27 April 2023
According to the World Economic Forum, cities not only house 60% of the world’s population but are responsible for over 70% of total emissions, meaning that they are at the heart of the green transition.
27 April 2023
According to the World Economic Forum, cities not only house 60% of the world’s population but are responsible for over 70% of total emissions, meaning that they are at the heart of the green transition.
Green transition: ESG frameworks for cities need to go beyond visual indicators into tangible urban policy. (Photo by Owlie Productions/Shutterstock)
ESG approaches can guide cities towards a more efficient social and environmental strategy as well as help to reach the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals since they make finding solutions to socio-environmental challenges easier.
But what does ESG mean for cities in a practical sense? And how can its principles be applied?
ESG stands for environmental, social and governance framework. It refers to a set of standards that revolve around a company or city’s impact on the environment and its transparency around it.
An ESG strategy can be the key to proving that steps are being taken to become more environmentally and socially friendly. This type of framework can provide greater stability for overcoming and addressing today’s socio-environmental challenges.
This is particularly important because, as the latest UN Emissions Gap Report revealed, delays and policy failures mean that members are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction objectives to prevent global temperatures from exceeding 1.5°C.
When a city includes an ESG-based approach, its government will focus on five primary factors:
Here are a few examples of cities that have adopted ESG-friendly approaches.
One of the main focal points for Dubai is service provision to help the city achieve net-zero targets in a timely manner.
Indeed, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) announced the EV Green Charger initiative. This entails new charging solutions around the Emirate to not only augment the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the city but also to procure EVs for the authorities.
By the end of 2022, the number of green chargers reached 350, with over 620 charging points across Dubai. In addition, the number of EVs went up to 15,100, while there now are around 13,500 hybrid vehicles. So far, 91% of this project has been completed, which is on track with the Dubai Carbon Abatement Strategy.
The Norwegian capital aims to reduce emissions by 95% by 2030, in comparison with 1990 levels. Today, it produces the cleanest and most renewable energy in Europe partly thanks to its investment in hydroelectricity.
When it comes to infrastructure, Oslo also had the first zero-emissions construction site in the world, which only used electric machinery. In addition, electric cars are entitled to cheaper parking in the city and there are various low-emissions zones that can only be accessed for free with hybrid or electric vehicles.
These new regulations, called Local Law 97, mostly cover large buildings like skyscrapers and their energy efficiency.
This law focuses on making New York City reach net zero by 2050. Buildings are responsible for about two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions in the Big Apple, and this is one of the most ambitious plans for reducing emissions in the whole nation.
Under this plan, the majority of buildings over 25,000 square feet will have to undergo energy efficiency renovations and reduce their emissions by 2024, with tighter objectives in 2030. As a consequence, the emissions produced by the city’s largest buildings should be reduced by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
Industrialization, population growth, and urbanization are all trends driving the explosive growth of the construction industry. Creating buildings to house people and operate industry, together with building infrastructure to provide public services, requires prodigious quantities of energy and materials. Most of these virgin materials are non-renewable, and resource shortages caused by the development of the built environment are becoming increasingly inevitable. The gradually evolved circular economy (CE) is considered a way to ease the depletion of resources by extending service life, increasing efficiency, and converting waste into resources. However, the circularity of construction materials shows heavy regional distinctness due to the difference in spatial contexts in the geographical sense, resulting in the same CE business models (CEBMs) not being adapted to all regions. To optimize resource loops and formulate effective CEBMs, it is essential to understand the relationship between space and CE in the built environment. This paper reviews existing publications to summarize the research trends, examine how spatial features are reflected in the circularity of materials, and identify connections between spatial and CE clues. We found that the majority of contributors in this interdisciplinary field are from countries with middle to high levels of urbanization. Further, the case analysis details the material dynamics in different spatial contexts and links space and material cycles. The results indicate that the spatial characteristics can indeed influence the circularity of materials through varying resource cycling patterns. By utilizing spatial information wisely can help design locally adapted CEBMs and maximize the value chain of construction materials.
Significant demand for natural resources has arisen with the massive expansion of the cities and the rising population worldwide. The development of the built environment is the largest consumer of resources, consuming approximately 35–45% of materials and contributing 40% of global GHG emissions associated with material use (Hertwich et al. 2020; Mhatre et al. 2021). The ensuing resource exploration and related environmental impacts have intensified. It is estimated that the global consumption of building materials has tripled from 2000 to 2017 and produced 30–40% of the world’s solid waste and nearly 5 Gt CO2 emissions, or 10% of global annual emissions (EMF 2015; Pomponi and Moncaster 2017; Hertwich et al. 2020; López Ruiz et al. 2020; Huang et al. 2020).
The built environment is the physical surroundings created by humans for activities, ranging from personal places to large-scale urban settlements that often include buildings, cultural landscapes, and their supporting infrastructure (Moffatt and Kohler 2008; Hollnagel 2014). Opoku (2015) points out that the built environment is not only the physical environment but also the interaction of people in the local community and their cultural experiences. The physical constituents of which differ significantly from other products in that they are characterized by long lifetimes, numerous stakeholders, and hundreds of components and ancillary materials interacting dynamically in the spatial and temporal dimensions (Hart et al. 2019). The inherent complexity within the built environment is seen as a challenge for sustainable urban transition (Pomponi and Moncaster 2017).
Circular economy (CE) is one of the essential conditions and solutions for fostering and promoting sustainability (Geissdoerfer et al. 2017). The CE is an economic or industrial concept that distinguishes itself from the traditional linear economy of unsustainability. It is often understood as a restorative and regenerative economic model that includes three types of business models (CE business models/CEBMs): (1) those that increase resource efficiency and reduce resource consumption (narrowing); (2) those that promote reuse and extended service life through repair, remanufacture, upgrades and retrofits (slowing); and (3) those that convert waste into resources by recycling materials (closing) (Stahel 2016; Kirchherr et al. 2017; Figge et al. 2018; Geisendorf and Pietrulla 2018; Gallego-Schmid et al. 2020). It is also well known that urban systems often exhibit linear material flows and inefficient use of resources (Huang and Hsu 2003). Turning linear practices into circularity and maximizing the utility and value of resources is becoming a new model for production and consumption to protect the environment, mitigate climate change, and conserve resources (Cheshire 2019; Harris et al. 2021; Zeng et al. 2022). But incorrect policy formulation and thoughtless pursuit of CE strategies can negatively affect (Corvellec et al. 2021). Many voices currently argue that CE lacks any actual consensus on the magnitude of the economic, social, and environmental “win–win-win” benefits (Aguilar-Hernandez et al. 2021) and even leads to more significant environmental impacts, economic unsuccess, and employment losses (Spoerri et al. 2009; Schröder et al. 2020; Blum et al. 2020).
Circularity in the built environment refers to an approximation in terms of the materiality of immobile elements of the built environment, such as buildings and infrastructures, and their dynamics. These elements are predominantly composed of bulk building materials, mainly non-metallic mineral materials (Schiller et al. 2017b; Gontia et al. 2018; Yang et al. 2020). Despite few products are manufactured, purchased, disposed of, and recycled in the same geographic location in today’s global market (Skene 2018), the transportation distances of these bulk building materials are limited compared to other types of products due to their low specific value-added (Schiller et al. 2017a). Therefore, Schiller et al. (2017a) point out that analyses on (also circular) material flow in the built environment should be applied regionally, which also applies to studies of the availability and security of the supply of natural raw materials in the built environment (Schiller et al. 2020). It can be concluded that the regional context or the spatial context in the geographical sense (Scholl et al. 1996), in which the built environment is integrated, has a decisive influence on material flows in general and their circularity in particular.
Space is a central concept in geography that broadly consists of two distinctive interpretations: a fundamental attribute of reality (often used with time) and a counting term that denotes human conceptual constructs borne of individual experience and societal factors (Newell and Cousins 2015; Grossner 2017). Spatiality and space are two frequently confused concepts. In contrast to space, spatiality is spatial practices rather than an exogenously given and absolute coordinate system that refers to the ongoing processes and imaginations of making space/materials, regulating behaviors, and creating experiences (Mayhew 2015; Kobayashi 2017). Space is a more relevant core term than spatiality in discussing the built environment in the physical sense rather than the formation process. The importance of space in the circularity of the built environment has been implicitly mentioned in many studies on spatial structure and land use planning (Remøy et al. 2019; Lanau and Liu 2020; Gallego-Schmid et al. 2020). Additional studies have also provided fragmented evidence on characteristics of spatial distribution patterns in the built environment that impact the circular flow of materials (e.g., residential and housing density) (Condeixa et al. 2017).
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Urban beautification campaigns are usually sold to local residents as a way to improve their daily lives. Design elements – from lighting systems to signs, benches, bollards, fountains and planters, and sometimes even surveillance equipment – are used to refurbish and embellish public spaces.
Designers refer to these elements as “urban furniture”. And the projects they’re used in are usually aimed at increasing social interaction, heightening safety, improving accessibility and generally making life in the city better.
Some research argues, however, that such beautification campaigns can result in public urban spaces becoming more exclusive. Despite the promises with which they are marketed, if these projects disregard what local people need, they can feel less able, or willing, to make use of these spaces.
Cities aren’t only identified by their monuments or signature buildings. You can tell New York City and Palermo apart just by looking at what people are doing in public. A New York scene is more likely to feature someone on a skateboard eating a burrito, while a Palermo image might include a group of men in a street watching a football match on television through a shop window.
Urban space is where city children learn and play, students read and people work, walk and relax. It is through these different activities that any single city’s urban culture is created.
Architects, infrastructural and spatial designers carefully configure the built environment – the constructed fabric of our cities – and this has a lasting effect on how we use or inhabit them.
In cities around the globe – from Algiers, Auckland and Chicago to Hanoi, Mexico City and Seoul – research shows that transforming public spaces markedly affects the diversity of what people do in them, and whether they use them.
In Algiers, the Algerian capital, neighbourhoods were formally designed in the 1970s in a rigid modernist style. Design elements including shady trees, benches and lights at night made people feel comfortable carrying out activities such as playing cards or gathering to chat, but huge buildings, wide streets and large spaces also caused people to feel insecure and lost.
Further, the land was landscaped in the kind of homogenous way characteristic of other big cities including Los Angeles, Auckland and Sydney. These large-scale and non-contextual designs have also been linked to antisocial behaviour.
After the area was transformed in 2013, there was a notable decline in the diversity of the activities people undertook there (family and religious gatherings; street art; music; informal vendors). Instead, the law now prioritises touristic activity over local people’s everyday needs and allows the authorities to operate a zero-tolerance approach towards anything deemed disruptive. Vendors have become nomadic, packing up and hiding as soon as the police are nearby.
In the Cheonggyecheon-Euljiro area of Seoul, South Korea, meanwhile, redevelopment led to 50-year-old workshops being torn down. This in turn has threatened the historical and cultural values of the local population and disrupted social networks.
In his 1968 book, The Right to the City, the French Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre described the city as a co-created space. This contrasts with the more capitalist definition in which urban space is a commodity to be bought and sold, Lefebvre saw it as a meeting place where citizens collectively built urban life.
This idea that public space is a public good that belongs to everybody has been increasingly challenged in recent years, with the rise of privately owned public space. Most of the parks in London (roughly 42 kilometres squared) of green space in total) are owned by the City of London Corporation, the municipal body that governs the City of London, but increasingly squares within new developments are owned by corporations.
Urban theorists have long noted the connection between how a city is designed and how life is conducted within it. The US scholar Jane Jacobs is famous for highlighting that cities fail when they are not designed for everyone. And Danish architect Jan Gehl’s output has consistently focused on what he has termed the “life between buildings”.
As Gehl has explained, for a city to be good to its residents, those in charge of designing it have to be aware of how it is being used: what people are doing in its spaces. To be successful, urban designs have to be focused on and geared towards people’s daily lives. Gehl has explained that designing a city for pedestrians – at a walkable scale – is how you make it healthy, sustainable, lively and attractive.
When we use public spaces, even if only on a short-term basis, we are effectively appropriating them: urban designers and architects talk about “temporary appropriation” to describe the individual or group activities with which we invest these spaces.
Research has also highlighted how democratic this can be. But it is contingent on those spaces being designed in consort with residents. When a public space, by contrast, is overly designed without people’s needs being taken into account, it does not get used.
Since the 1970s, urban theorists have highlighted that we only make use of those public spaces where we feel represented. For urban design to work, paying heed to what local people actually think of their city is crucial.
The featured image above is credit to Matjazz/Shutterstock
3D printed concrete may lead to a shift in architecture and construction. Because it can be used to produce new shapes and forms that current technologies struggle with, it may change the centuries-old processes and procedures that are still used to construct buildings, resulting in lower costs and saved time.
However, concrete has a significant environmental impact. Vast quantities of natural sand are currently used to meet the world’s insatiable appetite for concrete, at great cost to the environment. In general, the construction industry struggles with sustainability. It creates around 35% of all landfill waste globally.
Our new research suggests a way to curb this impact. We have trialled using recycled glass as a component of concrete for 3D printing.
Concrete is made of a mix of cement, water, and aggregates such as sand. We trialled replacing up to 100% of the aggregate in the mix with glass. Simply put, glass is produced from sand, is easy to recycle, and can be used to make concrete without any complex processing.
Demand from the construction industry could also help ensure glass is recycled. In 2018 in the US only a quarter of glass was recycled, with more than half going to landfill.
We used brown soda-lime beverage glass obtained from a local recycling company. The glass bottles were first crushed using a crushing machine and then the crushed pieces were washed, dried, milled, and sieved. The resulting particles were smaller than a millimetre square.
The crushed glass was then used to make concrete in the same way that sand would be. We used this concrete to 3D print wall elements and prefabricated building blocks that could be fitted together to make a whole building.
If used in this way, waste glass can find a new life as part of a construction material.
The presence of glass does not only solve the problem of waste but also contributes to the development of a concrete with superior properties than that containing natural sand.
The thermal conductivity of soda-lime glass – the most common type of glass, which you find in windows and bottles – is more than three times lower than that of quartz aggregate, which is used extensively in concrete. This means that concrete containing recycled glass has better insulation properties. They could substantially decrease the costs required for cooling or heating during summer or winter.
We also made other changes to the concrete mixture in order to make it more sustainable as a building material, including replacing some of the Portland cement with limestone powder.
Portland cement is a key component of concrete, used to bind the other ingredients together into a mix that will harden. However, the production of ordinary Portland cement leads to the release of significant amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gases. The cement production industry accounts for around 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the environment.
Limestone is less hazardous and has less environmental impact during the its production process than Portland cement. It can be used instead of ordinary Portland cement in concrete for 3D printing without a reduction in the quality of the printing mixture.
We also added lightweight fillers, made from tiny hollow thermoplastic spheres, to reduce the density of the concrete. This changed the thermal conductivity of the concrete, reducing it by up to 40% when compared with other concrete used for 3D printing. This further improved the insulation properties of the concrete, and reduced the amount of raw material required.
Using 3D printing technology, we can simply develop a wall structure on a computer, convert it to simple code and send it to a 3D printer to be constructed. 3D printers can operate for 24 hours a day, decrease the amount of waste produced, as well as increase the safety of construction workers.
Our research shows that an ultra-lightweight, well insulated 3D building is possible – something that could be a vital step on our mission towards net zero.
Seyed Ghaffar, Associate Professor in Civil Engineering and Environmental Materials, Brunel University London; Mehdi Chougan, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Brunel University London, and Pawel Sikora, Associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin
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In the MENA region through the years, wealth has always been absent and this for millennia especially in the Gulf area. Nowadays, images of gold buildings, fantastic motorways, and all the most expensive things in life have become commonly known and used.
In the Gulf, however, one thing comes to most people’s minds first. It is oil. Dubai, Doha and Riyadh are among the top 5 in MENA ranking would not be a surprise since this region rich with its rich oil reserves and supply of that oil is one reason and a good one for those cities in this area have earned a spot on the list of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Now turning that wealth into smart cities could be considered to be some achievement.
The above image is for illustration and is of Doha, Qatar.
Dubai continues to lead the region in Kearney’s Global Cities report climbing four places in the global ranking, while Doha experienced the most dramatic jump globally, placing it third regionally, while Riyadh ranks fifth in Mena.
Riyadh also leads in Human Capital dimension in the GCC, highlighting its ongoing efforts in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population, according to the 11th edition of the report, which offers key insights into how Covid-19 and the resulting pandemic containment measures have impacted the level of global engagement of 156 cities around the world.
Comprising of Global Cities Index (GCI) and Global Cities Outlook (GCO), the report measures how globally engaged cities are across five dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement as part of the GCI. GCO, which is a forward-looking evaluation based on 13 indicators, assesses how the same cities are creating conditions for their future status as global hubs.
Global Cities Index
Dubai retains its top spot in the Index for the region, and is also ranked fourth globally in Cultural Experience, reflecting the city’s relatively early reopening to international travellers, bolstered by strict testing requirements, a rapid rollout of vaccines and Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing.
Doha saw the largest jump of any city on this year’s Global Cities Index, rising 15 places following the restoration of diplomatic relations between Qatar and its neighbouring countries, highlighting the importance of fostering regional relationships in addition to global ones.
Cairo ranked fourth in the Mena region, followed by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s capital city leads in Human Capital in the GCC, where its strengths in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population contribute to the strong showing. This is in line with the country’s increased emphasis on strengthening citizens’ capabilities to compete globally, in support of the realization of several strategic objectives set out in the Saudi Vision 2030.
Overall, 21 cities in the Mena region rose six or more positions in the GCI ranking compared to last year. Istanbul climbed seven spots, with the city’s efforts to become a global travel hub proving their worth. Addis Ababa moved up eight places, propelled by Ethiopia’s development investments that have supported rapid economic growth.
Global Cities Outlook
In terms of outlook, Abu Dhabi ranks fourth globally, a testament to the city’s continued focus on providing accessible, high-quality healthcare and a commitment to reducing its environmental impact, which is core to the personal well-being dimension. Dubai and Abu Dhabi co-lead in the outlook for infrastructure, an illustration of the UAE’s commitment to a future of sustainable and resilient economic growth.
Antoine Nasr, Partner, Government Practice Leader, Kearney Middle East, said: “In Mena, GCC economies, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are poised to lead regional recovery supported by accelerated efforts of their governments across the five main dimensions of the report. What’s also noteworthy is Doha has recorded the biggest gain globally for any city, a result of the compounded benefits of their strengthened economy and the newly restored regional ties. This reflects the importance of a balance between self-sufficiency and global connectivity.”
Five strategic imperatives for city leaders
The report highlights five strategic imperatives for city leaders along with a range of ways in which cities around the world can address the challenges they share:
• Win in the competition for global talent: with human capital as the driving force behind economic activity, cities that adapt to the new priorities of prospective residents, with a renewed emphasis on urban livability and economic opportunity, will be those that emerge on top
• Embrace the rapidly growing digital economy: while it threatens to contribute to an emptying of cities and relocation of business headquarters, cities that harness the benefits of the global digital economy to drive differentiated competitive advantage will accelerate economic growth
• Ensure economic resilience by balancing global and local resources: with the fragility of the global trade system exposed during the early months of the pandemic, cities that recalibrate and balance relationships at global, regional, and local levels will be most resilient to future disruptions
• Adapt in the face of climate change: as climate change accelerates, and in the absence of unified global leadership on the topic, cities must lead the way in driving toward sustainability around the world
• Invest in individual and community well-being: in recovering from the collective scars of the pandemic, cities that focus their investments on advancing the well-being of their populations will be those that create an environment in which innovation can thrive
“Though they were initially hit hardest by Covid-19, our 2021 report shows that the leading global cities have once again proven their resilience and adaptive capacity. Their broad diversity of strengths positioned them for a quicker rebound that, with leadership focus and clarity of direction, can transition into leadership of a long-term, global recovery,” concluded Rudolph Lohmeyer, Partner, National Transformations Institute, Kearney Middle East.