See What You Breathe – Fighting Air Pollution in Poland

December 5, 2019

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Will showing people what they breathe make them think about air pollution?  At Purpose, in order to cut through the noise and create large-scale social impact campaigns, we are always looking for innovative ways to communicate the world’s biggest issues and drive participation.

This time, our work brought us to Poland to communicate the effects of climate change and air pollution on our health and lungs. Working with Purpose Climate Lab, Polish Smog Alert worked to create an installation of large lungs that would mimic the effects of air pollution inside the human body. 

The lungs were created with an air filter that behaves similarly to human lungs, and also has a fan that makes them appear to be breathing like lungs.  The installation will be presented in different locations in Poland – smaller cities and in Warsaw – in smog season.

The first installation was on Clean Air Day on November 14th in the Market Square  Oświęcim, where it received a lot of national and local media coverage, like here and here.  After just 5 days we were able to see how lungs changed their color and became grey. This is how the lungs looked after two weeks: 

Image of two large billboard with lungs on them, one has an image of white lungs, and one is of black lungs, for an air pollution campaign

“Air and impurities contained in it are invisible. We want to show that the air we breathe during the winter season is filled with fine, harmful dust that settles in our bodies,” says Magdalena Kozłowska from the Polish Smog Alert.  “Our installation presents a lung model made of white, permeable matter through which air is pumped.  Dust particles will settle in the lungs and change their color within 14 days of the happening. In addition, we placed a sensor on the billboard that displays the current concentration of PM10 in a given hour.”

Polish Smog Alert‘s campaign “See what you breathe. Change it” aims to draw attention to the dramatic air quality caused by the burning of coal and wood in households. Despite the applicable anti-smog resolutions, the exchange rate of in-home furnaces in Poland is not happening quickly.

You can see a video of the lungs getting darker below: 

Along with the lungs displays, the campaign also has an awareness raising and media campaign, which aims to have households to take up the subsidy and switch their home heating source from coal. 

The installation was duplicated from another campaign the Purpose Climate Lab team worked on in Delhi, India, called Help Delhi Breathe:

The lung installation was originally conceptualised by Jhatkaa.org, a campaigning and public mobilisation organisation, and Think Happy Everyday, a design and communications agency in Bangalore.

Stay tuned for more actions from this campaign, including the final installation in Warsaw in February. You can learn more from Smog Alert and SmogLab on Facebook. 


Natalia Węgrzyn Campaign Manager, Purpose Climate Lab