Day 11: Sustainable cities
Currently, just over half of the human population live in cities and other urban areas. Extraordinarily, the UN forecast that, by the year 2050, approximately two thirds (66%) of the world’s population will live in these areas. Cities can of course be very sustainable places to live – densely packed, efficient use of space, good public transport infrastructure – but only if they are designed and constructed with sustainability and resilience in mind! To have any chance of containing our temperature rise within the 2 degrees target, we need to focus on making our cities of the future models of sustainability.
Using the idea of a city as an ecosystem helps to visualise and describe how a sustainable city could function. Input and output cycles in natural ecosystems are (generally) dominated by the plants and animals that live there, with humans doing the same in the city’s ecosystem cycles. We import all the food, fuels and other resources we require as inputs, converting our outputs mainly into heat and waste products. This simplified analogy can help us to understand how we make future cities far more sustainable if we can act together.
What eco actions can we take?
We all have our parts to play as components of a sustainable city ecosystem, with ample opportunity for us to live low carbon, sustainable lifestyles – probably more so than those living in rural locations, especially when it comes to transport options. Here are just a few examples of how we can all contribute to a sustainable city ecosystem:
Citizens: life in cities provide huge opportunities for its citizens to live sustainable lives. Public transport and car-sharing opportunities mean car ownership isn’t essential. The density of population makes it easier to share services too – with local community groups providing access to household items that people only need once in a blue moon (like a drill), to reduce the need for individual ownership of infrequently used items
Civil Society: at community level there are opportunities for coming together and developing strong social bonds and pooling talent, intellect and abilities to create a truly resilient society which feeds off diverse needs and skills. Community groups based around common interests such as ecology or gardening can find ample opportunity to work within the city’s ecosystem to improve it.
Corporates: the nature of business usually requires companies to have a presence in cities, so they can be very much part of the solution to design and build future buildings. When clients demands green roofs, zero carbon heating and cooling, off-grid power solutions and efficient buildings, then architects and builders will work ever more closely to develop and provide them
Thought piece: Sustainable cities – glimpsing the future
Sustainable Cities of the Future probably have one fundamental design character: collaboration. People working together. Those who live there, those who make their living there and those who provide vital services, connections and support to run those cities.
Getting things done through collaboration defines a successful community – and may be the only way success can ever be sustained. The COP 21 Summit itself is a grand exercise in collaboration, and – with pressure on resources, space and energy set to increase year on year in urban areas – the heart of any Paris agreements will need to be effective in city regions. Buildings currently use about 40 per cent of the world’s energy and contribute to a third of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, so there’s no escaping the impact of the built environment now and in the years to come.
Carillion is one of the UK’s leading integrated support services companies, with extensive construction capabilities, a substantial portfolio of Public Private Partnership projects and a sector-leading ability to deliver sustainable solutions across the full scope of that built environment.
Sustainable Design and Construction
As with most good outcomes, success starts with a good design. Smart, managed highways, smarter traffic routes and efficient people flow can cut carbon, save time and improve a region’s investment attraction. However, good building design is even more fundamental – needing to minimise operational carbon and use the right materials to make the construction process as ‘carbon lean’ as possible. Crucially, this needs to really matter to clients too.
Embodied carbon in the materials, transport and supply chain (constructing the building) accounts for around 18% of a building’s whole life carbon emissions. Operational carbon (using the building) accounts for around 82% of the emissions. Whilst the latter will arguably always dominate the former, minimising embodied carbon – essentially at the design stage – is critical to a low carbon whole lifecycle.
Modular accommodation blocks buildings in one of Carillion’s Welsh construction contracts saved time, money and waste because they could be part-constructed offsite. Crucially, they also saved up to 31,300 tonnes of carbon during the full project – around 90,000 miles in an average family estate car. At the Four Seasons Hotel Project in Abu Dhabi Carillion engineers used ground granulated blast slag cement replacement to save a further 12500 tonnes of embodied carbon from the footprint.
Carillion are working alongside other industry leaders, companies and government authorities to achieve effective, lasting carbon reduction at scale. We all committed to cut 24 million tonnes of carbon from UK infrastructure contracts by 2050 under the Infrastructure Carbon Review, and 2016 will see the release of a new publicly available standard (Carbon PAS) as a practical management tool for infrastructure projects.
Collaboration for the common good is also at the heart of the Supply Chain Sustainability School, visit it here – 36 partners standing together across the built environment to upskill an industry. The School has made exceptional progress since 2012, offering a virtual learning environment for suppliers across construction, infrastructure and facilities management – and all for free to its registered users. To develop and maintain the buildings and infrastructure of tomorrow’s sustainable cities, the next generation of tradespeople must be suitably skilled, prepared and conscious of their impacts on those cities.
Managing resources wisely, engaging credibly with local communities and building long-term economic success depends on acting early and with regular commitment. If we can show people that small positive changes can make a big difference, positive relationships between business and the public will shape more sustainable futures. This doesn’t necessarily need legislation, but it does need a will and it does need collaboration.
Businesses should be ambitious, setting challenging goals and inspiring others to join them, such as our plan for Carbon Reduction and Community Needs Plans across all of Carillion’s contracts and projects. We’re close to effectively sending zero waste to landfill and, like many others, are now turning our attention to waste reduction overall – which brings us right back to design. We must build in more effective decisions before a block, a brick or a length of wood has even been cut.
Martin Luther King once explained that “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Through sustainable design and construction, working together and managing wisely, we can shape more sustainable cities. Building ever stronger communities and collaboration across those cities will be the start.
Presented by eco action games and our theme partner Carillion.
Visit our Day 11 partner’s webpage, featuring their sustainability report, by clicking on the logo below: