Exciting sustainable city innovations around the world
Marga Hoek, global thought-leader, international speaker and author, shares the top sustainable innovations happening across the world.
Cities are at the heart of national and global growth. In an increasingly urbanised world, cities are both the source and the solution of many global problems. Not only do urban areas account for over half of the world’s population, but they also generate around 80% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Cities, however, are confronted and challenged to become inclusive, safe, sustainable and: smart. And because of its impact, one could say that the battle for sustainability will be lost or won in cities. Cities play a major role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They clearly play a role in SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities – but cities also impacts many other SDGs.
We have a long way to go and little time: cities are becoming more sustainable yet to reach our goals, cities much embrace more and also more radical innovations. Those radical innovations mean moving away from the conventional way of thinking and designing.
Zwolle, the Netherlands
Across the globe, we can encounter many inspiring examples of how to redesign our cities, simply by taking this other perspective. Let’s start in the country I was born, the Netherlands, and zoom into the small city of Zwolle. Here, for instance, the plastic road was invented and created. A new modular bicycle path made from recycled plastics. It matches up to the equivalent of 218.000 plastic cups. So you cycle on waste! The road has higher longevity than conventional surfaces, can withstand extreme temperatures and it can be applied to parking lots too. No virgin materials are needed and we have lots of (plastic) waste we need to dispose of.
Hygiene and water are huge challenges in low-income cities, mostly in developing countries. So let us move to Lima, the capital of Peru. An interesting innovation, X-runner, brings an appealing waterless sanitation solution for those who lack access to conventional toilets. With a simple subscription to a pick-up plan, households receive a waterless, resource-separating toilet combined with a weekly service that collects waste directly from the home. Imagine the impact on health in poor slums where people suffer tremendously from diseases due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.
Mexico City, Mexico
Smog and air pollution is a huge problem in many cities like Mexico. The Torre de las Especialidades found a solution by creating a ‘smog-eating’ front for its hospital, absorbing the pollution from the air. The new hospital building in Mexico City is designed to transform air pollutants into harmless chemicals. The building has a facade made up of a new type of tile called “proSolve370e” which, according to its inventors Elegant Embellishments, can neutralise the chemicals produced by 8,750 cars every day.
The city of the future will combine sustainable initiatives with the use of ICT and advanced technologies. Around the 1990s, as the digital revolution came up to speed, it was often assumed digitalisation would mean the death of cities but the opposite is the case. Smart, intelligent cities, that have sustainability at the heart of development, are considered to be a great place to live. Digital innovations can thrive, although they still have too little scale around the world. A great example is to be found in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which we can describe as an internet of pipes. A team of MIT researchers have developed a system to collect and analyse biochemical information from sewage water, which could be thought of as a ‘smart sewage platform’. The project is called Underworlds and it is being tested at this time.
The line of thinking about smart, sustainable cities is to use everything there is in a city in a smart and multifunctional way. This also implies to ‘simples poles’. The Array of Things (AoT) is an urban sensing project, a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that will be installed around Chicago to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. AoT will be measuring factors that impact liveability in Chicago such as climate, air quality and noise.
Everywhere around the world we can find pertinent examples like these. Since the world by now has become a global village; we can share all these examples and the knowledge behind them to transform cities into the best sustainable, smart cities they can be.
G7 Summit guide: What it is and what leaders hope to achieve
Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’ll have seen the term ‘G7’ plastered all over the Internet this week. We’re going to give you the skinny on exactly what the G7 is and what its purpose on this planet is ─ and whether it’s a good or a bad collaboration.
Who are the G7?
The Group of Seven, or ‘G7’, may sound like a collective of pirate lords from a certain Disney smash-hit, but in reality, it’s a group of the world’s seven largest “advanced” economies ─ the powerhouses of the world, if you like.
The merry band comprises:
- The United Kingdom
- The United States
Historically, Russia was a member of the then-called ‘G8’ but found itself excluded after their ever-so-slightly illegal takeover of Crimea back in 2014.
Since 1977, the European Union has also been involved in some capacity with the G7 Summit. The Union is not recognised as an official member, but gradually, as with all Europe-linked affairs, the Union has integrated itself into the conversation and is now included in all political discussions on the annual summit agenda.
When was the ‘G’ formed?
Back in 1975, when the world was reeling from its very first oil shock and the subsequent financial fallout that came with it, the heads of state and government from six of the leading industrial countries had a face-to-face meeting at the Chateau de Rambouillet to discuss the global economy, its trajectory, and what they could do to address the economic turmoil that reared its ugly head throughout the 70s.
Why does the G7 exist?
At this very first summit ─ the ‘G6’ summit ─, the leaders adopted a 15-point communiqué, the Declaration of Rambouillet, and agreed to continuously meet once a year moving forward to address the problems of the day, with a rotating Presidency. One year later, Canada was welcomed into the fold, and the ‘G6’ became seven and has remained so ever since ─ Russia’s inclusion and exclusion not counted.
The group, as previously mentioned, was born in the looming shadow of a financial crisis, but its purpose is more significant than just economics. When leaders from the group meet, they discuss and exchange ideas on a broad range of issues, including injustice around the world, geopolitical matters, security, and sustainability.
It’s worth noting that, while the G7 may be made up of mighty nations, the bloc is an informal one. So, although it is considered an important annual event, declarations made during the summit are not legally binding. That said, they are still very influential and worth taking note of because it indicates the ambitions and outlines the initiatives of these particularly prominent leading nations.
Where is the 2021 G7 summit?
This year, the summit will be held in the United Kingdom deep in the southwest of England, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosting his contemporaries in the quaint Cornish resort of Carbis Bay near St Ives in Cornwall.
What will be discussed this year?
After almost two years of remote communication, this will be the first in-person G7 summit since the novel Coronavirus first took hold of the globe, and Britain wants “leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better from coronavirus, uniting to make the future fairer, greener, and more prosperous.”
The three-day summit, running from Friday to Sunday, will see the seven leaders discussing a whole host of shared challenges, ranging from the pandemic and vaccine development and distribution to the ongoing global fight against climate change through the implementation of sustainable norms and values.
According to the UK government, the attendees will also be taking a look at “ensuring that people everywhere can benefit from open trade, technological change, and scientific discovery.”