A woman in glasses wearing a multicolour scarf, with trees in the background.

Nanette about the air we share

Late nights or really early mornings Nanette opens the windows to let the Copenhagen air into the apartment – before the morning traffic begins. She doesn’t drive a car anymore, but there are things she wishes she did better. Meet Nanette Weisdal, who went from finance and architecture to work for cleaner air.

Of all the places where Nanette has lived or visits there is one place where she can actually see the air pollution – New Delhi in India.

“You can see the smog in New Delhi. When I lived in Karachi in Pakistan I thought it was ok because the wind was coming in from the sea. But it is really one of the worst places when it comes to polluted air. You just don’t see it,” says Nanette.

She grew up in Denmark, studied finance, architecture and furniture design. She worked with IT in the US when the dotcom bubble burst right after the turn of the century. That got her thinking about the future.

“I realised I wanted to go back to furniture. The values and the work for the many people got me interested in IKEA.”

Now she is leading the work with sustainability development within the IKEA product range, but her interest for sustainability started way back – in the kitchen.

The biggest issue with air is that you don’t see it. When we are inside our home we believe it is safe, because home means safe.

Her first job at IKEA was in the Kitchen department in the Copenhagen store thirteen years ago, and she was immediately engaged in how to use less tap water. A couple of years later, working with textiles, one of the things she focused on was to take care of water in the area where cotton is grown and textile is produced. Lately, she has been working with clean air.

“The biggest issue with air is that you don’t see it. When we are inside our home we believe it is safe, because home means safe. Air pollution can be even worse inside because of the outdoor pollution that enters when we air our homes and causes mold, but also pollution from indoor fireplaces. It can also be polluted by emissions from furniture and the house itself.”

Compared to Karachi and New Delhi, she really thought the air in Copenhagen was ok. The app she checks every day says otherwise.

“When you have lived in places where the air is really bad, you follow the outdoor pollution carefully. In Copenhagen it’s sometimes bad, depending on where in the city you are and the weather.”

Nanette always checks the air quality before she opens a window. As an individual, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless by such a huge problem. But in fact, there are many small changes that everyone can make, which can have real impact on air quality.

“Just to turn off electrical devices when they’re not being used can contribute to better air quality since this switch will save energy in the long run”, says Nanette.

A woman in a green coat walking on a trail next to a small road, with trees and lamp-posts in the background.
For Nanette, enabling a sustainable future is the aim in everything she does.

Anything you wish you could do better?

“Plastic packaging for sure! That is my biggest challenge and I know I could change. When I get home after a long day of work and commuting I don’t feel like cooking. Instead we buy a lot of premade food. In Copenhagen, there are many good and heathy options, but it creates a lot of packaging waste.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk. Approximately 3 million people per year are killed prematurely from outdoor air pollution. Indoor pollution causes about a further 4.3 million deaths due to heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer.

There are many small changes everyone can make which can have real impact on air quality. We asked Nanette to give us three things most of us could do, starting today:

• Drive as little as possible. Cars are one of the biggest issues.

• Generally, you should save energy. If you live in a country where energy comes from coal, like Poland, it is about saving as much energy as possible.

• Air your home when the outdoor pollution is the lowest.

Six facts about Nanette

Reading right now: “Nu og her” by Paul Auster & J.M.Coetzee

Favourite podcast: “Det vi taler om”

Things I do when not working: Walk my dogs, seeing friends.

Places I love to visit: Riad Mena & Beyond in Marrakech

Bike, car, train, plane or shanks’ pony: Bike