urban infrastructure

One of the most inspiring aspects of the global sustainability agenda is how city leaders on every continent are driving real action on climate change and sustainable development.

However, even the mayors of the most advanced cities will say that they can’t do it alone and they need the engagement and collaboration of all stakeholders.

One stakeholder group that is the subjective of increased attention is business.

Business is a key solutions provider for addressing complex urban sustainability challenges. The key infrastructure, technology, services and financing solutions that will support the sustainable visions and strategies of cities are predominantly developed, designed and implemented by businesses. This includes energy efficient buildings, low-carbon mobility, smart infrastructure systems, renewable energy systems, and also inclusive business models for universal access to energy and water to name but a few.

Cities have long sourced solutions and services from the private sector and have engaged businesses to design, build, operate and maintain major infrastructure. However, under this traditional model, businesses are generally involved late in the city’s planning/implementation life cycle, when the opportunities to promote innovation and provide this valuable strategic input are limited. Cities and businesses need to develop new models of collaboration early in the planning process so as to leverage the full capability of the private sector to drive innovative solutions and support effective decision-making.

There are examples of cities working with business early in the planning process to help advance their sustainability agendas. However, this is currently the exception rather than the rule. This represents a major missed opportunity for cities.

The WBCSD Urban Infrastructure Initiative (UII) – a major 3 year global project that is publishing its final report this week – has been demonstrating in practice the value of early collaborative engagement between cities and business for sustainable development. The UII mobilized multi-sector, expertise from 14 leading companies  to help 10 cities around the world identify innovative and effective solutions to realize their sustainability visions.

While the UII was a pilot project that worked with a relatively small number of leading cities, this new report summarizes the evidence – particularly the perspectives of city leaders – that suggests that the early strategic involvement of business can be of real benefit to any city administration aiming to advance sustainability

You can download the report here. Also, you can see what cities thought about their work with the UII by watching these short videos regarding the project’s work with Yixing (China) and Philadelphia (USA).

It is very appropriate that the UII report is being launched this week at the ICLEI Global Town Hall at Metropolitan Solutions in Hannover – a major event focused on bringing cities and business together to discuss sustainable infrastructure solutions. In this regard, you can read a very interesting joint article from Gino Van Begin (Director General ICLEI) and Peter Bakker (President, WBCSD) on the importance of city business collaboration.

To conclude there are two things I would like to highlight.

Firstly, I want to stress that the UII report is not trying to tell city leaders what they must do. It is saying that cities wishing to pursue an ambitious sustainability agenda may be missing out if they are not seeking strategic input from leading private sector solutions providers early in the sustainability planning process. This form of engagement should be a key part of the planning toolbox.

Secondly, with the publication of this report the WBCSD wants to engage with all key urban stakeholders: cities, city organizations, international institutions, NGOs, the business community and citizens to promote discussion on the key findings and recommendations. We feel this discussion on maximizing the contribution of business needs to be part of the urgent global dialogue on how all stakeholders can work together to make cities more sustainable.