Health effects of air pollution

How to talk about wood burning

24 September 2023
5 min read

Communicating clearly about the connection between wood burning and air pollution could improve public health. That’s why we’re publishing research for councils and campaigners about the most effective ways to talk about wood burning.


Air pollution from burning wood harms people’s health. 

Despite this, between 2021 and 2022 sales of wood burning stoves increased by more than 40% while emissions from wood burning have doubled in the last decade 

In cities such as London, domestic combustion – including the burning of wood in people’s homes – is now the primary source of fine particulate matter.  

In this article, you’ll find… 

  • a toolkit summarising research about how to talk about wood burning, created by Global Action Plan, who worked with a creative agency, Dog Cat & Mouse  
  • and market research by behavioural experts Kantar into people’s attitudes toward wood burning and the most effective ways to communicate about wood burning. The report details Kantar’s findings and has informed the guidance in the toolkit. 

Whose health is affected and how?

Fine particulate matter (which is also known as PM2.5) is toxic and long term exposure to it increases a person’s risk of dying from cancer by over 20%.

Burning wood affects not only the health of those who choose to burn it but also pollutes the air in their neighbourhoods. 

Considering air pollution contributes to up to 43,000 deaths in the UK – up to 4,000 of those in London – it’s clear that reducing wood burning, particularly in urban areas where most people don’t need to burn wood, is an urgent public health issue. 

Who burns wood?

Kantar’s research found that most people who burn wood in London are in higher income groups and burn wood to create a “homely feel”. Only 8% of people who burn wood do so out of necessity.   

Meanwhile, those most affected by air pollution in urban areas such as London live in areas of deprivation, are from Black and other minoritised communities, or are more susceptible to the health effects of poor air quality. That latter group includes children, older people, and people with health conditions.  

Who is the toolkit for?

Our toolkit is for local authorities, campaigners and anyone who want to raise awareness of the health effects of air pollution and, ultimately, prevent wood burning in urban areas. 

We believe that greater awareness will lead to further action to reduce wood burning. That could include warnings at point of sale for burners or banning burning during high air pollution alerts.

Download the toolkit

Download the toolkit and make use of its recommendations in your own communications or campaigns.

Toolkit (2.81 MB)

Learning how to talk about wood burning

Kantar’s Behaviour Practice team specialise in understanding behaviour. They have conducted in-depth research analysing wood burning market trends for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  

We supported Kantar to build on that work to understand more about how and why people burn wood. We wanted to: 

  • Deepen our understanding of associations people have about burning wood. 
  • Learn how to communicate in a way that starts productive conversations about the health effects of wood burning. We wanted to know about the most effective messages, tone, images, and channels to use. 

What did we find?

Kantar’s full research report is available to read online.

The following is a summary of their recommendations: 


  • Communications should focus first on creating a strong link between wood burning and air pollution. One way to do this is using comparisons to other sources that are already associated with air pollution, like traffic. 
  • Messages should stress the significant contribution of wood burning to air pollution, which causes ill-health, rather than making ill-health the central focus of messaging. 

Timing, tone, and messengers

  • It’s particularly useful to inform people of the health effects of wood burning in late summer or early autumn, when people are considering buying a wood burner.  
  • Partnering with organisations that focus on public health helps to boost the credibility of messages. 


  • Communications should focus on urban areas. 
  • Communications should also prioritise non-burners, especially those who are considering becoming wood burners, to maximise the behavioural and social effect of messages. 

How do we know this approach works?

We supported Global Action Plan and Kantar to work with a creative agency, Dog Cat & Mouse, to put this market research into practice with a public-facing awareness campaign.  

That campaign aimed to discourage non-burners from buying wood burners, and to encourage current wood burners to burn less.  

Campaign content was showcased on the social media platform, Nextdoor, an app where neighbours can speak to one another, as well as via Google Ads and on Mumsnet. The campaign content featured an option for people to learn more at Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Hub. 

The Google Ads campaign aimed to subvert the lifestyle associated with wood burning by undermining the aspirational status of owning a wood burning stove.

Image shows a fake ad with a wood burning stove that is wrapped in yellow 'Danger' tape. The ad contains text reading: Pollute your home with a wood burner. Levels of pollution are three times higher in homes using wood burning stoves. Be enlightened. Don't light them.

Adverts on Nextdoor were aimed at shifting attitudes toward air pollution and disrupting the positive associations between wood burning and “cosiness”.

Effective communications

Following the campaign, 33% of people surveyed said they would burn less or stop burning wood altogether. The campaign was successful in starting conversations about burning wood: Mentions of wood burning on Nextdoor increased by over 500% in comparison to the previous year.

And more people learnt about the health effects of wood burning, with visitors to the Clean Air Hub increasing by over 700% compared to the previous year.

What’s next?

The market research and lessons learnt from this work should help to guide local authorities and campaigners who want to have productive conversations about the health effects of wood burning.

We want to reduce people’s exposure to harmful air pollution in cities like London. Given it is the major source of one of the most harmful pollutants, we’re doing more work to explore how to reduce wood burning in urban areas.

Rachel Pidgeon

Want to find out more?

If you’d like to learn more, please contact Rachel Pidgeon, Portfolio Manager.

Contact Rachel