Picture credit: Barilla Center
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the adjective ‘sustainable’ defines something that causes little or no damage to the environment and is therefore able to continue for a long time. However, when it comes to cities, there are no general rules or definitions about what makes them sustainable — London and Hong Kong look very different, but they both appear in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index.
In addition to this, the topic itself is very broad; Los Angeles has a sustainability plan developed by the mayor, Eric Garcetti, covering fourteen different issues from waste and water to equitable living. Given the variety of aspects that the concept includes, and since most of the world is now urban, it is not surprising that the United Nations has given indications about how to achieve sustainability in cities by establishing the 11th Sustainable Development Goal, ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’. In fact, sustainable development cannot be achieved if communities do not change the way they build, expand, manage and live in urban areas.
Nowadays, half of the world population lives in cities; according to UNFPA, ‘the world’s rural population has already stopped growing, but the world can expect to add close to 1.5 billion urbanites in the next 15 years, and 3 billion by 2050.’ Migration to urban areas is due to the appeal of job opportunities, the number of services, trade, connections with other countries and quality of life in general. This migration trend is expected to continue and the number of individuals living in urban areas will grow substantially.
The urbanization process will lead to economic, social and environmental changes which will have a great impact. If properly managed, it will provide an amazing opportunity for governments, companies and individuals to not only ‘create’ sustainable cities, but also to generate new solutions and innovations. The most inspiring aspect of SDG 11 is that, since sustainability is a broad concept when related to cities, the above-mentioned actors have have a number of options for innovation and areas of action.
Companies creating smart city solutions
Siemens started to think about ways to favour the sustainable development of cities back in 2012, when it contributed to improving the quality of lives in London by boosting public transports services, increasing the safety of the four main ways to London through the installation of cameras and by building The Crystal, one of the most sustainable buildings in the world and home to the world’s largest exhibition on the future of cities.
Siemens’ commitment to sustainability did not stop there but has continued throughout the years; the company was a partner of Expo Milano 2015 and is now a partner of Expo Dubai 2020, providing a wide range of innovative solutions, technologies and products to help plan, build and operate history’s most connected, digitalized Expo. In addition, Siemens will use the Dubai Expo 2020 as the new home of its global logistics.
On the other side of the world, General Electrics (GE) is contributing to the development of a ‘futuristic’ city, located just ten miles south of Boston, called Union Point. The area, which was a military base during World War II, will change completely and become one of the most modern cities in the world. GE will install smart streetlights complete with sensors that can track sounds, lights and environmental conditions, with the aim of allowing city planners to analyze relevant data and develop urban areas accordingly.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has an offshoot called Sidewalk Labstasked with improving urban living. Sidewalk Labs is designing a district in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront to tackle the challenges of urban growth, working in partnership with the tri-government agency Waterfront Toronto and the local community. This joint effort, called Sidewalk Toronto, aims to make Toronto the global hub for urban innovation, tackling landfill waste, real estate, mobility and energy consumption, among other issues.
As shown in the companies’ case studies above, sustainability is a very broad topic when it comes to cities and there are many aspects to be considered and developed. However, according to Smart Cities, big data is a common thread which leads communities and companies to achieve great sustainable results: ‘Big data’s potential to improve community quality of life while making critical human infrastructure more efficient and sustainable is surmounting any fears about the costs of smart city solutions.’
When we at Globechain read this, we all had a common thought: ‘we are doing this the right way’. We connect companies with charities, SMEs and individuals to redistribute unwanted items and, by doing so, give new life to unwanted stuff and enable the reduction of landfill waste while collecting social, environmental and economic data. We are not a non-profit organization, but consider ourselves ‘commercial with a conscience’ and, in a world where the linear economy has been predominant for many years, we are contributing to sustainable cities by enabling the development of the circular economy. This means that not only are fewer things thrown away, but a more vibrant and innovative environment is created where everything can circulate with a conscience.