increasingly wising up to danger, investing more in the kind of pollution protection products we see in China. […] There will be opportunities for brands to expand their lines of fragrance-free products as well as launching products that absorb dangerous substances from the air.

“For those wishing to invest in technology, we’ll see consumers adopt apps and invest in portable devices that monitor and analyse air quality. And while beauty brands are already at the vanguard of the pollution protection industry, we can expect an increase in product claims, as well as more campaigns that show just how bad pollution is for hair and skin, presenting significant market opportunities for brands to identify and promote ingredients that defend the skin against the harmful effects of pollution.

“In food and drink, we’ll see ‘eat yourself clean’ concepts with opportunities for brands to champion pure sourcing from unpolluted areas.

“Finally, in finance we’ll see the emergence of plans that cover health-related eventualities that come from living in highly polluted areas, or visiting them on holiday. The re-evaluation of pollution as a here-and-now reality, rather than some threat distant in time and place, will see consumers support brands that are innovating to change things for the better.”

Published Jan 2017

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