Which Are the Most Polluting Industries?

According to a 2017 study, over two-thirds (71%) of global greenhouse gas emissions were caused by just 100 companies. But which industries do they operate in? Of course, air pollution is just one form of contamination, making it difficult to definitively list the most damaging industries worldwide. However, here are a rundown of some of the worst offenders when it comes to polluting our environment and contributing to climate change.


It’s no surprise that the energy industry tops the list for most polluting sectors. The development of the human race has relied heavily on the combustion of fossil fuels for the last two centuries, but that progress has come with a price. Oil, gas and especially coal emit exorbitant amounts of carbon into our atmosphere, exacerbating global warming and contaminating the air we breathe. Processing, refining and combusting them also causes water, soil and noise pollution.


Not only does agriculture consume a disproportionate amount of natural resources – as much as 70% of freshwater on the planet goes towards the sector – but it results in outsized emissions, too. Up to 18% of our greenhouse gases are produced by farming, with two-thirds of that figure accounted for by the methane and nitrous oxides which emanate from livestock. Meanwhile, deforestation and land clearing practices to make way for pastures and fields also hurt the planet in another way.


Of course, not all clothing is environmentally unfriendly, but the widespread practices of fast fashion certainly are. This term refers to the disposable culture favoured in many western countries, where cheap garments are discarded in favour of new ones despite having much life left in them. Made from poor quality materials, these items of clothing often contain microplastics which, despite sophisticated new techniques for tackling their spread, remain a significant blight on the industry’s environmental profile.


Cumulatively, road, rail, air and sea travel make up almost a quarter of CO2 emissions around the world. The first of these factors is the most polluting, despite the fact that trains, planes and cruise liners all emit more carbon than a single car. But given that 87% of the adult UK populace own a private vehicle, each of which is responsible for spitting out some 4.6 metric tonnes of CO2 on an annual basis, it’s not difficult to see why driving is such a big problem.


Did you know that the construction industry consumes a whopping 50% of all natural resources on Earth? As well as accounting for 25% of timber felling and 16.5% of water extraction, it also produces 50% of landfill wastes and 25% of all global waste. Moreover, it’s a big contributor to air, water and noise pollution. The urban dwellers among us may have gotten used to it as a part of everyday life, but there’s no denying the massive role that construction plays in contamination.