How to Achieve Sustainable Cities and Communities
Author: Gabriela Basso
Estimated reading time: 10 min
Following the list of the SDGs, the eleventh goal is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable” (1).
The purpose of focusing on sustainable cities and communities is to improve urban planning, management, and development to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable (2).
Currently, more than 3.5 billion people live in cities, and this number is expected to reach 6.5 billion by 2050 (7). Businesses have been an important element of the development of cities, contributing to the overall economic growth by providing income and boosting productivity. Therefore, cities generate more than 80% of global gross domestic product (GDP) (2).
Problems related to urbanization
On the other hand, although the growth of cities provides opportunities for many people, it also contributes to large financial, social, and environmental inequalities (8). That is, the rapid growth of the urban area leads to habitat destruction, species extinction, and resource depletion that further emphasize the effect of climate change (2) and natural disasters.
On top of that, most of the time, extreme poverty is concentrated in the cities and governments struggle to accommodate the rising population in these areas (7). In other words, urbanization comes together with the necessity of basic services, infrastructure, jobs, land, and affordable housing, especially for the approximately 1 billion urban poor people who live in informal settlements (4) like slums and marginal neighborhoods. The majority of those people living in poor conditions are located in East and South-east Asia (8).
In these densely populated areas with a lack of access to hygiene and basic sanitation, the impact of COVID-19 was highlighted, having over 90% of coronavirus cases occurred in these regions (8).
Therefore, it is extremely important to work towards the achievement of SDG 11 as it aims to make cities safer and more sustainable, providing access to affordable housing and upgrading slum settlements. Additionally, improving the sustainability of the urbanization process is essential to protect the environment and reduce disaster risk and climate change (4).
Sustainable infrastructure refers to systems and equipment that provide essential public services which respect the environment and are sustainable in economic, financial, social and institutional terms (8). A sustainable and resilient city has resource-efficient systems in place to provide essential services and is prepared to adapt to climate-induced disasters (6).
As a result of more sustainable cities is a healthier and more productive workforce, and improved labor market functioning, and market access as a result of better public transport (5).
The importance of investing in public transport
Therefore, in order to achieve SDG 11, it is also important to invest in public transport as it also prevents intensive emissions and consequently air pollution (2).
However, according to data from 610 cities in 95 countries, in 2019 only half the global urban population has access to public transport (8). It is important to explain that the definition of convenient access to public transport is residing within 500 m walking distance of a bus stop and 1000 m of a railway or ferry terminal (1).
Cities that do not offer proper access to public transport cause a big impact on citizens’ lives as it affects their ability to find proper work, secure a livable wage, and improve their basic quality of living (2).
Therefore, investing in public transportation not only reduces air pollution and improves mobility, but also contributes to other SDGs that are related to health (Goal 3), education (Goal 4), sustainable energy (Goal 7), decent work (Goal 8), and equality (Goal 5 and Goal 10) (5).
These facts shed light on the importance of achieving SDG 11. However, even though many of these goals are scaled for national government implementation, companies can still contribute through actions that will be now presented by us.
How can companies help the achievement of SDG 11?
Collaboration on goal 11 requires companies to analyze the needs of the urban areas to provide solutions that have long-lasting impacts. These actions will not only help cities to be more sustainable but will also reflect stakeholders that your business is engaged in taking action (2).
So, here we present a couple of actions that you can implement in your business aiming to achieve the eleventh goal.
Investing in parks and green spaces
Investing in parks and green spaces not only improves air quality but also has a positive impact on your employees.
Green spaces across the workplace provide a feeling of less job pressure and greater job satisfaction on employees when compared to views with man-made objects. It has also been reported fewer headaches and other ailments as open spaces provide a sense of rest (9).
Create frameworks toward a zero-emission
Companies should improve their buildings’ infrastructure sustainability and build facilities according to sustainable building practices (2) that will help to reduce energy consumption.
On top of that, companies can also encourage workers to use bikes by providing bike racks and to use public transportation by building facilities near existing public transportation lines.
Invest in research, develop and deploy products/services
Businesses should invest in the research, development, and deployment of products and services that improve access to resilient buildings, transport, green spaces, and utilities (5). In addition, they should build partnerships with cities to utilize these products (2).
In other words, investing in research and development for key sustainable infrastructure technologies guarantees that urban projects do not negatively impact the environment and social assets (2).
Protect and invest in cultural and natural heritage
This includes investment in environmental protection, supporting museums, creating, and transport infrastructure in communities. This is important because not only do these cultural and natural heritage sites provide subsistence for local communities but also contribute to education for visitors. (5).
Provide access to essential services for employees
In some communities essential services, for example, education, housing, and healthcare are not available for many people. For this reason, companies should take action to guarantee that all their employees have access to these services (5).
Companies to take inspiration from
If you are looking for some inspiration, here is a list of companies that make a difference with their sustainable initiative towards the achievement of SDG 11.
Based in Brazil, Biohack offers to their clients green technology and sustainability solutions, helping them to reduce costs and environmental impacts. The company possesses exclusive technology from Germany to put sustainability into practice.
Therefore, among various services, Biohack prepares projects to reduce GHG emissions, treats organic waste, helps their clients to make strategic decisions based on sustainability, and assists in the process of raising funds from entities that promote innovation.
On top of that, they have the commitment to contribute directly or indirectly to the achievement of SDGs through their products, services, and values.
Sources: (10) and (11).
Singaporean startup Trusted RECs provides secure Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to their customers by combining AI, Blockchain and smart technologies.
These RECs are used to track and validate the production of 1 MWh of renewable energy by any renewable source. The company installs solar panels on the customer’s roof to minimize the dependency on the grid for electricity and as a consequence, reduce CO2 emissions. However, not having enough space on the roof is a barrier to have the production of 100% onsite consumption.
Therefore, purchasing RECs is the most effective way to achieve the goal of being 100% renewable or carbon neutral.
Sources: (10) and (12)
Easelink is an Austrian startup that designs and develops the Matrix Charging, the first automated electric vehicle charging system that has no moving parts outside of the vehicle.
The Matrix Charging system consists of two main components: the Matrix Charging Connector, a vehicle unit on the vehicle underbody, and the Matrix Charging Pad, the vehicle plate at the parking space. Therefore, when the vehicle parks above a charging plate in the parking space, the vehicle is automatically charged via a direct physical connection.
Sources: (10) and (13).
Actions you can take in your daily life to achieve SDG 11
It is important to mention that achieving SDG 11 is not just the responsibility of the governments and companies. We all can make small changes in our daily lives in order to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
Here is a list of things each one of us can do to become closer to SDG 11.
- Develop participatory platforms so all voices can be heard. This action is extremely important to understand what residents need. Especially for the poorest citizens who need the greatest support but are often unheard and unseen at decision-making tables. Some of these platforms could be round-table discussions, workshops, and also formal meetings.
- Respect and walk-in dedicated space for pedestrians. Unfortunately, many pedestrians lose their lives on the world’s roads. Therefore, it is more than necessary to create and follow a pedestrian quality space such as sidewalk space to minimize the risk of an accident.
- Use public transport and/or bike. Taking public transport, cycling or even walking is a good option to directly impact the reduction of gas emissions.
- Reduce and manage food waste. Much of the food consumed in urban areas is thrown away. Food waste that is not recycled or reused is filling up the landfills, where it decomposes and generates methane, a greenhouse gas.
GründerAtelier’s Impact Accelerator
This was the sixth article of our SDGs series, which aims to make the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals easy to put into practice for startups and entrepreneurs, in general.
If you are in charge or work for an impact-related startup that supports one or multiple SDGs you can apply to our Impact Accelerator where we will guide you through the journey to become investment-ready and, then, introduce you to our VC partners.
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(2) Mowery, B. L. (2021). SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities : How businesses can support urban development. Retrieved from https://greenbusinessbureau.com/topics/sdg/sdg-11-sustainable-cities-and-communities-how-businesses-can-support-urban-development/. Accessed on 07/10/21.
(3) SDG11: Make Cities and Human Settlements Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, and Sustainable. (n.d.). https://sdgcompass.org/sdgs/sdg-11/. Accessed on 05/10/21.
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(8) SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. (n.d.). Iberdrola. Retrieved from https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/committed-sustainable-development-goals/sdg-11-sustainable-cities-and-communities. Accessed on 06/10/21.
(9) The economic value of parks and green spaces. (n.d.). Springwater Parks & Community. Retrieved from http://www.springwaterpcd.org/the-value-of-parks-and-recreation. Accessed on 05/10/21.
(10) 32 Energy Technology Startups Accelerating Affordable & Clean Energy. (n.d.). StartUs Insights. Retrieved from https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/32-energy-technology-startups-accelerating-affordable-clean-energy/. Accessed on 05/10/21.
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(13) Easelink. Retrieved from https://easelink.com/about-us/. Accessed on 07/10/21.
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(15) Five Ways to Make Cities Healthier And More. (2020). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/. Accessed on 06/10/21.