What does Green City really mean?

My colleague and friend, Craig Donovan, Manager of Sustainability Research at Ericsson, joined us at the New Cities Summit in Dallas, USA last week. It was a well-attended event with participants from over 50 countries including mayors, private and public sector representatives, start-ups, academia and members of the media. We were all there to discuss the future of cities and how we can transform the 21st century metropolis.


There is no point in transforming cities if this is not done in a sustainable manner so I was happy Craig could join us and share his ideas about a future sustainable city. Here are a few of his reflections on the summit:

Yesterday I was delighted to represent Ericsson as part of a panel discussion on ‘Technology and the Green City’ at the New Cities Summit. Prior to the event I was thinking about the topic and wondered: what do we really mean when we use the term, Green City? Is it a city that has many parks, that facilitates roof-top gardens and urban agriculture – much of which could be achieved without technology? Is it a low-carbon city that focuses on its environmental impact or, is it more than this? Does the Green City take a broader view of sustainable development to weigh environmental, economic and social factors together – also known as the triple bottom line?

Now, if we reflect on technology and the Green City, we might start to shift focus to what is commonly known as a smart city. However, a smart city is not necessarily a sustainable city, as it is not certain that technological solutions will have a net positive impact on sustainability as a whole. Therefore, I would like to think that when we use the term Green City, we are embracing a holistic view of a smart, sustainable city.

Coming from Ericsson, when I think about technology and the Green City, I think about how ICT is continuing to have a profound effect on the way we live our lives and shape our cities. I often reflect on my grandmother’s ICT journey. Born in 1929, she grew up with the telegraph and “the wireless” which is the name she used for the analogue radio set that was the pride of many homes at the time. Fast forward 85 years and today my grandmother is active in social media which is how we communicate predominantly. Now that’s an incredible journey.

Now, let us ponder ICT and sustainability. Studies show that ICT has been a key technology enabler for productivity growth over the last few decades and is comparable in economic impact to inventions such as steam engine or electricity. We often talk about the 2 percent versus the 98 percent – where 2 percent of the total global carbon footprint comes from the ICT sector while the other 98 percent is from all other sectors. Studies show that the ICT has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the other sectors by as much as 15 percent.

So, we see from our research that ICT is a clear driver and enabler of both economic and environmental sustainability, but what about social sustainability? Here we start to stray into uncharted waters. How should we assess and quantify social sustainability, for example digital literacy, digital inclusion and access to digital services? How do we ensure that ICT solutions break down barriers that might inhibit these? As we reimagine our cities, assessing and achieving social sustainability is one of our greatest challenges in applying technology for the Green City.

At the New City Summit, I was inspired by the many young entrepreneurs using ICT to solve problems that urban dwellers face today. Take for example, NextDrop which has developed an SMS service to monitor water availability in areas of intermittent supply and informs residents when they will next receive water in their area. This is an excellent example of how new, innovative services can leverage existing communication infrastructure to drive social sustainability for the urban poor.

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