This article is based on the presentation by Ken Hickson at the Asian Productivity Organisation International Conference in Taipei, Taiwan on Friday 14 March 2014.
Sustainable Cities Go Beyond Green to Blue
By Ken Hickson
The words of the great Willie Nelson song were going through my mind: “Blue days, all of them gone, nothing but blue skies from now on”.
When people have been convinced that green is the colour to aspire to, why should I be talking about turning blue?
I was, after all, speaking at a conference where there was a strong focus on green – buildings, products, purchasing, procurement, trade and energy – and it might have appeared to be daring, even controversial, to introduce the colour blue.
We usually associate the colour with “singing the blues” or “being blue” – meaning downcast or sad – but the colour also reflects positives like “true blue” and “blue skies”. And when some city skies are far from blue due to nasty air pollution, maybe blue is the new aspirational colour and appropriately so.
Blue, as it turns out, is the colour of choice to show that transformation is what’s required if we are to make our countries and cities more resilient and sustainable to meet the challenges being forced upon us by an unrelenting changing climate.
In my presentation entitled “Sustainable Cities Go Beyond Green to Blue”, I introduced the vision of Gunter Pauli for the Blue Economy and applied that to cities.
In setting out what is needed to transform an urban centre to be more sustainable, resilient, smart and liveable, I also identified a number of cities around the world which have – with their own set of characteristics and actions – set some benchmarks and started to make a difference. In the process, winning recognition and awards.
In the course of my talk, I posed a few appropriate questions and endeavoured to illustrate the answers by way of city case studies:
- If the earth looks blue from space, should cities be true blue?
- Why do we need to transform our countries, cities, islands and places?
- What makes a smart, liveable, and sustainable city?
- Is it possible to be profitable, productive and sustainable?
- Where do we find winning cities?
- What’s needed to transform cities?
- Who’s driving the green, blue, sustainable city agenda?
- How can we transform existing cities to make them more sustainable, resilient, smart and liveable?
I also tried to answer the question which was posed to me in advance of my talk: what has Singapore done to be such a stand-out smart and sustainable city?
As I have lived in the island state for many years and have a very high opinion of it, I also made it clear that while it has done a lot – in water management, green buildings, transport infrastructure and energy efficiency – it still has a long way to go. No one city is perfect and every city – even Singapore – can make more bold moves to continue on the journey towards sustainable city status.
If the earth looks blue from space, should cities be true blue?
The man who is most closely identified with turning to the colour blue is Gunter Pauli, the Belgium economist, also described as entrepreneur, lecturer and commentator in culture, science, politics, sustainability innovation, and the environment.
His book “The Blue Economy” had the twin aims of stimulating entrepreneurship while setting up new and higher standards towards sustainability, where the good for our health and the environment is cheap.
The Blue Economy is a progressive metamorphosis from the Green Economy, says Pauli.
Based on the notion of thinking ahead so as to create more good, instead of less bad, it uses strategic, opportunity-driven rationale to connect the environmental, social and financial puzzle:
“Respond to basic needs with what you have, introducing innovations inspired by nature, generating multiple benefits, including jobs and social capital, offering more with less. This is the Blue Economy.”
Why do we need to transform our cities, countries, islands and places?
We have little choice. That is the message not only from Pauli but from the realities we see
around us. The Global Systems Crisis is not one but many crises. The climate crisis is there for all to see, but we also have connected crises relating to food, water, energy, waste, housing and the economy.
Each crisis is linked to the others. They are all interconnected. And Pauli points out that “reactions to one have unintended outcomes affecting the others. Linear responses are no longer adequate!”
Conference delegates were also reminded of the projected timings of “climate departure”, which refer to the findings of a University of Hawaii study reported last October in Nature, and show that countries and cities in Asia and the Pacific will face the impact of dangerous climate change from 2020 onwards.
The clear indication that this is expected to occur earlier than previously thought, and is based on thorough research, shows the “need for a sense of urgency” – the APO conference outcome document stresses – to set in motion “actions to make our cities and countries more sustainable, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, speed up the introduction of renewable energy, increase energy efficiency measures, and promote the prudent use of natural resources”.
What makes a smart, liveable and sustainable city?
I asked the audience to consider two cities – New York or New Delhi – and while they both have “new” in the name, they are far from new and have all the problems associated with older, larger and growing municipalities, albeit in two very different geographic and climatic zones.
A smart city – as New York would aim to be – takes a sustainable approach to the management of its economic, social and ecological resources to ensure that they have vitality going into the future.
A city can be defined as ‘smart” – as New Delhi would like to be on the way to become – when investments in human and social capital, along with traditional transport and modern communication infrastructure, fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.
There are many measurements and assessments around the world for smart and sustainable cities. One of the most respected is the Siemens Green Cities Index, which employs 29 indicators across eight categories – energy and CO2, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality, and environmental governance – to determine where each city falls in five “performance bands”.
We look at four winning Green Cities:
Copenhagen (Europe): Notching top spot for the second year in a row, Copenhagen has established a reputation as the leading green city across the globe. It led the Siemens Green City Index for Europe and has also been selected as the European Green Capital for 2014. It has one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the world and aspires to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.
San Francisco (North America) tops the US and Canada Index, driven by strong policies across all categories. Waste management is a particular strength. In 2009, San Francisco became the first US city to separate waste and compost material from normal trash. The city has also been a trailblazer in partnering with the private sector on innovative green initiatives.
Curitiba (South America): The clear leader in the Latin American Index, the Brazilian city is the birthplace of bus rapid transit (BRT) and Brazil’s first major pedestrian-only street. Since 2009, the city’s environmental authority has been conducting an ongoing study on the CO2 absorption rate in Curitiba’s green spaces, as well as evaluating total CO2 emissions in the city.
Singapore (Asia) was the top performer in the Asian Green City Index and shows consistently strong results across all individual categories. The government has emphasised the importance of sustainability through holistic planning, high-density development and green-space conservation. It has also produced leading water recycling plants and waste to energy facilities.
Is it possible to be profitable, productive and sustainable?
The Blue Economy, in Pauli’s prescription, does not mean managing with less, in fact, it ultimately leads to abundance and prosperity. It follows patterns in nature that first respond to need and then flourish.
“Our present economic model relies on scarcity to create value and demand. This is unsustainable”, says Pauli, but the Blue Economy celebrates collaboration, innovation and the collective strength of organisations to create transformational change.
He also says: “Nature works with what is locally available. Sustainable business evolves with respect not only for local resources but also for culture and tradition”.
London sets itself up as a good example of respect for culture and tradition, as well as sustainable economic development.
Among the world’s top ten most resilient cities (ranked by Triple Pundit in 2011), London is accustomed to showing up on sustainable city rankings and for good reason. London also stood out in this analysis for its early planning and integration of adaptation into its Climate Action Plan. The congestion zone introduced by former Mayor Livingstone was a bold move which has led to significant reduction in traffic, increased revenue for public transit and is now serving to encourage greener vehicle purchases.
London also was an early mover in adaptation by erecting the second largest movable flood barrier in the world. The Thames Barrier, operational since 1982, “protects 125 square kilometres of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges.”
Not surprisingly, London earned first place in the smart economy category among Ten Smartest Cities in Europe. It has long been considered the financial capital of Europe, but it has also emerged as a leader in entrepreneurship.
London also took strategic use of the Olympics to help make the city greener while also focusing on economic development. London’s Royal Docks emerged from the Olympics planning as a regenerated, sustainable commercial and residential area. This area is already home to one of the greenest and smartest buildings in Europe, the Crystal, built by Siemens to showcase smart city technologies.
According to Forbes Magazine in 2009:
In today’s parlance, a “smart” city often refers to a place with a “green” sustainable agenda. But this narrow definition ignores many other factors that have characterized successful cities in the past. We determined our smartest cities not only by looking at infrastructure and liveability, but also economic fundamentals.
We look at two more city case studies, highlighting the “liveability” status:
Auckland, New Zealand, voted as one of the world’s most liveable cities. The 2011 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Auckland 3rd place in the world on its list, while the Economist’s World’s most liveable cities index of 2011 ranked Auckland in 9th place. Not content with where it is now, the city has developed a framework with the concept of sustainability at its heart. It acknowledges social, cultural, environmental and economic interdependencies and the need to work within ecological limits. It puts people at the centre of thinking and action, to create prosperity based on sustainable practices.
Vancouver, Canada: Scored Number One in the Economist’s world’s most liveable city contest (2011). In the annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver scored 98 percent on a combination of stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure, the same score as Vancouver won in 2010. Vancouver has won the honour every year since 2008.
Next, we see two cities which are taking steps to transform themselves. Changing from their old ways in the use of energy and transport, towards cleaner air, cleaner streets and much lower emissions of greenhouse gases:
Sydney, Australia: Already regarded as a world city for its lifestyle, entertainment, the arts, environment and its role as the nation’s business capital, Sydney aims to do a lot more in the sustainability stakes. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 – one of the most ambitious targets in Australia.
To reach this target the City is undertaking a range of initiatives including: energy tri-generation, renewable energy master plan, installing energy efficient street and park lights, rolling out Australia’s largest building-mounted solar panel project, energy efficiency retrofits of major buildings and helping businesses to reduce carbon emissions and energy bills through energy efficiency programmes.
Paris, Europe: Transforming France’s capital into an electric city began with Autolib’, an electric car sharing service inaugurated in December 2011. It complements the city’s bike sharing scheme, Velib’, which was set up in 2007. It deploys 3,000 all-electric Bolloré Bluecars for public use on a paid subscription basis, based around a citywide network of parking and charging stations.
By July 2012, 650 parking and electric vehicle charging stations had been deployed around Paris and the 46 communes participating in the scheme and by February 2013 there were 4,000 charging points.
Fully electric and hybrid electric vehicles significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector, as well as overall air quality, which can be a problem in Paris. They are also much more energy efficient compared to other forms of transport.
Where do we find winning cities?
Believing that we can learn best through examples, I set out a few more city case studies. Places which had won awards in the sustainability, liveability or smart city stakes, or were setting standards to prepare to win in the future:
In Europe: Helsinki, one of the ten smartest cities in Europe, it really shines in the Smart Government arena. With more than 1,000 open datasets, it has been actively promoting engagement with developers through hackathons. It also played host to the first global Open Knowledge Festival in 2012. Helsinki launched their Forum Virium Smart City Project to provide ubiquitous data to their citizens towards improving quality of life.
In Asia Pacific: Melbourne has been crowned the globe’s most liveable city for the third time in a row, nudging out Austrian capital Vienna in The Economist Intelligence Unit Survey (2013). In the review of 140 cities, the Australian state of Victoria’s capital was given perfect scores for health care, education and infrastructure.
In the Americas: New York won the Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2012 in recognition of its leadership and achievement in sustainable policy, including the City’s landmark planning program PlaNYC. The international honour is presented biennially for outstanding contributions to sustainable urban policy that are both practical and cost-effective, and serve as a model for cities across the globe.
In Africa & Middle East: Dubai voted among the world’s most dynamic and responsible cities, it wants to be one of the most sustainable by 2020, so existing lighting systems at public areas were being replaced with Led technology, saving about 55 per cent energy. Solar-powered street lamps in parks, green building codes and conversion to efficient lighting will help to lift Dubai up the sustainable city ladder.
What is Needed to Transform Cities?
We are able to see from the cases presented where some cities are taking to heart the need to think again as to where they’ve come from and where they are heading. It takes more than incremental changes.
In Pauli’s prescription: “Observe and emulate the way nature’s ecosystems function, so as to create jobs, increase capital and revenue while respecting the environment.”
There are three Overarching Organisational Objectives which are needed, according to Pauli, to transform our economies and our cities:
- Net Zero Emissions
- No Waste to Disposal
- Net Positive Impact
More city case studies:
Taipei: The Siemens Asian Green City Index depicts a highly sustainable Taipei, in the top seven cities out of 22. In each of the eight green city categories, Taipei has enacted or is in the process of implementing progressive policies.
Alongside Singapore, Taipei distinguished itself from its peers with its waste management prowess. Taipei collects 100% of its waste while managing to produce the second lowest amount of total waste in its high income city bracket. Taipei’s success is a national trend: Taiwan has been very successful in fostering awareness and action in recycling. Taipei recycles 45% of its total waste and only allows an estimated 5% of household waste to end up in landfills.
Taipei 101, billed as the tallest green building in the world, is arguably the best example of waste and recycling performance of any building anywhere.
Tokyo : In 2005, Tokyo inaugurated the nation’s first business-oriented CO2 Emission Reduction Programme – effectively the world’s first emissions scheme for buildings – covering 40% of the industrial and commercial sectors’ CO2 emissions, which equates to 20% of all of Tokyo’s CO2 emissions.
Almost 1,400 facilities are covered, and office buildings comprise 80% of all covered facilities. These capped office buildings primarily include skyscrapers and government buildings. Additionally, as part of the Green Power Purchasing Programme, the city government plans to introduce tax benefits for companies investing in renewable energy.
Who’s driving the green, blue, smart & sustainable city agenda?
- Siemens and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) launched the prestigious City Climate Leadership Awards, opening up the application process for global cities demonstrating excellence in urban sustainability.
- The unifying theme for World Cities Summit in Singapore in June 2014 is “Liveable and Sustainable – Common Challenges, Shared Solutions”. City leaders and companies supporting urban development will look at the state of challenges and identify principles of shared solutions, spanning the range of development, socio-economic and political contexts.
- Blue Cities Index and Blue Cities Forum – a new process to measure and promote of a number of indicators and industry cluster density, waste free ecosystems and city Intelligence. Taking features of a green city and improving them with systems, infrastructure, technologies and governance for a smarter and efficient way of working.
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has selected seven cities of the future for its Urban Infrastructure Initiative (UII), a three-year project pioneering a new approach to urban sustainable development, it pilots practical collaboration between businesses and cities. It functions like a laboratory in which cities explore and test different options, clearly demonstrating the value of early, strategic business involvement in cities to turn their sustainability visions into reality.
The seven cities are: Guadalajara, Mexico; Gujarat, India; Kobe, Japan; Philadelphia, USA; Tilburg, Netherlands; Turku, Finland; and Yixing, China.
Cities of Distinction:
Beijing: It has major air pollution and traffic congestion issues caused by too many vehicles and factories using polluting fuels and an over –reliance on coal fired power stations. It is committed to reduce its emissions and manage air pollution.
Hong Kong: Among the 49 Asian cities covered by the ECA International study, Hong Kong now ranks third in liveability, just behind Singapore and Kobe. With its excellent schooling, top-notch cuisine and impeccable transport systems, the city’s no slouch. But when it comes to air pollution, the city is one of the world’s worst destinations, ranked alongside cities such as Cairo and Mexico City. It’s one of Asia’s most smog-shrouded cities, with air quality that ranks just behind Beijing and New Delhi.
Masdar: A place where businesses can thrive and innovation can flourish, Masdar City is a modern Arabian city that, like its forerunners, is in tune with its surroundings. As such, it is a model for sustainable urban development regionally and globally, seeking to be a commercially viable development that delivers the highest quality living and working environment with the lowest possible ecological footprint. But it is a costly work in progress!
Cape Town: One Of The World’s Most Sustainable Cities (Ethisphere Institute, 2008), it is creating awareness around developing and implementing sustainability plans globally, with long-term sustainable measures, judging a number of weighted economic, cultural and environmental factors.
One of Top Ten Ethical Destinations in the World 2010 (Ethical Traveler), a web-based international alliance of travellers that aims to unite all tourists and tourism operators in the fight for world-wide sustainability and conscientious travelling, reviews developing countries across the globe that are working to protect human rights, build social welfare, and preserve the environment.
How can we transform existing cities to make them more sustainable, resilient, smart and liveable?
The conference outcome document came up with three key recommended actions which answer, in part at least, the big transformational question. Relating to “Building Resilience into Sustainable, Smart and Liveable Cities”, the action document will be forwarded to UN agencies and will be widely circulated to Asia Pacific countries and cities. They were:
• Develop benchmarks and best practices for more resilient, sustainable, smart and liveable cities
• Encourage more test-bedding projects with public–private sector partnerships
• Introduce sustainable technologies and transport in urban areas.
So to sum up on what’s needed, from the Gunter Pauli prescription, from the best examples the world over and from my own observations and work, there exist five keys to open the door to transformation for our cities:
- Strong Leadership with public-private partnership and community involvement;
- Make bold moves, drawing on technology, creativity and determination;
- Combine the forces of Energy, Economy, Environment and Ethics for sustainable outcomes;
- Manage all resources effectively, including waste, to achieve economic returns;
- Keep people in mind, as sustainable cities are noticeably healthier and more liveable.
But most of all we have to adopt – at home and abroad – a sense of urgency. The issues and the crises are not going to go away. There must be a concerted effort in every city and every country to meet the challenges head on.
To prepare for the worst impact of climate change. To become more resilient. To be as sustainable as it is possible to be.
If transformation means turning blue, that’s the way to go. Not wallowing in doom and gloom – “feeling the blues” – but acting now so we have a chance to once again experience the blue skies ahead!
Ken Hickson, seen here adopting the most sustainable, energy efficient form of transport, was one of the keynote speakers at the APO international conference in Taipei on the subject “Sustainable Cities Go Beyond Green to Blue”, and he contributed to the outcome document, along with other speakers and experts from the region. He is Chairman of Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA), Regional Director Asia for Be Sustainable, and Singapore Chairman for the International Green Purchasing Network. He is the author of five books, including “Race for Sustainability” and “The ABC of Carbon”. He produces the illuminating e-newsletter ABC Carbon Express, now in its seventh year.