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How Urban Centers Become More Sustainable When Business and City Leaders Get Creative

At SB ‘15 San Diego in early June, speakers on the Sustainable Cities panel discussed big issues and a few case studies around global brands building innovative partnerships with cities. They also shared how new, non-conventional partnerships are necessary and discussed opportunities that corporate sustainability teams should take into consideration.

Questions for Business and City Leaders

Guardian Sustainable Business' Marc Gunther, serving as moderator, asked big questions such as: what would the future of the city look like and why; how do you redefine what building a city looks like; and what’s the role of utilities? These were good questions to frame up the discussion and touch on two initiatives that revolved around more efficient use of utilities and smarter mobility.

Pecan Street Energy Initiative

Christopher Reberger of Cisco and Josh Henretig of Microsoft talked about how non-conventional partnerships can create significant, sustainable business value. One such example is the Pecan Street initiative in Austin, Texas, which both Cisco and Microsoft supported.

Since its public launch in December 2008, most activities around the Pecan Street Project were focused on energy evolution, including opportunities to:

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Pecan Street working groups’ core objectives were to inventory the best options for reforming the energy distribution system, identify and address the technology, economic and policy challenges to implementing those options, and offer Austin Energy as a test lab for entrepreneurs and corporations whose technology could power the new system.

Like many organizations tackling complex issues with a number of different team members and skills, Pecan Street leadership believed that in order to be successful, the initiative required a set of guiding principles that helped to codify workflow and decision-making. The seven principles are:

  1. Environment Protection
  2. Replicability
  3. Economic Development
  4. Economic Stability of the City and Austin Energy
  5. Interdependency of Renewal Energy and Efficiency
  6. Scope of Community Integration
  7. Collaborative Process

To learn more about how the initiative unfolded and recommendations that were made, review the Pecan Street case study and visit the website for general updates.

Collaboration and Creativity

Sustainable city initiatives are not easy to manage given unchartered territory for many stakeholders and the diversity of participants that create change and sustainability value. The keys to success can be distilled down into these activities:

  • Attract, engage and organize the right blend of people
  • Tap deep knowledge from working groups and opinions that will form
  • Apply thoughtful planning in cultural, social, and technical domains
  • Collaborate through friction and uncertainty to achieve very specific goals

There are many clusters of business and city sustainability initiatives popping up around the globe. Some urban infrastructure initiatives (UII) quietly making progress while others are very public — backed by Fortune 500 corporations including Cisco, Ford Motor Company and Microsoft. These public-private partnerships carry enormous potential in terms of sustainability where they count — in growing cities with mobile citizens, everywhere. But proven collaboration process is essential.

WBCSD and SMP2.0 Process Objectives

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led organization of some 200 forward-thinking global companies, is committed to galvanizing the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. According to the WBCSD, cities are at the leading edge of the global sustainability agenda. They estimate by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments. Cities around the world are rising to the sustainability challenge by pursuing ambitious objectives that will make them more competitive, resource efficient, resilient and inclusive.

WBCSD’s Sustainable Mobile Project (SMP2.0) is an initiative, with a proven collaboration process, focused on creating a detailed roadmap of cross-sector solutions across a range of cities to improve sustainable mobility. The project scope includes improving city and intercity mobility for people and goods. A leading indicator of success from such a project would be universal access to safe and low-carbon mobility choices for people and organizations in urban environments.

SMP2.0 stakeholders include WBCSD, cross-sectorial companies, and local and state authorities governing various cities. Key objectives for both creating and scaling the initiative are:

  • Agree on universal sustainable mobility metrics for cities
  • Analysis of evolving demand
  • Toolbox with best practices and cross-sector solutions
  • Detailed roadmap for 6 demonstrator cities to improve sustainable mobility
  • Financial and policy framework to enable change
  • Structure to drive scaling-up; see an example of the process overview below:

Smarter Mobility from Ford

When Gunther asked the panelists what the driver is (no pun intended) for these kinds of initiatives, Carrie Majeske of Ford said, “Selling cars is not enough for the future of Ford. We’re redefining ourselves now to be in business in 50 to 100 years from now — to be relevant for the next generation.”

Majeske noted that cars are already pretty sophisticated, with sensors and many technologies that enable Ford to be more of a mobility platform and value proposition. Ford is looking at ways to engage consumers in new ways. For example, in the future you may be able to tweet that you want to pick up a car at particular location and drop it off in another location Majeske touched on recent Smart Mobility results and hinted on news to come. Later that month, the automaker announced progress on its Smart Mobility Plan — everything from developing autonomous vehicle technology, innovations in wearable tech, a car-sharing service and collaborations with startups in Silicon Valley to make mobility solutions more accessible.

Urban centers, their residents and businesses, and private companies can forge new, creative relationships that deliver sustainable business value. Both the Smart Mobility and Pecan Street initiatives are sustainability success stories to consider and watch.


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