Business collaboration is a must for urban sustainability: WBCSD report

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development has released their latest report on their Urban Infrastructures Initiative, highlighting that cities must engage businesses early in the process of planning sustainable development strategies.

Cities that want to achieve their sustainability objectives should collaborate with businesses in the early stages of planning their sustainable development strategies, according to a recent report by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Developing climate change action plans, energy efficiency in urban infrastructure, public awareness campaigns, and innovative financing mechanisms are just a few of the many areas identified by the report, where early strategic engagement with business could be beneficial.

Businesses have a unique ability to identify innovative and cost-effective solutions to address urban challenges, noted the report. Consulting with businesses during key decision-making processes opens up opportunities for evaluating solutions in an innovative, ‘laboratory’ format, which is a dynamic and inexpensive way for cities to develop action plans that will make them more sustainable.

The report, released on Monday, presents the findings of the WBCSD’s Urban Infrastructures Initiative (UII). This initiative was initiated in 2010 and brings together 14 companies including Siemens, Toyota, Philips and Schneider to develop realistic, practical and cost-effective sustainability plans in 10 cities worldwide, such as Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara in India, Yixing in China, and Kobe in Japan.

WBCSD’s focus on sustainable urban development is driven by the conviction that “the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities”, said WBCSD CEO Peter Bakker. “Cities already consume up to 80 per cent of the global energy supply and produce around 75 per cent of carbon emissions. On current projections these pressures are only set to increase – by 2050, the world will have up to three billion more city dwellers,” he explained.

Six of the ten cities under the UII are in Asia, reflecting the critical role the continent has in driving global urban sustainability. In a recent article for Eco-Business, Bakker shared that “many of the world cities which are growing the fastest are in the region, and Asia already accounts for most of the urban population of the world”.

“The changing nature of Asia’s urban landscape poses serious challenges for sustainable development”, he added.  

The battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities. Cities already consume up to 80 percent of the global energy supply and produce around 75 percent of carbon emissions.

Peter Bakker, WBSCD chief executive

The report identifies specific opportunities in each of these cities that businesses can tap to propel the sustainability agenda forward.

In the Indian cities of Rajkot, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Surat, a team of seven UII particpants, including Acciona, AECOM, Asahi India Glass Group, GDF Suez, Schneider Electric, Siemens, and UTC proposed a suite of 28 solutions, including technical and vocational planning programmes to strengthen urban planning capacity, financing schemes to promote energy efficiency, and a public awareness and education programme to enhance wastewater management.  

In Kobe, Japan, UII participants such as Honda Motors, Nissan Motors, Schneider Electric, Siemens and Toyota Motor Corporation worked with the city department to propose solutions such as introducing energy efficiency measures into buildings, and developing an elderly-friendly mobility strategy – which involves improving public transport, enhancing real-time traffic monitoring and promoting low-emission vehicles – to improve the city’s sustainability.

The 14 companies that participated in the initiative are themselves from a wide range of sectors including buildings, energy, water, engineering and materials, amongst others. Their membership in WBCSD reflects a strong commitment to sustainability, according to the UII.  

“The involvement of businesses with strong sustainability credentials can help cities transform their sustainability visions into practical action plans with achievable targets”, noted Vicente Saisó Alva, Semex corporate director for sustainability. Semex, which manufactures electronics, co-chaired the UII.

“The multi-sector approach of the UII is essential as sustainability cuts across functions and specialisms and requires an integrated response,” added Stéphane Quéré, senior vice president of Innovation at GDF SUEZ, an electric utility company that also co-chaired the initiative.

Cities involved in the UII have begun to act on the recommendations made during the course of the project. For example, Yixing has fast-tracked a detailed feasibility study for establishing a green transport network for the city, and Philadelphia – which has set its sights on becoming the ‘greenest city in America’ by 2015 – is enhancing the environmental efficiency of the city’s 6000 vehicles.

Following the publication of these findings, the WBCSD is continuing to explore ways to scale up strategic engagement between cities and businesses through their new Action2020 initiative, an initiative by WBCSD and member companies that sets an agenda for business to take action on sustainable development to 2020 and beyond, based on scientific consensus.

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