You Heard It Here First: Fighting air pollution

October 4, 2019
5 min read

Mintel has been at the forefront of predicting the trends that matter most, calling them early and accurately, over the last 15 years. In our series, You Heard It Here First, we take a look at some of the predictions that we’ve made and where they are today.


While air pollution remains one of the most widely spread environmental health hazards across the globe, the growing amount of research and political attention focused on the issue means steps are being taken to reduce the problem. Back in 2010, Mintel launched its ‘Airpocalypse Now’ Trend, which tracked how people were increasingly recognising the dangers of air pollution and were looking for ways to protect themselves. Scientists, doctors and environmental specialists were raising awareness of the danger polluted air poses on health, linking it with memory and learning difficulties as well as depression, besides well-known cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. In 2012, the Environmental Performance Index ranked countries by level of air pollution. At the bottom of the list, India was pointed out as having five times the permissible benchmark for safety. Such alarming news grasped consumers’ attention.

Some brands replied straight away, using science to help consumers understand when the air around them was too dangerous. A great example was the “Detectair vest” that would flash LEDs and vibrate if users entered an area with poor air quality. Other brands acted on the physical space by focusing on infrastructures to neutralise air pollution: Alexandre Moronnoz created outdoor seating made from cement that can speed up the natural oxidation process of pollutants in the surrounding air, and the German city of Fulda installed paving slabs in its streets that reduced toxic nitrogen oxide in the air.

The Detectair vest
Alexandre Moronnoz’s benches

Fight to Breathe

Fast forward to 2019 and the focus is still on health. Meanwhile, new studies have also highlighted the negative impact of air pollution on skin and hair, which spurred an increase of launches of beauty products with anti-pollution claims and ingredients. Mintel has found that consumers worldwide are attentive to these warnings. A third of US consumers agree that outdoor pollution negatively impacts the appearance of their skin, while almost four in 10 Brazilian consumers would be interested in using hair care products that protect hair from pollution. Meanwhile, Mintel’s 2018 report on air care in the UK found that half of British consumers who have used air care products in the last year have used them to purify/clean their indoor air.

Sephora’s face mask is designed to act like a shield against outside pollutants, leaving skin well-protected and glowing.

Besides buying products, people are becoming true activists, getting together to fight against major sources of air pollution such as manufacturers’ activities and their transport. We have seen citizens in Wuhan (China) taking to the streets to protest against a planned incineration plant, while Edinburgh (Scotland) has joined the Open Streets movement to make the capital traffic-free once a month.

The original concern about health is driven by an environmental movement. This is a topic that the Mintel Trend ‘Hungry Planet’ is also exploring, which tracks how consumers are looking for ways to preserve the planet and lower their negative environmental impact. Brands have increasingly focused on transport to help tackle air pollution problems. We have seen a start-up in Egypt launch an app for electric scooter rentals, while in Indonesia the taxi operator Blue Bird has introduced its first electric vehicle taxi fleet.

Slyd electric scooters in Cairo

Besides removing pollutants, one of the simplest ways to reduce air pollution is by introducing more plants around us to balance the CO2 levels. Consumers know that vegetation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, increases oxygen, and helps eliminate toxins. People are introducing more indoor plants to improve the air quality of their homes, while cities are becoming greener, with the help from governments and brands.

A dystopic future

In a society so focused on wellbeing and sustainability, air pollution will remain a major concern in the years to come. There will be opportunities for brands to improve air quality within cities by introducing more green spaces, and rethinking infrastructure and modes of transport to minimise CO2 emissions. We are seeing the development of smart city projects, so we expect metropolises of the future to increasingly use data and technology to build more breathable cities. This might come in the shape of sensors and filters, or – in a dystopic scenario – we may even see cities rise under domes, or people walking around wearing special helmets or glasses fitted with air filtering features.

Bosch’s system to monitor air quality in smart cities

The concern might lead to citizens moving away from capitals to establish themselves in less urban areas, so there will be opportunities for brands to develop products and services to smooth the transfer and build infrastructures and transport in those places.

Consumers will start connecting the dots between pollution, CO2 emissions and climate change, especially after the recent 2019 summer heatwaves. Consumers will increasingly change their habits to be more eco-friendly and help preserve the planet. Sustainability will become mandatory for brands to be successful. Some consumers will start getting themselves ready for the worst to happen. This might even lead to social migration, such as more people moving to countries located in the extreme North and South of the globe to run away from increasing temperatures, so brands will have no choice but to follow the flows.

Julie Gable
Julie Gable

Julie Gable is a Trends Analyst covering the European region, publishing observations on Mintel Trends that discuss innovations, creative marketing campaigns and new product launches.

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