Sustainable cities will be growth centres of the global economy

31 May 2011

Cities are the growth engines of the global economy, contributing up to 50pc of some nations’ GDP. Soon they will need to start competing on sustainability and their approach to the environment, Siemens’ urban expert told The Green Economy – 2nd Annual Business & Leadership Briefing in Dublin today.

Dr Willfried Wienholt, vice-president of Urban Development at Siemens, explained that more and more people want to live in cities, where they want to enjoy better education, access to cultural events and higher living standards.

“In a nutshell, cities are growth engines in the economy, contributing 40 to 50pc of GDP. Since cities are also the big contributor to climate change, how do we help them to cope with that? If the city is really an economic driver, governments need to ask themselves ‘what do I need to do from a decision-making point of view?”

Wienholt says cities are already competing for investment and people to live in them. “Decision makers are trying to balance and take care of how to get financed and drive cities as a business. But where are the KPIs? What does it cost and what’s the return on investment? If I want to reduce carbon footprint by 10pc how much does it cost? What is feasible?

“To win investment and win people, governments need to be more precise.”

Cities will need to operate and compete just like businesses

Wienholt said that factors such as traffic management, building technologies, use of renewables and even how energy efficient it is for transports ships using the city harbour will all matter.

“Street lighting, for example, by using LED technology, cities can reduce energy costs by 50pc.”

In Siemens’ own buildings in Dublin, the company has been able to achieve energy savings of 33pc and 10pc savings in gas use.

Wienholt said cities need to start evaluating how they are perceived, how they compare with other cities and prepare feasibility studies for implementing specific measures, such as street lighting or water technology, just like any business would approach a new market.

“Seventy-three per cent of experts consider infrastructure renewal and upgrade, transportation issues and infrastructure funding to be the three main challenges facing their cities. The political fight of the century will be the pricing of energy,” Wienholt added.

Out of an index of 30 European cities, Wienholt said Dublin came 21st out of 30 cities. While it performed well on air quality, overall factors such as carbon emissions, water and transport saw Dublin trail other cities.

Wienholt argued that for Irish cities to truly improve in terms of their green performances, they should focus on one or two areas that are within their grasp. For Dublin, he suggested the city focus on buildings and transport and measure performance in these areas.

“Prioritisation helps the decision makers to achieve consent on what they do,” Wienholt said.

The MC at the event was broadcaster and journalist Matt Cooper, who pointed out that Dublin’s high performance in terms of air quality was down to a visionary decision two decades ago to make smokeless coal compulsory.

“It just shows the possibilities and benefits of strong political decisions,” Cooper said.

Photo: Dr Willfried Wienholt, vice-president of Urban Development at Siemens

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years