Star Tech: Meet the duo making clean air commercially viable for everyone

AirZones, co-founded by Britons Chris Leighton and Thomas Day, uses the latest air quality monitoring systems to analyse the quality of air



Thomas Day, (left) and Chris Leighton (right), founders of AirZones, enjoying a lighter moment with a friend. AirZones is the world’s first Indoor Air Quality Star Rating standard, the founders say. — Supplied photo
Thomas Day, (left) and Chris Leighton (right), founders of AirZones, enjoying a lighter moment with a friend. AirZones is the world’s first Indoor Air Quality Star Rating standard, the founders say. — Supplied photo
by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Thu 9 Dec 2021, 11:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 10 Dec 2021, 12:33 AM

Two Dubai residents have joined hands to come up with a state-of-the-art, technology-driven solution to the problem of poor indoor air quality.

The quality of the air we breathe affects our health, concentration and enjoyment of life. Air pollution kills over seven million people every year, and causes a number of diseases from asthma to cancer and heart disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and The United Nations (UN) say air pollution is the single largest cause of disease from the environment. More than 90 per cent of us are exposed to pollution levels above WHO air quality guidelines.

AirZones, co-founded by Britons Chris Leighton and Thomas Day, uses the latest air quality monitoring systems to analyse the quality of air and then, based on the outcome of analysing more than two million data points, tell you exactly what the quality of your air is, what are the sources of pollutants and how you can make simple changes to improve your air quality.

Leighton brings a wealth of business management and entrepreneurial experience to the company that he gained while leading multinationals and start-ups.

Day headed Norcos, an international manufacturer and supplier of construction products, and has held previous roles in construction and estate surveying.

Khaleej Times spoke to Leighton and Day on AirZones, the independent star rating standard for indoor air quality and its game-changing solution amid an intense debate on the global climate crisis.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

How is AirZones aligned with Dubai Masterplan to monitor air quality in the emirate?

Leighton: The key objectives of Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan include upgrading urban areas, developing healthy communities, providing a healthy environment to residents and visitors, enhancing human well-being and improving environmental sustainability.

With both the WHO and the UN stating air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to humanity, improving air quality plays a fundamental role in achieving all these targets.

AirZones goes beyond legislation though, by empowering each and every one of us to play our part in achieving these objectives.

Typically, we spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors and indoor air is typically more polluted than outdoor air, so it makes sense we look at ways to improve indoor air quality in order to provide healthy environments and enhance human wellbeing, the cornerstones of Dubai 2040 Master Plan. The first step towards achieving this is by understanding what’s in our air, where the pollutants came from (sources) and what we can do to reduce these. That’s exactly what we do at AirZones.

We use the latest technology to analyse indoor air quality. We then work with businesses to reduce the sources of pollutants, thus improving air quality. Finally, we visualise this improved air quality through our air quality star rating, so everyone can see which venues have clean, healthy air. At a time when the safety of a venue is the key influencer of where people choose to spend time, indoor air quality has never been so important.

By working together to better understand, then improve our indoor air quality, we can all make giant steps towards healthier communities and environments and towards enhancing human well-being. The exciting thing is we can start now, simple changes make a huge difference, way ahead of 2040.

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What’s the germinal thought behind the concept?

Day: Working in the property and real estate business we were frustrated by how slowly that the industry was adopting the new technology and solutions that are coming to market and making a real difference to air quality yet are commonly ignored.

It wasn’t until we were discussing where to meet for an evening meal with our children though that the solution dawned… Understanding the importance of clean air, we had no idea where to book a table in Dubai; which restaurants were healthy and which weren’t. We can see through the customer satisfaction rating, price, the menu and pictures of the place, but nothing about the health, cleanliness or air quality, yet we knew, if we could, it would significantly influence our buying decision.

We founded AirZones to tie these two together. If we can significantly influence customers’ buying behaviour, with a simple star rating for indoor air quality, then we drive traffic and spend. This in turn finally motivates the market to adjust and commercial premises are motivated and driven to invest in clean air technology… Ultimately, we unlock the market. We don’t sell the tech, we don’t sell the solutions, we drive the market and the spend, which in turn allows the money to be invested and for everyone to start breathing cleaner, healthier air.

How can commercial premises benefit from it?

Leighton: The obvious benefits are the health and wellbeing of employees, customers, and each and every one of us, ranging from decreasing the risk of illness and disease as well as increasing life expectancy. However, these reasons are hard to justify on the P&L, which is back to the reason we founded AirZones.

Improved air quality has been proven to increase employee productivity, decision making, strategic mindset, even influence the stock market and trader performance significantly, key areas of business performance. However, we’re still in the ‘nice to have’ area of most businesses in terms of tangible results, when good air quality should be a must have for one and all.

With AirZones our mission is to shift the general public, you, me, the consumers that ultimately drive the economy. With Covid-19 we have a unique opportunity as people are more cautious about their health than ever before and the cleanliness and safety of venues is deemed the most important factor in deciding where to visit. By being able to prove this through an independent indoor air quality star rating, businesses, restaurants, hotels, schools and even commercial residential units can attract more customers, spend and profit, which does add up on the P&L.

What's the revenue model and have you received any funding from angel investors or venture capitalists?

Day: We created AirZones to really make a difference to the quality of air all of us breathe across all the places we spend time, from offices, cafes and restaurants to hotels, gyms, spas and even schools. To do this, we need to ensure AirZones is available to everyone, so we only charge to cover our costs for the consultancy services of analysing the air, reporting the findings and helping improve air quality.

AirZones is truly independent; we’re not a government organisation, we don’t manufacture solutions such as air purifiers, filters or humidifiers and we don’t charge for all the ancillary benefits, such as marketing, PR exposure or even providing onsite training to school pupils, employees or customers. We want to communicate indoor air quality to as many people as possible and help everyone improve the air they and their families breathe. That’s the exciting win, truly making a difference to people’s lives.

To date we’ve had minor investment for seed funding as well as the generosity of friends and family combined with the founders’ investment. We’ve started the process of our Series-A funding and will conclude this through the first quarter of 2022 in a bid to truly scale the business. We’ve been fortunate enough to be approached by several investors already, however we’d love to talk with either local individuals or funds based in the UAE.

Why is air quality an elephant in the room in the Middle East?

Leighton: Air quality is the greatest environmental threat to humanity. The air we breathe affects every major organ in our body and causes more harm than smoking tobacco. It significantly impacts the entire human life cycle, from reproduction rates, fertility and foetal development to childhood and adult heart and lung disease, diabetes and dementia, liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Yet, what was the last action you took to specifically avoid breathing polluted air?

Think for a minute about how careful you are about what you drink, you would never drink ‘dirty’ water. Yet, the air we breathe, some 11,000 litres a day (that’s roughly 10,997 litres more than the volume of water we drink each day), is circulated through every major organ in our body within seconds of passing our lips – and we mostly ignore it!

It’s the invisible pollutants in the air that are responsible, the common airborne pollutants found every day in homes, restaurants, hotels, offices… in fact, everywhere we live, work and play in our built environment.

If we know what the causes of indoor pollution are, we can address them correctly. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just understood.

Explain how AirZones is like Trustpilot for indoor air quality.

AirZones is completely impartial, independent of manufacturers, sponsors, government bodies or investors with ulterior motives.  We simply rate, advise on improvements and report the indoor air quality, fact for fact, through our simple star rating standard.

Our aim is to create a directory of the healthiest venues in which to spend time, so as with other factors that report how friendly the staff a specific café was, how good the food in the restaurant was or how comfy the hotel bed is, we hope to soon be reporting how healthy venues are, with a simple star rating so everyone can understand…

How can air quality become a new competitive business differentiator?

Recent research by TripAdvisor found that venue cleanliness and safety is the number one factor when people are deciding where to visit and stay.

Now ask yourself, if you can choose where to go to eat, which hotel to sleep in and which school to send your children to, would it impact your decision to know that specific venues are independently proven to have clean, healthy air, compared to somewhere with dirtier or more polluted air?

AirZones is helping businesses achieve cleaner, safer air to attract more customers, however it also means less staff downtime, better concentration and better moods – overall a better atmosphere!

We believe air quality will become a new competitive business differentiator, then over time, becoming a prerequisite to any successful business.

Star tech is a weekly series, where we do a deep-dive into the world of start-ups every Friday while charting the success stories of some of UAE’s biggest changemakers. From top-of-the-line techpreneurs to disruptors-in-chief, the spotlight every week is on individuals who are taking the UAE’s innovation ecosystem by storm. Who will it be next?


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