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Sustainable cities go beyond green to blue



Green cities are good, but blue cities are even better, argues Ken Hickson.

We can turn blue with cold or become “true blue”. We can sing the blues or join in with the words of the old Willie Nelson song: “Nothing but blue skies from now on”. So how about considering the colour blue as a means to go beyond green to transform our cities to be more liveable, sustainable, smart and resilient?

The man who is most closely identified with turning to the colour blue is Gunter Pauli, the Belgium economist. His book, The Blue Economy, had the twin aims of stimulating entrepreneurship while setting up new and higher standards of sustainability. It’s a progressive metamorphosis from the green economy.

We have little choice when it comes to taking necessary action to transform where we live and what we do. From the realities we see around us, the global systems crisis is not one but many crises. The climate crisis is there for all to see, but we also have connected crises relating to food, water, energy, waste, housing and the economy.

We are also reminded of the projected timings of ‘climate departure’, which refer to the findings of a University of Hawaii study reported last October in Nature, and shows that countries and cities in the Asia Pacific will face the impact of dangerous climate change from 2020 onwards.

There are many measurements and assessments around the world for smart and sustainable cities. One of the most respected is the Siemens Green Cities Index, which employs 29 indicators across eight categories – energy and CO2, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality, and environmental governance – to determine where each city falls in five “performance bands”.

Singapore was the top performer in the Asian Green City Index and shows consistently strong results across all individual categories. It has emphasised the importance of sustainability through holistic planning, high-density development and green space conservation. It has also produced leading water recycling plants and waste-to-energy facilities.

The blue economy, as with the blue city, does not mean managing with less. In fact, it ultimately leads to abundance and prosperity. It follows patterns in nature that first respond to need and then flourish. Pauli says we need to celebrate collaboration, innovation and the collective strength of organisations to create transformational change.

Besides highlighting the “liveability” status, we see cities that we know well and they are taking steps to transform themselves, changing from their old ways in their use of energy, transport and buildings towards cleaner air, cleaner streets and much lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

Sydney, Australia: Already regarded as a world city for its lifestyle, entertainment, the arts, environment and its role as the nation’s business capital, Sydney aims to do a lot more in the sustainability stakes. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 – one of the most ambitious targets in Australia.

Melbourne has been crowned the globe’s most liveable city for the third time in a row, nudging out Austrian capital Vienna in the Economist Intelligence Unit Survey (2013). In the review of 140 cities, the Australian state of Victoria’s capital was given perfect scores for healthcare, education and infrastructure. It is setting high benchmarks for greening its property sector, too.

Paris: Transforming France’s capital into an electric city began with Autolib’, an electric car sharing service inaugurated in December 2011. It deploys 3,000 all-electric for public use on a paid subscription basis, based around a citywide network of parking and charging stations. By February 2013, there were 4,000 charging points in Paris.

Helsinki: One of the 10 smartest cities in Europe, it really shines in the smart government arena. With more than 1,000 open datasets, it has been actively promoting engagement with developers through hackathons. It also played host to the first global Open Knowledge Festival in 2012.

Taipei: The Siemens Asian Green City Index depicts a highly sustainable Taipei, in the top seven cities out of 22. Taipei collects 100% of its waste while managing to produce the second lowest amount of total waste in its high income city bracket. Taipei 101, billed as the tallest green building in the world, is arguably the best example of waste and recycling performance of any building anywhere.

Tokyo: In 2005, Tokyo inaugurated the nation’s first business-oriented CO2 Emission Reduction Programme, covering  40% of the industrial and commercial sectors’ CO2 emissions, which equates to 20% of Tokyo’s entire CO2 emissions. Almost 1,400 facilities are covered, and office buildings comprise 80% of all covered facilities.

London sets itself up as a good example of respect for culture and tradition, as well as sustainable economic development. Among the world’s top 10 most resilient cities (ranked by Triple Pundit in 2011), it was also an early mover in adaptation by erecting the second largest movable flood barrier in the world. The Thames Barrier, operational since 1982, “protects 125 sq km of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges”.

We need to observe and emulate the way nature’s ecosystems function, so as to create jobs, increase capital and revenue while respecting the environment, says Pauli, who points to three overarching organisational objectives which are needed to transform our economies and our cities:

– Net Zero Emissions
– No Waste to Disposal
– Net Positive Impact

Singapore is at the forefront of city transformation, as the unifying theme for World Cities Summit in Singapore in June 2014 is “Liveable and Sustainable – Common Challenges, Shared Solutions”, when city leaders and companies will look at the state of challenges and identify principles of shared solutions, spanning the range of development, socio-economic and political contexts.

Singapore is also the focus for the Blue Cities Index and Blue Cities Forum, devised by Sydney-sider Rodin Genoff, who works on transforming industries and communities. It is a new process to measure and promote a number of indicators, taking the features of a green city and improving them with systems, infrastructure, technologies and governance for a smarter and efficient way of working.

There exist five keys to open the door to transformation for our cities:

1. Strong Leadership with public-private partnership and community involvement
2. Make bold moves, drawing on technology, creativity and determination
3. Combine the forces of Energy, Economy, Environment and Ethics for sustainable outcomes
4. Manage all resources effectively, including waste, to achieve economic returns
5. Keep people in mind, as sustainable cities are noticeably healthier and more liveable

But most of all we have to adopt – at home and abroad – a sense of urgency.

If transformation means turning blue, that’s the way to go. Not wallowing in doom and gloom – “feeling the blues” – but acting now so we have a chance to once again experience the blue skies ahead.

Ken Hickson is chairman of Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA), regional director in Asia for Be Sustainable and Singapore chairman for the International Green Purchasing Network. He is the author of five books, including Race for Sustainability and The ABC of Carbon.  This article is based on his presentation at the Asian Productivity Organisation International Conference with the theme, “Achieving Sustainability to Empower Future Generations” in Taipei, Taiwan on Friday March 14 2014. Contact him at:

Further reading:

Existing city infrastructure can be ‘reprogrammed’

Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

Our future cities will have to be smarter and more resilient

Green spaces in cities positively affect mental health

Future Cities: a blueprint for sustainable urbanisation


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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