Clean solutions: sustainable cityscapes

Cities across the world have been investing in green infrastructure to improve quality of life and enhance their international profile, Vision reports

It’s not often that a new service centre for a government body is seen as indicative of a sea-change in policy and direction. But when the new Dubai Electricity And Water Authority (DEWA) service centre opened earlier this year, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, wasn’t only excited by the use of the latest sustainably sourced materials, solar panels, water recycling units and insulation.

He hoped the construction - the largest government building in the world with a Platinum rating from green industry body LEED - would change the culture and attitude towards sustainability of the entire organisation.

The suggestion was that if DEWA could change, so could a nation. Tellingly, The Masdar Institute Of Science And Technology recently announced a study of the energy efficiency of Abu Dhabi’s buildings, and the government has been keen to encourage green building solutions, applying a wide range of minimum standards and benchmarks.

And if that sounds like an exercise in box-ticking, then there is a much bigger prize at stake. Cities around the world invest in green infrastructure not just because it might be good for the future health of their citizens, but also because it raises their profile on the world stage. Monocle, the international global affairs and culture magazine, recently awarded Copenhagen its prized “Most Liveable City” accreditation, and it was striking that they revelled in the Danish capital’s commitment to cycling (over half its commuters choose pedal power) and the stunning new, carbon-neutral, United Nations City building. Another high-ranking city, Hong Kong, was praised for its desire to reduce air and water pollution.

It’s not just governments who are leading the charge for change - traditional companies within our major cities are having an impact too. Umicore, for example, was once a Belgian metal smelting business belching out pollution from its plants. After realising that they needed to create businesses that were sustainable and didn’t create a negative environmental legacy, a restructure was deemed appropriate - it now operates at the vanguard of the clean technology economy, providing materials for lithium-ion batteries and solar panels, and recycling old phones and laptops. Amusingly, the latter practice is affectionately termed “urban mining”.

Umicore is now a €2.4bn company - proof that there is the demand for ‘clean solutions’ as governments tighten up on their environmental regulations. Look away now if you’re eating, but the area in which many less prosperous nations are looking to exploit is in bio-gas. Creating energy from animal and human waste is already used in Rwanda, Ghana and India, and, once the technology is perfected, could be available in most major cities.

So naturally, the reason that cities need to become as sustainable as possible is bound up in the need for environmental change and the finite resources of the planet. But it’s also big business too. And for the people who live and work in those cities, such developments are a reminder that a cleaner, greener, life is better for all of us.