Sara Alsén is convinced businesses can do well by doing good. She is at the forefront of ambitious plans to give clean air to 50 million people while halving the energy use of Blueair products and ensuring a 50/50 gender balance in top management.
Sara Alsén takes a light bulb out of her desk drawer, one of those oldfashioned ones with a filament, and turns it slowly between her fingers. “Here’s a good example that shows change is possible. When, a few years ago, governments banned incandescent light bulbs to reduce the energy use of lighting, business quickly responded with energy efficient LED lights,” says Alsén, Global Sustainable Business & Communications Director at Blueair.
It proved an effective move. In the EU alone, carbon emissions have gone down by 15 million tons a year. “That gives me hope. Now we simply must reach similar agreements about air quality because it is the most pressing health issue the world is facing at the moment,” she says. In February, Alsén was invited to the UN’s headquarters in New York for the inaugural United Nations Global Medical Health & Environment Forum. “One of the things I talked about was the need for a Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] on clean air, just like there are SDGs for clean water and clean energy. This would spur cross-sector action, investment, research and new technologies. I also called for international standards on indoor air quality. Few people realize that indoor air is on average five times more polluted than outdoor air. Governments have so far focused on outdoor air pollution. This must change.”
In the same way that Elon Musk wants to liberate the world from petrol and diesel engines, Blueair is driven by its founder Bengt Rittri’s vision of a world with clean air for everyone. “We have a clear purpose that goes beyond selling products and services,” Alsén says. Sustainability is deeply embedded in the Blueair business model. That is what makes Blueair unique. “In addition to investing in R&D to develop innovative air purification solutions that improve the health and well-being of people everywhere, we’re devoting time and resources to increase awareness of the positive health benefits of breathing clean air. Our target is to reach 50 million people over the next three years.
“And through our CSR programme Clean Air for Children we’re helping the most vulnerable in society. Last year we provided clean air to schools and nurseries in China, Korea, India and the US. This is important because children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution as their lungs are still developing – and they are more active physically. “Our approach to sustainability is so much more than just hitting environmental targets. The Blueair Sustainable Living Plan has ambitious goals to reduce our environmental footprint by halving the energy use of our products over the next three years, cutting back on employee travel, shipping, and waste. But we also want to drive societal change, so having as many women as men in leadership positions is just as important.”
What are your hopes for the future? “Our vision is for a world where everyone can breathe clean air. Blueair is ready to take the lead, and if governments, business, academia and civil society join us, I am convinced that we can achieve our goal. We did it with light bulbs. We must be able to do it with air as well.”