BetterPoints to help Italian city tackle a global killer: air pollution

Sara Sanderson - 20 febbraio 2017

Air pollution is now known to be one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world. The damaging effects globally equate to nearly 7 million deaths a year – mostly in urban areas. With indoor air pollution responsible for approximately half of those deaths.

In 2012, Italy had the most pollution-related deaths in Europe, reported the BBC in 2015. "Over 84,000 people in the country died prematurely owing to bad air quality".

An investigation by the Guardian found that, in London alone, air pollution causes up to 9,000 early deaths per year, and asks the question “Why isn't more being done?”.

The Chairman of the environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) select committee, MP Neil Parish classes air pollution as a ‘public health emergency’. “Poor air quality is damaging the UK’s environment and harming the nation’s health: emissions have declined significantly over many decades, but not far enough to prevent the early deaths of 40-50,000 people each year.”

Tackling air pollution will not be solved by government regulations alone, and UK MPs cited evidence from the Institute for Air Quality Management, “if councils were able to solve air quality problems using existing powers.... they would have done so already”.

At BetterPoints we encourage, inspire and motivate individuals to take responsibility for their health, wellbeing and their community, including the environment. Behaviour change in the way we travel is one area where people can make a difference to air pollution. This year we will be bringing our experience in designing and delivering sustainable travel programmes to two cities as part of the European-funded EMPOWER project.

The EMPOWER project will be researching, and delivering activities to substantially reduce the use of conventionally fuelled vehicles (CFV) in cities, with recognition that a step change in driver behaviour is needed to improve urban traffic flows, increase air quality and reduce CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 programme, the EMPOWER project combines empirical research with practical implementation in four places described as Living Lab Cities, and seven Take-Up Cities and Communities. One such city is the beautiful and historic city of Bologna in Northern Italy.

“Many cities are recognising that there is a growing innovation in the measures that they can encourage and support sustainable transport choice.” Frances Hodgson, Senior Research Fellow, University of Leeds

Adopting a ‘reward rather than punishment’ approach, EMPOWER will explore the use of positive incentives delivered through smart phone technologies and the web to persuade people to make modest shifts in their transport choices.

The soon-to-launch Take Up City, Bologna will implement a behavioural change campaign based on gamification and incentive schemes. Individuals will be able to download and use the BetterPoints app to earn rewards for changing their travel behaviour to more sustainable travel options such as public transport, shifting from peak travel to off peak, and cycling, to name a few.

We are confident about the project's success based on what we have already achieved through sustainable travel programmes in Reading where we saw:

  • Over 80% motivated to travel less often by car after joining the BetterPoints programme
  • 43% of respondents said that they increased their frequency of bus rides after using the BetterPoints app - slightly (26%), significantly (17%)
  • 77% of respondents said that they increased their frequency of walks - slightly (42%), significantly (35%).

We very much welcome the thorough research and evaluation that will be conducted throughout the EMPOWER project for the future development of business models and programmes to tackle some of the worlds biggest public health issues.


Image: Greetings from the smog by Spazillimiti in Bologna; licence CC-BY 2.0.