Innovative billboards filter air and raise awareness around urban pollution

Given that more than two-thirds of the world's population will likely live in urban areas by 2050, rising air pollution in cities is becoming harder to ignore. To raise awareness around the direness of the issue, brands are creating non-traditional marketing solutions using a highly traditional medium: billboards.


To promote its hydrogen-fueled vehicle, the Mirai, Toyota launched an eco-billboard campaign in coordination with Clear Channel Outdoor Americas. Thirty-seven billboards in LA and SF created 24,960 square feet of pollution-scrubbing surface, clearing the air around them and reversing the equivalent of 440 vehicles worth of nitrogen dioxide emissions (a key ingredient in acid rain and smog) per month. The “catalytic converter” of billboards used a titanium dioxide coated vinyl to purify the surrounding air. When oxygen reacted with the energized titanium dioxide catalyst, nitrogen dioxide was converted to nitrate and removed from the air.


Taking a passive-aggressive approach to air quality awareness, Swedish pharmacy Apoteket Hjärtat and agency Åkestam Holst created a billboard that “coughed” at nearby smokers. Using outdoor smoke detectors, the digital billboard identified when people in the vicinity were smoking and responded by sending a man, who was displayed on the billboard's screen like a seemingly traditional ad, into a hacking fit. It then presented a series of nicotine patches and other products available at the pharmacy to help people kick the habit.


Italian outdoor media company Urban Vision developed a system called Ad/Sorbent that's helping to reduce air pollution in Rome, Milan, and London by wrapping billboards in a special material called “The Breath.” The material uses a series of nano-molecules and the local atmosphere’s natural air flow to remove harmful pollutants such as nitrous oxides, sulphur oxides, and particulates. By installing 250 square meters of the material over a one year period, The Breath’s inventors claim its impact on the environment is the equivalent of removing pollution from more than 750,000 unleaded vehicles and 300,000 diesel cars.