Profile - Poppy Szkiler

Poppy Szkiler has been championing efforts to push organisations to adopt more aurally healthy design solutions

Words by Emily Martin

POPPY SZKILER is the CEO and founder of Quiet Mark, the global certification programme public health campaign to highlight the negative impacts excessive noise has on both emotional and physical health. Since its launch ten years ago, Quiet Mark has provided expert third-party acoustic testing of consumer and building sector products with a certification service and free online guide to help consumers and specifiers easily find verified low-noise high-performance products and acoustic solutions to unwanted noise.

‘I came to the campaign very late, when I was 35. Prior to that I was on a very different track,’ says Szkiler. ‘I was in the film industry working as a film and TV actress, but I have brought many ways of working to the table and [it wasn’t until] my mother inherited the family charity from my grandfather [that I got involved].’

In Pursuit of Silence, directed by Patrick ShenIn Pursuit of Silence, directed by Patrick Shen

Szkiler is the granddaughter of John Connell OBE who lobbied the Noise Pollution Act through Parliament founding the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) in 1959. Connell believed that being exposed to excessive noise profoundly affected health, children’s learning, productivity and general quality of life – he called noise ‘the forgotten pollutant’. His practical problem-solving included introducing rubber dustbin lids and plastic milk crates to reduce urban disturbance, stopping night flights and, in the early ‘70s, he commissioned detailed planning for a revolutionary Thames Estuary Airport directing flight paths out to sea.

After the inheritance of NAS, the family were finding it difficult to raise the money to campaign for its public health issues. ‘Noise is invisible, and we haven’t got cute animals to pull heart strings!’, explains Szkiler. ‘In order for people to give money it needs a very robust plan, so we sat down and had a good think and said “why don’t we certify an award to industry or manufacturers who are really going the extra mile [and] who are creating innovative acoustic solutions and champion them?”.’

Some Quiet Mark certified products, including: Silent Gliss interior window treatments; Some Quiet Mark certified products, including: Silent Gliss interior window treatments; 

The company conducts expert acoustic testing and verification of products with its Quiet Mark accreditation and is driving change in manufacturing worldwide. Szkiler embraces the campaign, which she talks about with inherent passion. The damaging effect of excessive noise on health, productivity and social cohesion is seriously underestimated.

World Health Organisation research shows that environmental noise pollution affects mental and physical health and is now second only to air pollution as the world’s largest killer pollutant. Across an estimated population of 340 million people, at least one million years of healthy living are lost each year due to noise pollution in Western Europe.

Some Quiet Mark certified products, including NOX Soundprotec Ecolay; Some Quiet Mark certified products, including NOX Soundprotec Ecolay; 

Hitting an area that had never been touched before, but was hugely needed, Quiet Mark has been running to fill the knowledge gap and provide practical solutions on a global level. ‘What we mostly do is passion beyond reason,’ says Szkiler. ‘It is truly about providing solutions for people who are suffering with a pollutant. You know, noise is a pollutant…if we were to see noise pollution with our eyes it would be mounds of rubbish and piles of disharmony which affects every part of our body.’

Szkiler started Quiet Mark with this licensing model. Being a confident person to speak in public and on film, she was able to utilise these traits for the new business. ‘But also, being able to market something which was very complex; the science of sound is very complex and…there was a gap to equip and empower consumers, trade buyers, specifiers and Quiet Mark started to become the dialogue and marketing bridge between the complex science and people who jolly well needed the solutions,’ she adds.

Associated with NAS, Quiet Mark seeks to accelerate change to protect future generations from a worsening aural environment by disseminating new methods of sound management, running an awareness programme for schools, incentivising industry to design low-noise technology and providing the only national helpline dedicated solely to the problems of noise.

‘Our heart really is to serve the public, because of the association with the charity,’ Szkiler says. ‘We are, cut in half, through and through, campaigners, and we want to help humans have a better life. Whether that’s an interior designer, designing for a high-end residential complex or a mother with two children at home with noisy appliances and hasn’t got time to [research] her next careful purchase. We do all of the work to equip, empower and enable any buyer, to have at their fingertips, the very best solutions to make life better.’

In February 2020 Quiet Mark launched its Acoustics Academy to include third-party verification of specialist acoustic materials for the building sector. This includes walls, floors, ceilings, doors and windows. This brand-new online platform further equips and empowers architects, builders and designers with a guide to expertly verified leading acoustic solutions for every building application area. For an architect, this could mean cutting out an acoustic specialist and saving on project costs.

Some Quiet Mark certified products, including Silent Dual 100 extractor fanSome Quiet Mark certified products, including Silent Dual 100 extractor fan

But when is noise a problem? And at what point does sound become unwanted noise? Szkiler and her team set out to answer this question and others with In Pursuit of Silence.

This low-budget feature film, located across 13 countries, explores and investigates when noise becomes a nuisance. ‘It concludes there is no such thing as silence. Noise and sound are personal…some people are more susceptive to noise than others,’ she explains.

And while our tolerance to noise varies, the noise around us increases with the rise and demand of technology and our pace of life. So among the chat in the office, the bleeps and beeps that cut through this, and maybe the noise of traffic from the city outside adding to the noise levels, subliminally you will want peace, quiet and less intrusion. ‘It has a direct impact on the heart and cortisole levels. So when we understand – whoever you are and how sentitive to noise you are or not – how sound impacts your physical being you start thinking, “oh my goodness, I better start designing acoustics first!”’

Some Quiet Mark certified products, including the Daikin Altherma 3 H HT heat pumpSome Quiet Mark certified products, including the Daikin Altherma 3 H HT heat pump

The campaign continues to gain prominence and recognition with the launch of The Quiet Mark Podcast, which is one of the top 10 per cent most popular shows out of 2.4m podcasts globally, ranked by Listen Score. Hosted by Simon Gosling, CMO at Quiet Mark, this series uniquely explores the vital role acoustics will play in the future of global living, building and product design sharing conversations with thought-leading designers, architects, and sound experts.

With the initiatives’ like this and others, and partnering with more brands and products, Quiet Mark will continue its campaign. Szkiler says: ‘It does often take several decades to route this [message] into people’s consciousness that noise is depleting, and it is harming people’s health. I want [Quiet Mark] to be very much at the point of sale to help people decide for their health – whether global consumers or trade buyers – in all sectors and products. Noise is everywhere, so we have this unique position as no one has been crazy enough to start ensuring the noise of every machine! We will keep being a trusted place to source anything to do with sound and acoustics.’

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