Written by Gozde Saral
Today, more than half of the population lives in cities (Fig. 1) and according to the UN, 70% of people will be living in cities by 2050. While the population in cities increasing, we are consuming more, using much more resources and in return generating more waste. However despite all these negative impacts, cities will be the center for solutions for a sustainable future by being the centers for creative solutions and new technologies.
Across the globe there are many cities transforming their transportation systems with energy efficient methods and upgrading their water systems by taking into account the environment and having better waste management techniques. For example with regulations by the Federal Government in Switzerland, the country goes towards sustainable energy options such as solar power, wind energy, biomass and hydro energy. Although the energy needs are rising 2% every year, national legislation mandates that 50% of Swiss energy should be produced by renewable sources by 2030 . In regard to that, there are regulations for energy efficiency, which we discuss in “Saving the world through better energy efficiency” and Geneva Airport is going through a transition, which we discuss in “Energy Efficiency & Aviation”.
Figure 1. Earth’s city lights. Credit: Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.
Not only developed countries, but also developing and low-income countries are passing this transition stage with the advances of technology. Although and acceleration of this transition stage would be desirable, acting globally with international regulations is difficult. Furthermore, national governments are slow and also facing corruption problems and so they are not very effective to reach Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On the other hand, the local governments and municipalities are much faster and creative and, therefore, they play an important role for sustainable development by collaborating with private sector and universities (see the blog article: Cities: creating major challenges and opportunities for sustainable development). For example, the REMOURBAN project (REgeneration MOdel for accelerating the smart URBAN transformation) is focusing on energy, transport, information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform cities into smart cities and one of the pilot projects is in Eskişehir in Turkey.
In addition to creative local governments, the behavior of civil society plays an important role to have a successful transformation towards a sustainable path. Director of Consumer Decision & Sustainable Behavior Lab, Tobias Brosch, explains that the goal of this research group is to understand the mechanisms driving people to make decisions related to energy consumption and using an interdisciplinary approach is vital for that. He explains how values, emotions, social norms, status and heuristics determine our sustainable decision making. Values, for instance, is an important factor. Do we act by thinking how the environment will be affected by our decision or act by thinking how our country will be affected? Do we follow the authorities or do we do just care about the cost? Our political orientation can also play an important role on our decisions. Using biospheric values to promote the products with labelling (i.e. biosuisse, ecoplan, etc.) can backfire due to political orientation. As seen in Figure 2 (Gromet et al. 2013), a study on people’s preferences on light bulbs with shows that left oriented people tend to choice the product with eco-labelling while eco-labelling makes a negative effect on right oriented people. Therefore while working for sustainable development we need to consider the different values of different people, and in order to do that we need to target everybody. It might be difficult, but we are in the same boat and in order to be on a sustainable path we need to act together no matter how different our values are.
Figure 2. Political orientation can effect people’s choices (taken from Gromet et al. 2013)