Cities Hold Keys To Sustainability

Our planet is undergoing an unprecedented and irreversible wave of urbanization, with the share of the global population living in cities set to reach 60 percent by 2030. But rapid growth is driving up fossil-fuel consumption, water consumption, air and water pollution and mountains of waste and sewage. The current urbanization trend is not sustainable.

The tangled web of global governance has become so remote and ineffective that few count on it to deliver results on climate change or any other issue for that matter. Now, after decades of turf wars and self-marginalization, international organizations must rally around the increasingly pressing global priority of sustainable urbanization. It’s essential that this movement shape the wave of the future from the bottom up, but we can’t afford to have gridlock and misguided one-size-fits-all efforts generated from a centralized system, either.

To help address this challenge, a group of entrepreneurs and sustainability advocates are launching a comprehensive network and resource called Greener Cities and Communities®. The program is designed to help cities and communities around the world expedite their planning process and to assure that the visioning and prioritization phases is comprehensive and inclusive.

Greener Cities will have two primary components. The first is a massive, multilingual online portal that will help stakeholders around the globe share best practices and other resources that will help them save time and limited resources as they grapple with ways to be more efficient and more resilient. Secondly, we are starting the “Nobel Prize” of sustainability for cities and communities around the world. The prize will be earned and presented every year as part of a global conference on sustainable cities. The applications and presentations will be shared with the world as case studies and best practices on the online portal. Our network of global leaders will help inspire and empower cities and communities around the world to follow the path of sustainability and to avoid the speed bumps that others have already experienced.

Unfortunately, existing efforts to alter the urban puzzle remain inadequate. While the United Nations General Assembly has tasked its agency for human settlements, UN-HABITAT, with promoting sustainable urbanization, the agency lacks the influence to ensure that this vital issue makes it onto the global agenda. Plus, other UN agencies, NGOs, corporate citizenship programs, and other charitable organizations rarely coordinate their activities.

forest conservation and climate change mitigation

Promoting sustainable urbanization and improving coordination would help advance other priority areas, including women’s rights, climate change, youth unemployment, and literacy). Therefore, sustainable urbanization must become a global priority. And it must be supported by technology, with investments channeled toward developing and distributing innovations that can make cities more livable, efficient, competitive and sustainable.

Governments, companies, supply-chain managers, corporate-citizenship strategists, NGOs, and others should commit to reducing their carbon footprints and to leveraging their resources to promote sustainable urbanization. Opportunities to make such contributions are abundant.

In construction, for example, contractors are forming partnerships with labs to test materials that better reflect heat while absorbing energy to power cooling systems, and utility companies are leveraging new software tools to deploy smart meters in homes and offices. Two US cities – New York and Seattle – have raised efficiency standards for new construction to record levels.

Similarly, automobile manufacturers, mobility-services companies, and local governments are working together to advance sustainable transportation by providing incentives for efficient non-ownership of vehicles. As a result, carpooling is gaining prevalence in cities like Berlin. At last year’s Rio+20 conference, several development banks pledged $175 billion to help develop sustainable transportation.

Singapore and other cities are leading the way in the production and distribution of potable recycled water. Many cities worldwide are expanding their water catchment and treatment programs, but sewage and biosolid policies may require some drastic changes to avoid spreading unstoppable prion pathogens that are still not fully understood.

Meanwhile, vertical farms can augment urban food supplies by cultivating crops in skyscraper greenhouses. They are blooming from the American Midwest to Osaka, Japan. Meanwhile, India has become a leader in converting biomass and food waste into energy.

Of course, the billions of farmers and villagers worldwide should not be forgotten. Interventions like rural electrification, the provision of drought-resistant seeds and agricultural technology, and the expansion of micro-insurance are vital not only to rural populations’ welfare, but also to catalyze a new “Green Revolution,” without which city dwellers will face severe food shortages.

With new, innovative solutions appearing every day, the real challenge lies in bringing them to together and boosting efficient production with international cooperation. But the “smartest” cities are not necessarily the most technologically advanced. Rather, they are the places where technology and public policy support citizens’ welfare and aspirations. That’s why citizen engagement and collaboration is a critical component of sustainability visioning and planning.

As this movement suggests, urban sustainability is a growth industry. Sustainable urbanization can create jobs, while making our cities more efficient and more competitive. Such efforts can make our communities more resilient.

To learn more about Greener Cities and Communities®, visit

Earth News

Earth News is a division of Crossbow Communications. Earth News is a syndicated environmental news service. The company covers a variety of health and environmental issues, including biodiversity, chronic wasting disease, climate change, deforestation, endangered species, global warming, neurodegenerative disease, neurotoxins, wildlife conservation and more.