AUDIO STORY | Senior editor at Contented, Felicia Jackson, outlines the US$3 trillion sustainable business opportunity.


What role can communications play in creating a better world?  In 2019, traditional media mobilised populations around the global environmental crisis with some powerful punches: a TV documentary brought home the devastating effect of plastics on species throughout the world’s oceans; and a newspaper directed its writers to describe environmental change in more emotive words.  Since then, four countries — UK, Ireland, Canada and France — have all declared climate emergencies. Sustainability is climbing steadily up the political and economic agenda.

The story of this project began when we were researching new markets for our engineering clients in Latin America.  When we asked about driverless transport, the answer came back: “people are choking to death from vehicle pollution – so reducing emissions is a far higher priority than freeing up the driver to check email.”

Business purpose can be defined as the reason, beyond profit, for businesses to trade, and it sets a compass for every time the company acts. Here at Contented, the purpose we’ve chosen is to create a better world through story.  We wondered, what if we helped companies to reframe their purpose by communicating different messages for customers, stakeholders and other people affected by economic behaviour?  Take for example, the companies in the value chain for low emissions vehicles.  What if they thought of the market as citizens blighted by polluted air. How might we shift businesses — traditionally seen as destroyers — to become a force for good? How might we create such thought-leadership?

Sources of pollution

As well as land, sea and air transport, pollution sources include construction, agriculture and even the natural sea. (Figure left, bottom, from Every Breath We Take, Royal College of Physicians, 2016). Trade shows illustrated are just for cars and trucks.

How dirty is your market?

Scroll down to the interactive map, type in your city or zoom in or out to explore the business opportunities in responding to the challenge of pollution.


Our Dashboard

Our dashboard aims to help businesses identify new markets for products and services that can make a difference in the world.  To start with, we’ve identified available data on air pollution and ‘clean’ investment (see box).  As an indicator of markets, we’ve looked at data on trade shows – starting with transport.  The Prosperity Fund identifies where the UK sees the greatest potential in developing economies. 

· Clean Investment Fund (CIF). Countries have committed some US$3 trillion to help meet the SDGs. The CIF was founded in 2008 to help fund clean growth via multilateral development banks. By mid-2019, the fund had distributed US$ 8 billion to promote projects helping lower emissions, increasing finance for low carbon development, renewable energy, low carbon public transport, and energy efficiency.

· Cross-Government Prosperity Fund.  This UK initiative earmarks £1.2 billion over six years to reduce poverty through inclusive development, and to create opportunities for international businesses. It targets energy, future cities, infrastructure and healthcare.

· Tradeshows. International expos and other major events including conferences and fairs, are important access points to markets.  We’ve aggregated data on business-to-business (B2B) tradeshows across the transport value chain, including auto and logistics. Air and sea will come in a later phase. We can provide our clients with detailed research and analysis at a country/sector level.

Click on the dashboards and explore your potential for the clean business opportunities

Bangkok: Energy & Drones

Bangkok is looking to technology for the solution for its air pollution problems. Thailand has set up a national strategy to move towards sustainable business. 

The ASEAN nations have been some of the most heavily polluted areas in Asia for years. Being located between the two largest nations on the planet, China and India, who are also the largest and 3rd largest polluters in the world.  

The people of the ASEAN nations have been clear in their desire for a greener economy, with a strong support for a ban on single-use plastic and stricter regulation on waste management. 

Bangkok’s local authorities have been innovating new ways to combat air pollution in the capital, using drones to spray parks with water and a “non-hazardous chemical spray” in order to reduce the levels of PM2.5 and dust found in the city. Thailand is not the only nation to be using drones to combat air pollution, with China using similar technology to reduce the amount of dust particulates in the cities. 

The move towards more sustainable cities in the ASEAN region presents an opportunity for businesses looking to move towards Southeast Asia, as the attitudes of the people and the government move towards sustainability. This change, which is being driven by the private sector, has been inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs have allowed companies to identify issues to focus their efforts on, it also allows said companies to clearly show to clients and investors their dedication to the SDGs. 

Thailand was a voluntary partner in the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and has set out 17 goals at the national level to support sustainable development. 

The Thai Government’s 20-Year National Strategy 2030, with the aid of the National Committee on Sustainable Development is working to invest more capital into the development of production and deployment of clean energy. The Strategy also includes the development of energy infrastructure to support the production of renewable energy. 

Bangkok’s strategy provides an opportunity for businesses looking to take the idea of low-emission supply chains into the ASEAN sphere, the Royal Government has made clear that it wishes to develop their energy sector into a centre of innovation for renewable energy, something that can be a powerful opportunity for British firms looking to Southeast Asia for international expansion. 

Bricks of Smog: Beijing’s Air Pollution Problem 

Holger Link on Unsplash

The people of Beijing have succeeded in convincing the government to take air pollution seriously, and a combination of SDGs and Confucian principles inspire the central government to take measures against the Beijing smog. 

Air pollution in Beijing has been hitting dangerous levels for years now, ranking as the 8th most polluted capital city in the world in 2018. The people of Beijing have had trouble making the government take the issue seriously and have been obliged to undertake some novel ways of demonstrating the levels of pollution, and the dangers it poses to the people living in China’s capital. 

Activist-artist Wang Renzheng, also known as Nut Brother, has been using a vacuum cleaner to portray the very real extent of Beijing’s pollution problem. Walking the streets of Beijing with his vacuum cleaner held high, Renzheng has collected a brick of dust and other pollutants from the air that over 20 million Beijing inhabitants are breathing.  

Despite assurances from the central government that “effective measures” had been taken to combat the blanket of pollution that has covered the city. The entire situation was omitted from Xi Jinping’s speech at the signing of the Paris Climate Accords. 

 In the time since Renzheng’s powerful statement, China has made large steps towards the sustainable development of Beijing. Very recently, several Chinese governmental agencies, NGOs and UN bodies have launched a project that will work in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Confucian philosophy to encourage the ideas of sustainable development in the nation, especially among the younger generation. Local NGO, China Soong Ching Ling Foundation also hopes the project will serve as a point of inspiration for the youth of other countries. They spoke of the hope that this push for sustainable development will promote global cooperation to address the UN SDGs. 

It is this move towards global cooperation in the development of sustainability that provides an opportunity for overseas firms. China has taken full advantage of the economic opportunities to be found in sustainable development, with private sector firms looking abroad, particularly to the rest of Asia, Africa and South America to invest in sustainable infrastructure projects. Major examples can be found in Pakistan’s Gwalior Port and Bogotá’s Metro, both of which will be at least part developed by Chinese firms. 

Bustling Bogotá: Colombia’s sustainable hub 

Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez has set out a strong agenda for the environment. In various television interviews he has affirmed his dedication to sustainable development of the country, and especially in the capital. Colombia is the fastest growing economy in the Western World and is currently negotiating its entry into the OECD. 

Bogotá is growing, and the local authorities are developing infrastructure to handle this growth. The city’s first metro line is currently under construction, a $4.5 billion project that is being funded by both local and national authorities. The bids come from a variety of international consortiums, containing companies from all over the world, including Siemens of Germany, Impregilo of Italy, and Carso and ICA of Mexico. 

The European Investment Bank has also pledged $480 million of financing to the project, as part of its “efforts to promote climate action, supporting the use of public transport helping to cut pollutant emissions.”

Colombia’s clear dedication towards the ideals of sustainable development presents various opportunities for European organisations, with Italians and German firms already making the most of the growing market. The influx of foreign capital has allowed Colombian business to expand in a way few can reproduce.  

Colombia has made it very clear to the world that it is open for business, and the international visits of its President and the efforts of its diplomats are doing their best to attract business to the country. 

The EU has also recently set out a new strategy for communication and collaboration with Latin America, which both sides will wish to take advantage of to improve links between the two markets. One of the EU’s major goals is to finalise the ratification of the EU-Colombia/Ecuador/Peru Trade Agreement, which will allow Europe to trade with said nations with very few barriers. Colombia is already one of the easiest places in the West to do business, and the ratification will only facilitate the process. 

The Colombian authorities are currently offering various incentives for businesses who create jobs in Colombia, and with the huge potential currently available, it is not difficult to see why companies are making moves towards Colombia. 

Birmingham on the move, a Bicycle Revolution and Sprint 

Birmingham City Council

A revolution is coming to the streets of Birmingham, but not quite in the way you may be imagining. The Birmingham Cycle Revolution is encouraging Brummies to ditch cars in favour of a clean alternative. The West Midlands Combined Authority is putting in place new cycle routes and cycle depots to allow locals to rent bicycles for short periods and travel within the city. Local residents seem to be strongly behind the plan, with bicycle clubs being set up around the expansion by the authorities.  

The expansion of zero-carbon methods of transport represents a new step in the development of the Greater Birmingham Area, with the WMCA putting sustainable development at the forefront of their strategy. In a city that has struggled with congestion and the transition from cars to public transport, the Cycle Revolution will represent the importance that low-carbon transport holds for the West Midlands Combined Authority. 

Amey has invested £5.4 million in the development of a path connecting the University of Birmingham and the City Centre, affirming the intention of a low-carbon network in the area. 

The West Midlands will also soon see the development of Sprint Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services. Sprint will be a hybrid of a tram and a bus, with the speed and atmosphere of a tram, with the low cost and flexibility of a bus. Sprint allows for a new wave of commuters to enter the Birmingham market, creating a large amount of potential for local businesses to take advantage of. This all comes at the same time as the WMCA once again shows its dedication towards their goal of a carbon-neutral Birmingham. 

The administration of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, alongside the West Midlands Combined Authority, have time and again shown their plan for a low-emission network of transport and business in the West Midlands, with Birmingham being the jewel in the crown. 

Life in Leeds: A little-known crisis 

Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, Leeds, a city of just under half a million people, has a larger percentage of deaths linked to transport related air pollution than Shanghai and New Delhi. This study took into account data collected between the years of 2010 and 2015, and was designed to examine the effect of polluting particulates on public health. 

A shocking 34.7% of deaths were attributable to air pollution stemming from transportation, this includes shipping and rail, not just motor traffic. 

This statistic may come as a fright to some, as the major focus of the fight against air pollution tends to look outside of Europe for its most serious offenders, usually to be found in Africa or Asia, particularly rapidly developing and heavily populated economies like India and China. This study is a serious reminder that there are still serious issues to be resolved within the developed world. 

Leeds Climate Commission has been proactive in its efforts to resolve this serious issue, presenting a report that outlines the changes that need to be made to make sure that Leeds meets its target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This includes suggestions for better efficiency in various sectors, and a call for support from both public and private sectors.

One must not make the error of thinking that the people of Leeds have been doing nothing to combat this, there has been a plan in place to reduce emissions. However, it has been shown that the previous plan is inadequate for the city. Campaigners have also been working hard in recent times to make the local authorities take the pollution levels in the city seriously, but to little avail. The city has decided to implement a Class B Clean Air Zone over around half of the city centre from 2020, this will be to try to quickly, and drastically, reduce the emissions being produced in the central areas of the city. 

The future does look hopeful for Leeds, as with the implementation of the Clean Air Zone reducing emissions, and the number of vehicles diminishes, Loiners will have to look towards public transport to get around within their city, and the wider West Yorkshire area. 

West Yorkshire Metro reserves a certain amount of funding to support sustainable infrastructure development, the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The Fund hopes to support bids that look towards developing existing infrastructure in a sustainable manner, but also to develop new links across the Yorkshire Dales which will be sustainable from the very start. 

“A Great British Win”, Guildford Buses in Mexico City 


London’s iconic red bus will now be a familiar sight to millions more people. Theresa May has lauded the £44 m deal for Alexander Dennis to supply low-emission buses to Mexico City. We will now be able to travel to the capital of Mexico and see the iconic red bus driving its streets. Dennis’ Enviro500, which can hold 130 passengers, will form part of the Metrobús network on the city streets.  

Back in 1992, Mexico City was the most polluted city in the world, throughout the following years there has been a concerted effort to improve the situation. $450 million was invested in sustainable transport, including the Metrobús programme that Alexander Dennis is part of. In May 2018, the Mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera, ratified the Chicago Climate Charter, becoming part of a network of cities and mayors who have pledged to continue to move their infrastructure towards a low-emission model. 

The Mexico City authorities are working with both internal and external organisations to redevelop their city’s transport network. Mexican firms like SinTráfico are working alongside Surrey based Alexander Dennis to make Mexico City’s infrastructure as efficient and sustainable as possible. 

Alexander Dennis is no newcomer in the market of low-carbon transport, having been founded in 1895, and launching their Enviro line of buses in 2006. The Enviro500 is just the latest in their products to be exported from their base in Surrey. The first Alexander Dennis buses to be taken to the Americas came in the 2000s, taking open-top buses to be used for sightseeing tours in major cities such as New York. 

This export deal was supported by UK Export Finance, part of the Department for International Trade, who specialise in export deals for UK based companies. Their support of Alexander Dennis of the Enviro500 shows the potential to be uncovered in bringing low-emission supply chains to the Americas.  

New York: A Ban on Big Buildings 

Mike C. Valdivia on Unsplash

New York is looking to limit skyscrapers, in order to cut emissions by 30% before 2030. 

As the rest of the US debates the Green New Deal, proposed by Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the Empire City is looking for other ways to limit its polluting output. 

report by the City of New York published in 2017 found that buildings accounted for 67% of emissions produced. This is due to various reasons, including heating, cooling and lighting. The same buildings tend to be very inefficient, leaking heat during cold periods and letting heat in during warm periods. While the new regulations will come at some cost to building owners, New York mayor Bill de Blasio is confident that the costs will be recouped through much lower operation costs. With the city undertaking over $23 b in real estate transactions annually, and number of building permits increasing by 44% since 2014, the new regulations will have a profound effect on the development of the city. 

New York joins Mexico City and others as a signatory to the Chicago Climate Charter, with First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris ratifying the charter on behalf of de Blasio’s administration. The OneNYC 2050 plan set out by de Blasio has set out, in 9 volumes, the mayor’s vision for New York’s sustainable development.  

His goals for the city include a 25% of vehicles being electric by 2025, an expansion of the bike network to where 90% of New Yorkers live within a ¼ mile of the network, and to be carbon neutral by 2050, among other objectives. The goals are in part inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, like many other prominent cities looking to improve their sustainability. 

The opportunities lie mostly in the sectors of construction and infrastructure. One of the main goals set out in the OneNYC strategy is the expansion of low-emission public transport, making the cycle network more accessible to New Yorkers, and reducing the emissions output of the bus network. Bill de Blasio is setting New York up to be a sustainable hub on the US’ Eastern Seaboard. 

Production Credits

The Sustainability Dashboard was produced with the support of Warwick University, and financing from Santander and Contented Ltd, as part of the ontente programme.  None of them take responsibility for any use of the information.

Reporting & Production Team: Susana Gonzalez, Gabriele Stravinskaite, Fanni Fabini, Param Barodia, Teresa Jolley, Jaemes Gregory, Matt Johnson, Gerard Davies