Cities are where more and more of us are choosing to live. They're where most of the world's wealth is created. However, they also use up huge amounts of energy, water and other resources and are responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions.
Make cities more sustainable and you make the world a greener, fairer place. Hence the United Nations' (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, with a purpose to create inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.
And I'm not just talking about the larger urban metropolises. According to the World Urban Forum, there are 10,000 cities worldwide with populations of at least 50,000, and they all have their part to play to improve the lives of their citizens and leave a positive legacy for future generations.
Which is why I'm so excited about the cooperation with the not-for-profit organization United Cities and the UN initiative, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), which brings together businesses, municipal employees and local politicians to come up with new ways to accelerate sustainability.
The U4SSC's key performance indicators (KPIs) and standards have been developed to provide cities with a consistent and standardized method to collect data and measure performance and progress. When cities assess their sustainability gaps, the common goal is to support them by creating innovative, practical solutions to services, infrastructure and regulations.
I started working with United Cities over one and a half years ago in Norway. I'm now fortunate enough to team up with United Cities as part of a collaboration with KPMG in Norway on a global level. The goal is to help reach an ambitious target of assessing every single one of the world's 10,000 cities by 2030. A recent pilot project in my home country of Norway, in the Møre og Romsdal municipality, is an example of the work with United Cities and the U4SSC. As a first step, the cities completed their U4SSC assessment and then KPMG in Norway tested a method working across sectors to find solutions to close the gaps.
Together, an impressive group of 50 people representing stakeholders from the business and public sectors, academia and politicians was assembled. Because of COVID-19, meetings took place virtually, beginning with a discussion about the most pressing issues and the major gaps identified through the U4SSC. The initial gap analysis showed that water and sanitation, waste and pay inequality were three significant sustainability gaps in cities in this region. These are gaps that can be solved through cooperation between the private and public sectors.
The methodology, which has been developed and tested, involves several stages. First, KPMG in Norway identified local challenges and then recruited, prepared and trained the participants, who attended `innovation camps' to devise potential solutions and present them to their respective organizations. The project then progressed to the pilot phase - in this case, financed by the regional bank, Sparebanken Møre. Finally, if the test shows promise, the aim is to scale quickly, seeking out financial and business opportunities.
The beauty of this approach is that solutions are co-created, combining people with the intimate knowledge of their local business, political and regulatory environment, plus professionals with international experience in sustainability who can share leading practices to help save time and avoid reinventing the wheel. After all, what worked in one country may well work in another.
There's a strong emphasis on commercial viability to help maximize interest from the private sector and financial institutions. New ideas can often have legal and regulatory implications, so it's important that the teams get input from individuals with knowledge and influence in such areas.
Amongst the ideas was a knowledge and information platform to stimulate a circular economy and recycling; a sustainable tourism project; and a `digital twin' model to help utilities providers and the public sector predict future demand, reduce water usage and secure a sustainable water supply. In addressing the pay gap between women and men, an idea was introduced to use gamification to help inspire secondary school students to think about their future careers and consider different directions (not just the more traditional career paths in their region). This idea is now in development in the region.
These are exciting developments and ideas. Some have now been founded and the next phase has started. And this is just one example from one country - imagine what kinds of fantastic advances can be achieved from 10,000 similar initiatives around the world.
I've worked in sustainability for a long time. I believe that if businesses operate in a sustainable manner, to the benefit of the environment, people and society, they can also thrive commercially. This isn't about philanthropy; it's about concrete solutions, properly tested, that can help the world speed up its response to the SDGs and to zero emission. Acting now and working together can help achieve these goals by 2030.