Back in the UK, Quiet Mark’s initiatives have been welcomed by some UK politicians, while it has also received support from a cast of companies that have pledged to build quieter products. That includes the car maker Lexus, which underscored its commitment in 2011 when it launched its “Shhhh” television advertisement for the CT200h compact hybrid, featuring pop singer Kylie Minogue. “Quietness is at the heart of our engineering philosophy," says a Lexus spokesperson, who backs up the claim by revealing how its engineers listen to its cars’ engines “through a stethoscope” to ensure that noise is at an optimum level. “Quietness appears to be an appealing feature to today's car buyer,” they add.
But Jamie Weaden, industrial design leader at the home appliance maker Kenwood, says it is not just premium products, like cars, where consumers are demanding more. "Historically the noise of products wasn't as high on the agenda when it came to design of small domestic appliances,” he says. “But modern consumers, including myself, now rightly demand products with lower and better noise quality without this requirement being reflected adversely in price."
It would be tempting to think reducing noise is just a marketing gimmick used by firms to differentiate themselves in crowded markets. But, according to Elliott, it is more than that. "Sound profoundly affects our emotions and health," she says, adding that she has plans to follow Quiet Mark with Quiet Bark – involving sound-proofed kennels and tips from dog trainers in how to reduce barking humanely. "We’re creating a melody of brands to bring the people new, easy-listening, lifestyle choices. Like John Lennon, all we are saying is give peace (and quiet) a chance."
Elliott's claims about the harmful impacts of environmental noise are backed by a growing body of evidence. One study, published in the European Heart Journal in 2005, found that long-term exposure to high noise levels was linked to a tripling of the risk of heart attack for women and a 50% increase for men. German scientists who carried out the research said they believed loud sounds were largely to blame for the effects; however associated stress and annoyance could also play a role thanks to elevated levels of hormones and brain messaging chemicals such as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
A report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded environmental noise was responsible for thousands of cases of heart attacks and cases of tinnitus in European Union member states per year. It also backed the findings of other previous studies showing high noise levels can undermine reading, memory, language and attention in children with life-long knock on effects on educational attainment.
Such findings have meant that everyone from governments to employers are now taking the effects of noise more seriously. For example, the US space agency Nasa, where you might think the roar of a rocket taking off was an occupational hazard, has an entire programme dedicated to what it calls “hearing conservation”. In addition it has introduced a "buy quiet" procurement policy, aimed at reducing workplace noise where possible.
Forward thinking as these schemes are, they are of no help to the hundreds of thousands of people who live – and try to sleep – amidst the noise of our modern cities. Over the years, engineering has led to better sound proofing and glazing of newer buildings in these areas, but they do not tackle the problem at source. As a result, nearly ten years ago, the European Union launched its environmental noise directive that requires member states to produce maps of noise levels in large urban areas. The ultimate goal is to help politicians and officials reduce their populations' excessive exposure to loud noises, which, despite numerous efforts over the past 40 years to reduce them, have continued to rise.