Air Quality Literacy | Module 3

How we can improve air quality and the benefits of clean air

In our commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, we are proud to present this accessible eLearning module tailored to ensure equal access for all learners.


A glossary of terms used within the three modules

Introduction to the programme

This module is one of three modules within this Air Quality Literacy Training Programme. Before starting this module, please ensure that you have worked through the first two modules.

Introduction to Air Quality

  • Common air pollutants
  • Health impacts
  • Air pollution and inequality

Air quality at a regional and local level

  • Regulations and standards
  • What is happening locally
  • Monitoring
  • Air quality and net zero

How we can improve air quality and the benefits of clean air

  • Air quality planning and policy
  • Community engagement and communications
  • Case studies

Once you have completed all three modules, you will be required to take an assessment on the topics covered.

Learning outcomes

By the time you complete this module, you should have a good understanding of:

  • How air quality planning, policies and strategies can help to inform and align thinking and objectives to improve air quality.
  • What is meant by adaptation and mitigation.
  • The role community engagement and communication can play to encourage air quality initiatives.

Section 1 | Air quality planning and policy

The economic benefits of improving outdoor air quality

Improving ambient air quality can bring a range of economic benefits.

Increased productivity

Improved air quality can lead to better health and increased productivity among workers, reducing absenteeism and increasing economic output.

Improved public health

Reducing exposure to air pollution can lower the cost of healthcare, as fewer people will require medical treatment for conditions caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

Attraction of investment

Good air quality can make a region more attractive to investment and tourism, boosting local economies.

Reduced energy costs

As we transition away from energy produced by burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, air quality will be improved. As energy-efficient systems and technologies are adopted, this can lower energy costs.

Job creation

The installation of emissions control systems and retrofitting buildings can benefit the economy by creating new jobs in industries such as construction and manufacturing.

Increased property values

Improved air quality can increase property values in a region, as people are willing to pay more for cleaner and healthier living environments.

Protection of natural resources

Improving air quality can help to protect natural resources, such as water and land, by reducing the levels of pollutants that can harm ecosystems and wildlife.

Air quality planning and policy

In the previous modules we have already looked at how air quality is regulated at local, regional and national levels. But what are the thought processes behind the policies?

It has been estimated that improving air quality in Birmingham alone could generate 216,000 more hours worked per annum, contributing £2.7m economic benefit.

This would come about from lots of different measures, but as with many related issues regarding climate change, they could broadly fall into two categories based on their aims: adaptation and mitigation.

Adaptation and mitigation

What do we mean by adaptation and mitigation?

Adaptation refers to changing behaviour, systems and in some cases our way of life to protect our health and the environment from the impacts of air quality.

Mitigation means making the impacts of air quality less severe by preventing or reducing harmful pollutants.

The flow chart shows how mitigation is about trying to reduce the levels atmospheric pollution, whereas adaptation is looking to reduce the impacts of the poor air quality.

The flow chart shows how mitigation is about trying to reduce the levels atmospheric pollution, whereas adaptation is looking to reduce the impacts of the poor air quality.

Examples of mitigation

When we think of mitigating against poor air quality, reducing vehicles might come to mind.

Clean Air Zones (CAZ) operate in many cities in the UK aiming to reduce the levels of NO2. There are different options councils can choose from:

Class B

Vehicle type City
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles Portsmouth

Class C

Vehicle type City
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses Bath, Bradford, Sheffield and Tyneside

Class C

Vehicle type City
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses, cars (the local authority has the option to include motorcycles) Birmingham and Bristol

The zones operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. You will need to pay a charge before you drive in a CAZ. Councils set their own charges for vehicle non-compliance.

Examples of mitigation

CAZ focus on charging vehicles who do not meet the minimum emission standards, which are:

Vehicle type Clean air zone minimum standard
Buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles Euro VI
Vans, minibuses, taxis, private hire vehicles, cars Euro 6 (diesel) and Euro 4 (petrol)
Motorcycles Euro 3

Ultra Low Emission Zone

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) operates across all London boroughs, every day except Christmas Day.

Petrol cars that meet the ULEZ standards are generally those first registered as new with the DVLA after 2005, although cars that meet the standards have been available since 2001.

Diesel cars that meet the standards are generally those first registered with the DVLA as new after September 2015.

Case study - Birmingham Clean Air Zone

Read the case study below to learn more about Birmingham CAZ.

Birmingham CAZ

Birmingham’s CAZ was launched in 2021 as part of the council’s plan to tackle the risk to public health caused by poor air quality.

The scheme is designed to specifically address the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide and to do so in the shortest possible time.

No vehicle is banned from entering the zone, but vehicles which do not meet the emission standards are charged a daily fee of £8 per day for cars, vans and taxis or £50 a day for coaches, buses and HGVs.

Pollution levels in the zone have been slashed by almost 40% compared to 2016 levels and by 17% compared to 2019 levels.

For more information on Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone, select here.

Adapting daily

Adaptation can involve monitoring air quality and planning how to protect ourselves based on a day-by-day basis.

The following headline provide an indication as to how this works in practice, e.g. by avoiding unnecessary car journeys.

A BBC News article with the title 'London high pollution alert extended to Wednesday and an image of London with poor air quality.

Case study

Read the case study below to learn more.

London Wood Burning Project

Funded by Defra, the project is led by Camden and Islington Borough Councils on behalf of 16 other London Boroughs.

Domestic wood burning contributed to 17% of the PM2.5 pollution in Greater London, despite a good mains gas and electricity network coverage. Therefore, burning wood on fireplaces and solid fuel stoves is not a necessary way to heat homes and by changing behaviours and attitudes in residents with or thinking about getting an open fire or stove, can achieve a significant reduction in PM2.5 air pollution.

Surveying 5,124 people across the borough found that 21% had an open fireplace or burning stove and 18% of those who do not already have a stove are thinking about getting one with “creating a nice atmosphere” and “being cheaper than central heating” as the main reasons.

The health costs associated with PM2.5 emissions is £161 million per annum and 284 deaths per year in Greater London.

The project runs until 2024, with the current phase now on raising public awareness about wood and solid fuel burning as a source of air pollution and health risk. The campaign aims to discourage fireplace and wood burning stove owners from using their appliances and deter people from installing them. This campaign will allow people to mitigate against poor air quality by reducing the amount of harmful pollutants they emit from their homes and exposure to pollution. Source

What are we doing in the West Midlands?

As shown in Module 2, each local authority has their own Air Quality Action Plans and strategies to manage air pollution in each area. For the wider West Midlands, the WMCA has developed, with partners, an Air Quality Framework.

The Framework sets out 145 potential options that could be taken within the region to tackle poor air quality and inequality of exposure.

The measures fall under the following areas:

  • Monitoring and digital engagement.
  • Air quality communications.
  • Schools engagement.
  • General air quality engagement and behaviour change (including dedicated measures for domestic combustion).
  • Net zero and retrofitting.
  • Planning and air quality assessment.
  • Natural environment.
  • Research.

The Air Quality Framework has been developed in conjunction with organisations from the public sector (including health, public health and local authorities); research organisations and third sector organisations that have an interest in environment and air quality.

The outcomes that we hope to achieve through the implementation of the Framework include, but are not limited to:

Outcome 2

Increased awareness amongst people, communities, politicians and policymakers of the need to tackle poor air quality in the West Midlands.

Outcome 1

Reduced exposure to both nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5 - particles that are less than 2.5 micrometres (μm) in diameter) striving to achieve better health outcomes for people living and working in the West Midlands.

Outcome 3

Improved monitoring and data collection and, where possible, use it to understand the impact of measures. This can then be used to inform discussions about which measures should subsequently be prioritised to address poor air quality (including both soft measures such as behaviour change campaigns and/or infrastructure solutions).

Outcome 4

Increased regional and national co-working and co-operation to improve air quality outcomes in the most efficient way possible. This will build upon the work undertaken by local authorities and use the lessons learnt to make the implementation and outcomes as effective as possible.

As the Framework includes 145 potential actions we can take as a region, to improve air quality, not all of these can happen at once.

Priority measures have been identified and narrowed down through engagement and consultation with relevant partners, charities, and organisations. This engagement included a wide consultation event which sought the views of attendees regarding the options/measures that should be the focus of activities over the next two years.

This has led to the creation of the Framework Implementation Plan to summarise priority measures from the WMCA’s Air Quality Framework that will be progresses / delivered between 2024 - 2026.

Select here to read the Implementation Plan to see just what is being planned.

Regional air quality campaigns

The WMCA were successful in securing a Defra air quality grant to deliver regional air quality campaigns until March 2025.


of a real-time sensor network across the WMCA region.

Regional Air Quality website

where the sensor data will feed into a centralised dashboard for the public to see near real-time air quality data. The website will be a hub of educational and campaign resources, including toolkits on anti-idling campaigns, domestic combustion reduction campaigns and general awareness raising.

7 Behaviour change campaigns

focusing on raising awareness and implement interventions to reduce exposure and pollution, with a focus on PM2.5. There will be one campaign in each local authority in the WMCA area.

Communications toolkit

including social media assets, communication material and key messages that will provide a consistent message across the region on air quality.

As mentioned in Module 2, there is now a need to provide PM2.5 monitoring. Through the Defra grant, the WMCA has secured the funding to install a regional sensor network, enabling the roll out of low-cost sensors (accredited to iMCERTS) that will measure a range of pollutants, including PM2.5 and NO2. These will complement the existing network of both reference equivalent and low-cost air quality sensors that have been installed by the local authorities.

Regional air quality campaigns

Importantly, we see the installation of low-cost sensors as an opportunity to be able to make real-time data on air quality available to everyone across the region, from local authorities, to businesses, to universities and communities. This will be via a dedicated web platform that will also provide information and news updates related to air quality issues.

To date, due to the high cost of reference equivalent analysers, the wider picture with regard to PM2.5 in particular has relied on modelled data, rather than information that is being collected from locations across the West Midlands. By installing sensors and following a consistent set of standards for the network, we will be able to better understand the regional air quality issues as well as the impact that the different measures are having on improving local and regional air quality.

Key areas

Let’s take a look at the key areas of work of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to improve air quality.

TfWM has an important role to play for strategy and delivery of transport measures to improve air quality. It also has a role as a regional partner to work with bodies, such as Midlands Connect, local universities and the automotive sector, to support research and development for issues such as reducing tyre and brake emissions of PM2.5.


The key role for TfWM is to produce the statutory Local Transport Plan (LTP) for the West Midlands. This sets out the overall urban transport strategy which addresses air quality as part of a wider, coherent approach to improve the economy, environment and social wellbeing of the West Midlands.

The WMLTP5 Core Strategy is approved and Big Move Theme strategies and area strategies are currently being produced. The West Midlands approach to demand management will be developed through the LTP.

Select here for more information.

Delivery of Measures

Whilst the LTP is developed, TfWM has co-ordinated a series of measures in recent years to reduce NO2 and PM2.5 emissions. These are based on the Avoid, Shift, Improve approach to reducing transport emissions. The over-arching approach is to work at a regional level to add value to local work on improving air quality.

Much work has been undertaken by TfWM to co-ordinate regional bids for funding to improve the bus fleet and funding for electric vehicle charging points.

TfWM has also submitted major West Midlands bids for transport capital funding such as the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) and Active Travel Fund rounds.

Capital funding awarded is being used for many capital schemes to improve public transport, cycling and walking. Revenue funding has also been secured for the West Midlands, particularly to maintain and enhance bus services.

Section 2 | Community engagement and communication

The politics of policy

Unfortunately, expanding effective ideas can be more complex than simply seeing what works in one area and implementing it elsewhere.

Since many measures rely on encouraging and/or necessitating behaviour change, they can be unpopular with some sections of the public, making it difficult to implement new measures or make current ones stricter.

It is essential that for any intervention to reduce air pollution, the community is involved with planning and implementation.

Public engagement

Public engagement is key to enable strategies to be implemented as effectively as possible. It is important to engage the public as they can make a huge difference individually by following best practice. In addition, public involvement helps to reinforce key messages and show that we, as a public body, are committed to improving air quality literacy within the WMCA region and beyond. This aligns to behavioural change including adaptation and mitigation. The WMCA has several ongoing public engagement processes.

Citizens’ panel

In May and June 2023, a citizens’ panel of 30 people, who were chosen to be representative of the West Midlands, spent time understanding air quality and the Air Quality Framework.

The panel heard from experts on air quality; Professor William Bloss - Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Birmingham and Maddy Dawe, Regional Campaigns & Policy Officer for Asthma and Lung UK.

The panel decided upon 15 guiding principles that should be followed when implementing any air quality interventions. These guiding principles have been included within the Air Quality Framework and will be used as a guide for the WMCA and partners to follow when designing interventions.

Select here to learn more.


In March 2023, a survey was conducted with over 800 respondents on their current knowledge and perceptions of air quality. The survey found that there are high levels of concern about air quality, but respondents were unaware of the health impacts that prolonged exposure to poor air quality can cause.

There was high awareness to respiratory impacts, such as asthma and lung irritation, but less knowledge on poor air quality as a cause of diabetes, strokes and pregnancy-related issues.

Select here to download the survey responses.

Public surveys are also a method of assessment of measures once they have been implemented.

Other initiatives include:

The West Midlands Greener Together Quarterly Forum - An open forum for any resident, organisation and business to attend.

Select here to learn more.

The guiding principles

The Citizens' Panel created these 13 guiding principles to guide to inform decisions on air quality. These are:

Cost, responsibility and accountability: Air quality measures should be…

Guiding Principle 1 Guiding Principle 2 Guiding Principle 3 Guiding Principle 4 Guiding Principle 5
Brave and bold. Clear and transparent in their purpose and, where they generate income, how this will be spent. Placing the burden of change on the broadest shoulders, ensuring that specific groups are not disadvantaged by higher living costs and protecting the most vulnerable. Good value for money for councils so that council tax bills don’t increase as a result. Putting public benefit before corporate interests and avoiding monopolies being created.

Engagement, education and awareness: Air quality measures should be…

Guiding Principle 6 Guiding Principle 7 Guiding Principle 8
Done with, not to, people, involving a range of people and areas in the design process. Clearly explained to the public, including why they are necessary and what impacts they are designed to have. Making people aware of what changes are taking place and how to manage those. Making the information accessible with, alternative provision and any support if they need it.

Implementation: Air quality measures should be…

Guiding Principle 9 Guiding Principle 10 Guiding Principle 11 Guiding Principle 12 Guiding Principle 13
Putting new services in place before removing old ones. Achievable, sustainable, measurable and long term. Taking into account how impacts will be felt by neighbouring areas. Data-driven and evidence-based, learning, where possible, from other countries and other parts of the UK. Using incentivisation rather than punishment, where possible, and enable people to change their behaviour in positive ways.

Practical actions we can take

We can all take practical actions to not only reduce our exposure to poor air quality, but to also limit our emissions.

Limit trips

Plan ahead and avoid using vehicles to travel back and forth from locations, such as home or work, if multiple errands can be completed in a single trip.

Use public transport, walk or cycle.

If you are able to use any of these methods, they are preferable to driving, and with just a small amount of forward planning (checking timetables or allowing slightly longer to walk or cycle) they can be viable options. Avoid busy roads and take alternative routes to limit exposure.

Stop idling

If you need to travel by car, ensure that you are not idling (leaving the engine on whilst pulled over or in standstill traffic).

Keep cars serviced

Including tyres! Cars and tyres not regularly serviced will fall into states of repair with increasingly worse environmental impacts.

Avoid log burners, wood-fired stoves and fireplaces

While they can create a nice ambience, their emissions are extremely high.

If you do need to burn fuel check which fuels are approved

Select here to learn more.

Get your chimney swept regularly

And maintain and service your stove annually.

Avoid gas hobs

Switch to electric hobs if possible and, if not, try other methods of cooking.

Avoid scented products

This includes air fresheners for homes and cars, candles and cleaning products - look for ones with no fragrance, such as natural beeswax candles.

Dispose of garden waste through the local council’s disposal scheme

or consider composting and not burning. Find out more about bonfire rules here.

Clean regularly and ventilate adequately

Indoor air quality suffers greatly if there is not enough movement of fresh air, and this can cause mould and mildew which themselves pollute further.


Air Quality is a current and future issue that effects everyone and needs everyone's help to tackle it.

We need:

  • Conscientious policy making, clear communication on the issue from policymakers and scientists, and
  • Behaviour changes from individuals and companies.

These actions, along with ever-improving technology, are the building blocks to create a healthier and more sustainable West Midlands, UK and beyond.

You have nearly completed this module on how we can improve air quality and the benefits of clean air.

You should have a good understanding of:

  • How air quality planning, policies and strategies can help to inform and align thinking and objectives to improve air quality.
  • What is meant by adaptation and mitigation.
  • The role community engagement and communication can play to encourage air quality initiatives.

Thank you for taking the time to complete this course. We hope that you found it useful and your knowledge on air quality has improved.

Select here to complete a short feedback survey to help us continually improve the course.