Monday, 2 June 2014

New frontiers

Last week I found myself in Toronto, a city that is rapidly growing and attracting new investment and yet is very environmentally aware. There are new initiatives in waste recycling, replacing coal burning with hydro power stations, integrated, low-carbon transport infrastructure and city greening schemes (although the new trees I could see had been bit back by the heavy snowfall of the recent icy cold winter).

I was in Toronto to represent the UK in the latest round of international discussions to produce a template for sustainable, smart and resilient cities. All cities should want to be ‘smart’. Indeed, London and Birmingham are working towards this direction, with the Mayor of London having sent a message of support to the conference. Toronto styles itself as a ‘Smart City’ but we are only now beginning to understand what a huge task that is.

Sustainable development is an unavoidable necessity for most cities (in which 80% of the world’s population will soon live) and yet, as an aim it asks so many questions. We need structures for delineating what sustainability looks like and we need measures to evaluate progress. If we can do this for cities we can most certainly affect the corporate level and assess the contribution of businesses and public organisations.

So in a rather smart and gleaming Toronto office tower, we put the finishing touches on an international framework, with considerable input from the UK, France and China. We also published the first attempt at a list of measures and indicators in a document called ISO 37120. Toronto hosts the Global Cities Indicators Facility (GCIF) which enables cities to compare themselves and benchmark their relative success. The emerging international framework will give this process more rigour and comprehensive coverage. We hope that more cities will then take up the challenge.

It’s tempting to think that as countries search for growth, green initiatives slip down the agenda; however, cities like Toronto, Yokohama, Copenhagen, Toledo and Rio, not to mention London, show that both can go hand in hand. The diligent behind-the-scenes work of numerous groups, committees, individuals and companies is building a cumulative stock of creative ways forward, from which we can learn. green24 is, of course, one way of increasing that awareness and sharing experiences and information.

Article by David Jackman

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