Day 10 -Sustainable countries & cities: Behavior changes towards sustainability

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 [1]. 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”.

kasdfkl copyFigure 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.

lsjdhf copyFigure 2. Political orientation can effect people’s choices (taken from Gromet et al. 2013)


[2] Dena M. Gromet, Howard Kunreuther, and Richard P. Larrick,  Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices, PNAS, 2013, 110, 23

Day 10 – Summer school wrap-up

Written by Peter Tinkasiimire

Week two of the course was guided by Professor Martin Patel and involved deep discussions on Global and Regional Energy outlook, Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Life Cycle Assessment  as well as key site visits.

The course wrap up was kicked off by Mr. Laurent Horvath who gave an inspirational talk about goals in life and clean-tech opportunities in relation to sustainable cities. He also discussed the importance of collaboration and stakeholder engagement in creating the desired impact and change in the world.

This was followed by a presentation on the psychological perspective as a tool to protect the environment and avert climate change. Insight was given on determinants of decision making like values, self-efficacy social norms, emotions et cetera. The presentation also touched base on lessons for interventions such as, recognition of different values, dissemination of enough information, importance of social norms , and so forth.

Dr. Alexander Hedjazi drew from his expertise in urban planning to give a presentation on how to take stock of interconnected systems when in transition. He touched base on transition planning which involves cross-agency and cross-sector  interaction assessment and Integrated Environmental Risk Management.

From the discussions above, I feel that SDG 9, which is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable is best associated with the day’s presentations because global dynamics of change have created the necessity of building smart cities which can be monitored and make people happy. The increasing population growth trends triggered by high birth rates in some parts of the world as well as immigrants from other countries, has increased pressure on the environment and necessitated more energy  so as to  to cater for the increasing numbers. In addition, there is a need to look into the clean technology opportunities in order to minmize the climate change impact.

Borrowing from Dr. Hedjazi`s presentation, this necessitates transitional planning in order to assess the sensitivity of the situation, capacity assessment and vulnerability assessment. It is also important to note that cross-agency and cross-sector interaction must be assessed. Vulnerabilities are compounded and if if ignored can have detrimental impacts. Therefore an inclusive approach should be used to wholistically address all risk elements.

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  • Policy makers should work more with psychologists.
  • Increased role of technology in influencing people’s behaviour eg. smart user interfaces. It should be fun and stylish as well as interactive to keep people interested.


(2) Global Environment Policy Program, The 2030 Agenda, Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within  Government, Business & Civil Society ; 2015

Day 9 – Wrapping up global governance

Written by Sven Jadyschke

Today the 30.06.2016, the second-to-last day of our Summer School. In the morning, as I was on the way to the University, I remembered the previous day, I had a wonderful summer picnic with my classmates, organized in freetime by our training staff, Dr.  Hedjazi, Prof. Patel and Ms. Pilipiszyn.

As I arrived at the University, I looked forward to Prof. Patels lecture “Sustainability Paradigms,” which I liked as they went into a little bit more in detail and kept a realistic perspective. He started with Biofuels and explained to us the first and second generation, what are the differences and how they were produced. Regarding the question of sustainability, is it a controversial question because it brings lots of other problems within it.  In my opinion, the biggest problem is not CO2, but rather it is pressures on the ground (high fertilizer usage) and stands in competition with food producers. Then we changed the topic to the “Tosa Bus,” which is an electric power and battery-driven bus. It was interesting to listen Prof. Patel’s explanations and see, how these discussions would make our group more and more aware, and better understand how broad and deep the currently technical and political issues around these topic is.

The second part of Prof. Patel’s lecture was a comparision between 3 views (Indur M. Goklany, Michael E. Porter, Jørgen S. Nørgård), regarding human technology development, behavior in dealing with the environment and responsible social aspects. Everybody was required to read the day before and have an overview about these 3 authors and their views. Prof. Patel asked us, which view has our highest compliance? The vote of our class was: Groklany 2, Porter 7 and Nørgård 3. For me was interesting to see, how is the dynamic and the discussion about different views.

In the evening, we started our excursion to the Palais des Nations, the United Nation Economic Commission For Europe (UNECE). We got a pleasant welcome by Oleg Dzioubinski, and he introduced us to the Member States and gave us an overview about the work on sustainable energy within the UN. I think it is important that their definition of sustainable contains not only renewable energies but also the access of all people to energy. Afterwards, we heard two other interesting speakers. David Elzinga spoke about natural gas, oil prices, conflicts between producers and consumer countries and Jennifer Chang, who gave us some insights about coal usage. At the end of the day, Ms Chang showed us many different social aspects, political and private influences and monetary consequences for a country, a branch and a region.

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At the end, my thoughts about the second-to-last day and almost two weeks in the Summer School, I think Switzerland is an ideal place, especially Genèva, as a good pattern for conservative, responsible and sustainable thinking. One thing is fact, everything depends on given conditions, and perhaps Genèva has not the monopoly of the truth, but a good initial situation, however I think, it is an impartial state and in addition the NGOs, where it is possible for many countries for a neutral get-together, to learn from each other. Education and sharing information are in every case an important key for a clean and sustainable world. With energy and environment questions there are so many stakeholders, that it is not enough to read only the headline of any study or research and get back to work, rather what is needed is an understanding to make sure nobody is left behind. It is like a trade, only if every stakeholder has a benefit is it possible to act sustainably in response to our nature-given challenge.

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Day 9 – New paradigms of sustainable development

Written by Laurene Bazman

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” – Keynes

On Wednesday 30th of June, our summer school begun with the analysis of three article which all address the new paradigm of sustainable development from totally different perspectives. One of them, written by Indur M. Goklany, who works for the US Department of the Interior, has caught my attention. In this article, Goklany addresses the fear of the neo-malthusim and brings some empirical arguments which contradicts this theory. First, unlike neo malthusisms prediction, the rate of populations’ growth is decreasing. Second, despite the historically increasing absolute number of population, there is still enough food to feed this population. Third, and probably the most important point,  Goklany highlights  that despite the unprecedented environmental changes that the world has to confront, human well-being has never been higher. In order to come to this conclusion, Goklany exposes a well known equation :

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According to this model, the increase of population will have a negative effect on the environment, which at the end  will also affect human’s well-being negatively. Nevertheless, Goklany don’t agree with this correlation, because human well being has never been so high despite the environmental deterioration.

Furthermore, the article addresses the disparity between developed and developing country by exposing a Knutzet courbe showing the environmental transition. The hypothesis is that the development procedure of a country begins with a very energy intensive transition, which will bring the required technology to resolve the environmental deterioration resulting from this process.

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Source: Goklany 2009

Per consequence, the key world of this article is technology. Indeed, technology is supposed to resolve the IPAT problem by reducing the environmental impacts.

I disagree with Goklany on several point. First, this article has been written from a very west-oriented perspective. The “trends” section submerges the reader with statistics showing a very positive side world’s globalization. However, a consequent part of the world’s population don’t fall under the well-being argument of this article. For instance, in some sub-saharian African countries, the poverty rate is still very important. In addition, global inequality is still very consequent. To say that technology is the most important solution in order to resolve this problem seems a bit too easy. I even go further and would pretend that what one can call the “technology myth” is a good excuse to continue with the growth-oriented neo-liberal economic model.

Second, during the lecture I’ve raised doubt  regarding the credibility of comparing the industrialisation that has happened in the developed countries with the one happening now in the developing countries. Once again, the article put the developed countries and their models in the center of the attention and tries to find a way which allows the developing countries to fit in the same model.

Moreover, the Knutzet courbe shows that pollution can be acceptable if it finally results in technological innovation and human well-being. Nevertheless, in my opinion, any model suggesting some kind of environmental deterioration, even if at the end it is supposed to be resolved, is not acceptable. In addition,  Goklany adreaaea the idea of adaptation processes that are made possible with new technologies. Nevertheless, to adapt to climate change won’t be enough if we want to stay below the symbolic 2° launched during the Paris agreement, we also need to mitigate our emissions. Per consequence, I’m convinced that this is is only possible if we totally change our development models. This statement was made independently by various experts we’ve met in the framework of the summer school. Indeed, we were all very surprised as Arthur Dahl, an environmental expert who has been part of the changes in the environmental governance from Stockholm 1972 to Paris 2016, confessed that a huge world crisis may be the only way to “save our planet”. In other words, new “green” technological innovations alone are not sufficient, the world needs an abrupt and unprecedented transition toward new models.

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After this quite theoretical morning, we went to the UN buildings to hear three presentations by UNECE experts. There we learned that there is still no commonly accepted definition of sustainable development, but what always comes up are three pillars which are to be balanced. These are economic, environmental and social.

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 However, over the past decade, the last point has been given less attention, indeed the link between economy and environment has been prioritize. This has been pointed out today by Gulnara Roll, who works on the Housing and Land management Unit Forest, land and Housing Division. As she explained, renewable and efficient energies are not affordable for all social group, especially not for the most vulnerable. Therefore it is necessary to guarantee a certain equity and equality in the development of new technologies, which until lastly wasn’t integrated in the private sector.

The social pillar has also been shown by David Erziger. Indeed, when it comes to environmental protection, it has a more important place in western country, simply because they can afford it. By contrast, countries whose economy mainly depend on coal production for instance can’t risk their economic program for environmental aspects. Consequently, the social pillar is one aspect of the role of international organizations which consists in facilitating the transition to a sustainable energy system. The urgent need to rethink our development and social models also came up during this presentation.  We definitely need a big transition in order to be able to stay under the 2 degrees, we can’t continue with business as usual.

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Day 9 – Paradigms of Sustainability

Written by Carina Vogelsberger

As we are approaching the end of this year’s summer school, day 9 encouraged us to reflect upon the challenges and opportunities that we have been discussing from a broader perspective.

Having started the day with a lecture at the university, Martin first wanted to catch up on two points we had to leave out the days before: the production of biofuels and Geneva’s Tosa-bus – an electric driven public bus, charged through induction at every bus stop it passes. Both are examples of innovative ways to overcome our dependency on fossil fuels, but nevertheless, do not come without any environmental impact either. Offering a good transition to Martin’s initial lecture, we were confronted with the question of whether it will be enough to make energy more sustainable. Or does avoiding the intensification of climate change and its destructive effects also require the reduction of our general energy consumption?

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As today’s session has shown, even among scientists there is no real agreement in that regard: We compared three different perspectives, two offering a technology optimist view, while the other represents a technology pessimist thinking. The first is discussed through an article by Indur M. Goklany, former representative of the United States at the IPCC. Opposed to any form of public regulation that may limit economic growth, he argues that economic development and increasing wealth will ultimately set free the necessary capital to address the environmental challenges countries are facing.

As representative of the second tradition, Michael E. Porter, Professor at Harvard Business School, shares Goklany’s believe in technological innovation. However, he admits some shortcomings within the economic system and the way it deals with environmental issues. Therefore, Porter regards environmental regulations not so much as a barrier to economic growth, but even as a chance for private businesses: While, nationally, they might level the playing-field, on the international scale, they could even bring a competitive advantage to companies that are not publicly supported in developing more sustainable, technological solutions.

Contrary to the first two positions, Jørgen S. Nørgård from the Technological University of Denmark argues that ‘cleaner’ energy alone will not be enough to prevent severe consequences of environmental change. Hence, we should acknowledge that economic growth cannot be endless, but that only limiting global production will really lead us to a more sustainable future. Despite being probably the least known among the three researchers, Nørgård illustrates that, in the past, similar arguments have been taken forward by leading economists such as John Maynard Keynes or John Stuart Mill. While he acknowledges that a reduction of general consumption will thereby be inevitable, this must not be true for people’s material standard of living. Limits to growth would not be imposed on the public, but evolve in a democratic society, supporting the strive for greater equality. Ideally, this comes about when addressing the central element of today’s overproduction: the input of labour. Nørgård divides it into five factors – population, labour force fraction, average working time, employment rate and labour productivity – and elaborates under which circumstances people themselves would have an interest in limiting or rethinking the same.

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Considering our lectures and discussions within these two weeks, I am strongly sympathising with Nørgård and his argumentation. Despite the ambitious projects we got to know this week, we have seen that even sustainable energy comes at a price. And also some of the experts we heard in the first week, such as David Carlson from the WMO or Arthur Lyon Dahl from the UNDP, were critical about continuously increasing the global energy demand.  However, when looking at current tendencies, within the energy sector but also in terms of public regulations, identifying a dominant paradigm becomes much more difficult. At least within Europe, the general trend seems to be closest to Porter’s proposals – depending on the situation, either combined with elements of Goklany’s or Nørgard’s theory.

Hearing from the work of practitioners in the field again, our afternoon visit to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) seemed to confirm this assessment. Indeed, Oleg Dzioubinski, Head of UNECE’s Sustainable Energy Division, argues that industries and investors are often reluctant to support projects related to energy efficiency, as they do not see the immediate benefits for their businesses. Hence, it would be the responsibility of governments to give incentives for the needed actions – an effort that often falls short, according to Dzioubinski.

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Parts of the talk given by David Elzinga, Economic Affairs Officer at UNECE, seemed to be closer to the two other paradigms we were discussing. Somehow close to the argumentation by Goklany, Elzinga noted that ‘less developed countries’ first need to put a stronger emphasis on economic development, before being able to focus on sustainability. Nevertheless, as he continues by elaborating on current statistics to the energy sector’s carbon emissions, he concedes that significant changes will be needed in order to reach the energy emission goals set for 2050 – requiring not only a reduction of emissions, but energy use in general. However, Elzinga is sceptical of whether market regulations could be an efficient tool in that regard. In order to make investments in sustainable energy more attractive, those would need to be global and set for a certain (longer) period of time. Otherwise, they might only serve as an additional insecurity factor for private businesses.

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Offering also a personal assessment of which direction we will and can go in the future, Elzinga further criticises the tendency within the renewable energy sector to downgrade the fossil fuel industry. Considering their powerful position, and hence capacity for leading change, it would be “much healthier to engage with the fossil fuel industry than going against them”. When talking about sustainability, we must not only think of its environmental, but also social and economic aspects. Thus, simply shutting down coal mines cannot be a solution, considering the jobs and livelihoods they secure and the capital that lies within this market. Therefore, according to my understanding, Elzinga’s core message is that major changes in the generation and consumption of energy will be needed, but that those require a smooth transition. For that, it is necessary to get all stakeholders “in the boat”, instead of demonising major actors. Overall, the goal should not bet to advocate for more renewables, but to lower global emissions.

To conclude, it seems that we need to think outside the boxes of rigid theoretical models in order to grant a global, equal and sustainable energy supply in the future. Instead of shifting the blame (and responsibility) from one actor to another, collaborations between the public sector and industries need to be fostered. Furthermore, as long as global regulatory mechanisms are largely absent, the engagement of civil society, local and regional governments might be crucial: Public advocacy and giving incentives for private businesses to invest in sustainable and more energy efficient solutions can be a first step towards a general reduction of global energy demand. In facilitating collaborations among the different stakeholders and providing technical support, UNECE and the UN in general could play a significant role in this transition. Acknowledging the need for cooperation and engaging the private sector in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is hopefully only the first step in that direction.

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Day 8 – Helmets on! GLN: Thermal heating & cooling

Written by Flor Mitchell

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GLN is a project coordinated by SIG, the canton´s provider of energy and other services (more in their website or Attila`s post) which supplies heat and cooling facilities to 25 companies, organizations and schools in the Sécheron district such as ONU, College Sismondi, Campus Biotech, Hotel InterContinental.

I – Energy context in Geneva

Geneva canton, with a population of 482.545, every year consumes an average of around 38.000 TJ[1] of energy (not taking into account the solid fuels). In the last years, approximately a third of it is electricity, and the rest is fossil fuels used directly as a source of energy. But from the data it is also observable that there is a tendency to electrification and less carbon intensive fossil fuels (natural gas). At the same time, of all electricity provided, 89% is from renewable sources (hydroelectric, solar and biomass) and 11% from natural gas.

[1] Bilan des livraisons d’énergie aux consommateurs finals, depuis 1980. Office Cantonal de la Statisque (Link)

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This is the result of the SIG vision: “to reduce a dependency on natural resources, to lessen impact on the environment and to ensure steady economic growth”.

Due to its location Geneva has big potential to produce electricity and heat from renewable sources.

Thanks to its topography and high levels of annual rainfall, Geneva has ideal conditions for the utilization of hydropower. Right now, SIG uses three hydroelectric power stations on the Rhone River (Verbois, Chancy-Pougny and Seujet) and one on the Arve (Vessy) and they provide more than 20% of all electricity used by Genevans[1]. Though the discussion still persists on whether hydropower is a clean source of energy, it indubitably contributes to the decarbonisation of the energy system.

Solar energy, can be used with the help of solar collectors for heat production (hot water and auxiliary heating), and through the use of photovoltaic systems for electricity production. In the first case, if all existing buildings were to be optimally improved in terms of energy efficiency, it would be possible to meet the heating requirements of all Switzerland’s households through the use of solar collectors. While with photovoltaic systems by 2050 it would be possible to meet around 20 percent of the current level of electricity demand in Switzerland[2]. And that’s why SIG has made a sound investment supporting this technology.

Geneva’s local geology means that there is excellent potential for geothermal energy. Underground resources can be divided into three categories: shallow, medium or deep and could cover a significant two-thirds of the canton’s heating needs and part of its electricity consumption. At shallow depths (50m to 400m), rocks in the earth have a constant, year-round temperature of 12°C to 25°C. Installing geothermic probes or pumping water into underground groundwater systems, together with heat pumps, represent significant potential for generating heating solutions. At medium depths (from approximately 400m to 3,000m), the underground temperature is between 25°C and 100°C. Water that circulates in these geological layers or in fault lines can be pumped and used directly in thermal installations, for urban heating or heating greenhouses. At much deeper levels (between 3,000m and 6,000m), rocks can reach temperatures of almost 200°C. This energy, when captured, can produce heat and also electricity. Deep geothermal heating presents enormous energy potential, but considerable investment is required to develop this sector and improve our knowledge of what lies this deep underground[3].

II – Genève Lac Nation

The thermal Genève Lac Nation (GLN) project is based on this kind of energy source, but instead of using the constant temperature of the earth, it takes advantage of the same phenomenon but in the deep waters of the Lake Leman.

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The project now supplies water that can be used by the participating buildings as heat sink to the climate control systems. Mainly used for air conditioning systems in conference rooms and data centers, it also provides heating in newly-constructed buildings via the installation of high-performance heat pumps. To guarantee the efficiency of the system as a total, buildings applying for heating services are audited before being incorporated.

Many different organizations take part of the project in various ways. SIG is coordinating them all but also financed it together with the federal state. On the other hand, University of Geneva is measuring the system and studying it. And as it was said before, 25 institutions use its services. The project is of interest to many actors because of the possibility of replicating it in other neighborhoods and cities.

III – How does GLN works?

Diagram of the complete system (You’ll have to forgive my little graphic design skills, there’s also a nice video here)

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  1. Water flows into a water deposit through a pipe 40 meters deep, where water is around 6/7 ºC all year round. No pumping system is used in this instance to diminish environmental impact. Especially for flora and fauna that could be dragged into the pipes due to aspiration systems.
  2. Pumps distribute the cold water to all the participating buildings.

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  1. Buildings with need of cool air for their rooms use heat exchangers to use the cold water as a heat sink. The hot air coming from their rooms becomes colder, warming up the water flowing in the GLN pipes. Thanks to the heat exchanger, the water from the lake never mixes with the water from the building facilities.
  2. Buildings equipped with high efficient heat pumps, can use the water from the lake as a heat source even when its temperature it’s not so high, cooling the water. Thus, they can supply the heating facilities of their rooms. This technology also keeps the water from both systems separated; therefore it can be pumped again into the lake.
  3. On its way back to the lake, water flow is used to generate electricity with a turbine. That energy complements the energy supply from the electric line increasing the system efficiency.

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  1. If at the end of the circuit there is still residual heat, the water flows into a closed loop and starts its way through the buildings with heat pumps again.
  2. Finally water it`s pumped into the lake again at a depth of 5 meters, where the water is around 3ºC in winter and 12ºC in summer. Since in winter water is mostly used for heating purposes the outgoing water is colder than when it comes in, while in summer, the water is used to cool down the buildings, so water going out from the system is hotter than the incoming one. Thereby the difference between the outgoing water and the lake is minimized.

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All the system is monitored to identify problems and improvements. Even the performance of the buildings facilities connected to GLN is closely followed to keep efficiency as high as possible.

IV – What next?

With the success of GLN, SIG proposed to expand it with a new project: Genilac. This new venture while supply with water for cooling or heating purposes downtown Geneva by 2021 and the airport by 2022.

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V – Environmental impact

Basing on the study of the GLN system in Geneva, the effects of such facilities on the lake environment are studied and the impacts assesses as very low. The generalization of such systems is mainly limited by the cooling demand, which should remain limited in the Swiss climate, rather than by the physical limits of the resource[1].

This harnessing of water resources would bring down the temperature of the lake less than 0.2 ºC, which would have little effect on the body of water[2].

Anyway, more research must be done to determine the long term impact this kind of projects may have on the ecosystem.

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[1] Valorisation thermique des eaux profondes lacustres: le réseau genevois GLN et quelques considérations générales sur ces systèmes. Jérôme FAESSLER, Pierre HOLLMULLER, Bernard LACHAL and Pierre-Alain VIQUERAT.


[1] SIG, Renewable Energy, Hydraulic. Link

[2] Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

[3] SIG, Renewable Energy, Geothermal. Link

Day 8 – Increasing Energy Efficiency

Written by Attila Farkas

Reducing energy consumption is paramount to decrease the environmental impact, especially carbon footprint of our society. Efficiency affects the whole value chain from resource extraction to final consumption and waste management (recycling). According to the International Energy Agency, half of the energy-related Greenhouse Gas emission reduction can (and should) be achieved by energy efficiency measures. Consider also, that energy-related emissions constitute the largest share in total GHG emissions.

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The real significance of energy efficiency lies however in its positive social and economic externalities. Reduced resource use means industrial competitiveness, decreasing expenditures for households, decreasing environmental hazards besides GHG-emission reduction (e.g. more efficient stoves emit less harmful particles reducing the chance of respiratory damages), easier and more secure access to energy services (the same energy system can serve more users, and investments can be channeled into grid development instead of the expenditure of production capacities), increasing resilience towards energy import shocks.

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Energy efficiency is therefore a cornerstone of sustainable development – acknowledged by the global community as well, as Target 7.3 of the SDG #7 on modern energy systems states: “By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”. SDG #7 is mostly based on the ongoing Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, under which energy efficiency received a major role under the Global Energy Efficiency Accelerator Platform with the leadership the Copenhagen University. The Platform’s goal is to discover and promote globally applicable energy efficiency solutions by accelerating their (pilot) use on local levels with strong public-private participation. The projects will set examples for future projects and policies as well and tackle on of the main obstacles of energy efficiency developments: the lack of shared information.

Actors: Utilities

In order to realize the energy efficiency potential, energy utilities and energy providers need to take central stage. Utilities have information on and access to basically every step and actor along the energy value chain (resource extraction and transmission being a common, although less significant exceptions). Utilities can not only reduce their own energy consumption but incentivize their consumers to pursue similar behavior as well.

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It seems counterintuitive for an energy provider to be interested in the consumption-reduction of its own customers. There are some positive effects however in promoting energy efficiency as the IEA puts it: “For utilities and energy providers […] energy efficiency can help to improve system reliability, enhance capacity adequacy, better manage peak demand, optimise utilisation of generation and network assets, create opportunities to defer generation and network investment, and dampen price volatility in wholesale markets.” (IEA Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency (2014) pp. 153-154).

Apart from market incentives, regulatory measures can also foster energy efficiency gains on behalf of the utilities. The EU introduced in the Energy Efficiency Directive (2012) the obligation for energy providers to cut their marketed volume 1,5%/y through energy efficiency measures. A similar measure was proposed in Switzerland as well on federal level, and although the Parliament has recently rejected the idea (within the context of the Swiss Energy Strategy for 2050 which on the other hand strongly builds upon energy efficiency measures), it is alive on Cantonal level, e.g. in Geneva.

Case Study: SIG

Services industriels de Genève or SIG serves 275.000 households within the Canton of Geneva. The multi-utility covers electricity, gas and district heating as well in terms of energy services. The company portfolio includes renewable energy production capacities and the import almost exclusively generated by renewable sources, i.e. the company is committed to sustainable energy not just in terms of energy efficiency.

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The company offers energy efficiency services to its customers through its eco21 program. The program has been launched in 2007 as an initiative by the SIG with the support of the Canton. The company is investing 1% of its annual turnover into promoting energy efficiency solutions generating returns for the Canton through lowering energy bills and creating market for local entrepreneurs (retrofitting, retail etc.).

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The program covers single households, medium and larger communities/industrial consumers as well and aims to provide flexible, personalized solutions if possible. The program provides information both on current consumptions patterns (audits performed by SIG) and possible efficiency investments (advisory and planning by the utility). It finances certain investments (light bulb switch for households, changing heating/cooling appliances) and helps to operate and maintain large-scaled projects.

The SIG gradually changes its role from energy distributor to service provider – instead of offering energy to the end-user the company is trying to maximize consumer experience in every aspect of energy use. This means operational efficiency on one hand (centrally optimized subsidy schemes, economies of scale in projects, faster best practice accumulation) but also the ‘monopolization’ of the energy sector and increased exposure from the consumers (by reducing their consumption they weaken their links to the company, but on the other hand the management of the Canton’s energy sector is gradually shifting to the company: audits, investments, subsidy allocation).

The SIG is able to successfully manage the abovementioned shift: through eco21 27.000 t CO2-emission and 110 GWh electricity consumption was avoided while the company was able to preserve its profitability without allowing end-user prices to increase. As a result Geneva’s per capita electricity use is only 80% of the Swiss average. The success of the shift can be explained by the strong trust of the consumers towards the company. Customers need and accept the SIG’s experience, recommendations and in general the company’s role in nudging and intermediating between consumers and retailers.

Another important factor in the success is that SIG 1) has a monopoly on the retail market, 2) is publicly owned and the ownership is shared between the Canton and the municipalities. As a result the market pressure is much smaller on the company, and it has administrative resources available to strengthen the communication and trust towards its customers.

It is questionable therefore whether in a more competitive environment and without the historical and administrative advantages the successful operation of SIG could be replicated. Its shift in focus and self-identity towards a more service based and personnel operation is a change public utilities will however hardly be able to avoid in the future.

Day 8: From theory to real-world application: energy in action

Written by Darya Latour

Our day started at SIG (Services Industriels de Genève), one of Switzerland’s biggest multi-utility company, providing Geneva’s gas, electricity, water as well as managing waste and producing district heating. Professor Martin Patel’s brief introduction informed us about Switzerland’s energy status and put forwards the fact that the electricity sector is strongly regulated and very conservative which makes it hard for SIG to implement goals for energy efficiency in legislation. However, despite this, SIG has been one of the main environmental actors in Geneva…

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The building in which we were welcomed by Cédric Jeanneret was an annex that provides a working space for the administration. However, this building has a great importance as it was primarily built in case the headquarters are destroyed and the room we were sitting in had a symbolic value as all the energy system of Geneva could be controlled from there.

Cedric, the speaker, put the emphasis on the duality of the perception of energy; according to him, not only is it about the people who produce it but also the people who consume. Therefore, SIG takes this duality into account throughout its actions: the company provides energy but is also in charge of the way the consumer uses it. The aim is to control the consumption through programs such as the Eco21 program.

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Eco21 program’s goal is to save electricity and carbon dioxide by incentivising consumers to change their consumption habits, through advertising the program, spreading information, rewarding energy savings with money, as well as providing online tools to measure progress such as stimulators and saving calculators. This program helps customers to have a more energy efficient lifestyle by giving advice to households for instance to replace their heating system with a new one based on renewable energies or placing ‘smart lighting’ that only works when the sensor indicates someone is walking in the room which will reduce the energy consumption. If you want to know more about SIG’s eco21 program, feel free to check the website : éco21.webloc

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This slogan can be found on the SIG website, translates into :”Your extra kilo(watts) can bring you a lot”. This play on words is an advertisement to grab customers’ attention and encourage them to save extra electricity in order to save extra francs on their bills as well…

In the discussion we had at SIG, we were once again facing one of the main issues that had been mentioned throughout this course : How do we measure progress, and in this case, electricity savings ?

Eco 21 has a partnership with the University of Geneva ; the collaboration aims to develop new methods and models to assess the impact of the savings in terms of energy. This allows us to connect SIG’s action with another SDG : goal 17 concerning partnership for the goals. (

As it may come as a surprise that an energy supply company has launched an energy efficiency program, it is important to mention the ambiguity of the status of SIG which is midway between public and private. Indeed, the status of SIG is hard to define as it is a company but the owners are people from the government ; SIG tries to earn money but also helps the consumers spend less money which can seem quite paradoxical. The company makes profit because it has the monopoly of grid management which takes into account the people as well as the production and allows a win-win situation. Unlike a private company, SIG has no willingness of maximising profit by selling more electricity ; its goal is to serve society by providing the right amount of electricity and respecting sustainable development goals as well as the cantonal policy.

Therefore, in my opinion, SIG’s action can be connected to SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy

We also discussed the idea of efficiency, which can be defined as minimising the loss of energy and “having the energy inside and managing to keep it close”. Isolating a building is a great example of energy efficiency as the energy is being kept inside, within the building as long as possible.

How can you decrease your energy consumption as a consumer ?

  • On a human scale, the questions you have to ask youself is : “do I really need this ?”, which brings up the idea of sufficiency. Let’s take an example ; if you want to go to Paris for a leisure week-end, you should assess whether or not it is worth the emission if you take the plane. If you want to take the car, car sharing is a very useful system for instance because decreasing energy consumption is also about making rational decisions in regard with efficiency.
  • The utility level is all about having an innovative market producing efficient products and using traditional utilities to boost change in consumer behaviour. For example, SIG works with Migros (one of the main retailers in Switzerland). Through the eco21 plan, they have an agreement : Migros sells LED lamps for the same price as normal lamps to encourage consumers to buy these. This initiative has been allowed by the fact that SIG is giving money to Migros to counterbalance the profit loss due to the decrease of the price of LED lamps.
  • At the national level, action can be taken through the educational system as well as transportation systems. Geneva is an excellent example with its transportation system that encourages citizens to take public transports rather than their cars. Another important aspect is the legislation which enables people to reach goals by placing challenges. For instance, in 15 years, no more fuel cars will run in Norway.


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After this presentation of SIG, the sun was shining bright as we were heading to our next destination, which was located by the lake. We just had to put our helmets on, and off we were to visit the Genilac project that has come to life thanks to the collaboration of SIG!

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Lake Geneva is able to provide 25% of the energy needed in Geneva; therefore hydropower is Switzerland’s most important domestic source of renewable energy. Once again, innovation and making the best of the local natural resources of energy is key. The presence of the lake in Geneva is a huge asset for the city.

Genilac is a very efficient project, which uses the water of lake Leman as an innovative thermal system to provide air conditioning in buildings such as UN buildings.

To avoid the pumping of natural species, the water from the lake is transferred into a pool, from which the water is pumped and begins its journey through a 6km long hydraulic system. To avoid waste, when the water returns, it is used for irrigation in parks such as Geneva’s Botanical Garden.

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This project has been a success in terms of efficiency; the buildings using this thermal system have saved almost 80% of energy and have reduced their carbon dioxide emission. The system should be able to expand to other buildings in the city including residential buildings by 2017…

I think this morning was very informative and I particularly liked the transition from the theoretical presentation of SIG to the site visit of Geneva Lake Nations, which allowed us to witness the concrete action that is being done and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Day 7 – Energy efficiency & aviation

Written by Alberto Serena

It’s already Day 2 on Week 2 and we are now fully into Energy scenarios and efficiency. Prof. Martin Patel’s lecture focuses on the recent renewable energy development and the Life Cycle Assessment technique.

The various energy sources are suitable to cover heating needs, transportation and electricity production differently, and the exploitation costs are strongly affected by the location and depend on the technology considered.

Solar radiation, the original source of the others (all but the geothermal one), is abundant and presents the greatest potential, thousands of times the most exploited sources (biomass, geothermal, hydro). It’s encouraging to know that the average irradiation on the Earth surface in one hour covers the total energy demand; however, albedo and absorption, ocean coverage, seasonal variations, weather, territory morphology and use reduce this potential. Additional constraints are the competition with agriculture, shadows, the source intermittency and the mismatch between production and load. The cost of this technology has strongly decreased in the last years, making it affordable to developing markets and no longer relying on incentives.

Wind energy promises a good potential too but wind farms are often in conflict with sustainability issues as protected natural areas, remoteness, interference with migratory flows. In the past decade, economy of scale and other factors triggered the development of bigger and bigger wind turbines; for the offshore ones, a single blade is now comparable in length as the wingspan of an Airbus 380!

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Last week the new record for the longest wind turbine blade ever constructed was hit by the joint effort of Adwen and LM Wind Power, with an impressive 88,4 m length.

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Solar PV panels and wind turbines installations surged in the period 2007-2010, the most active Countries have been China, USA, Germany and Italy (from an IRENA Report, 2015).

In terms of primary energy production, most of the renewable one, nowadays, is still from bioenergy, mostly through traditional combustion (cooking, heat – linked to pollution problem).

As a general trend, in the progressive transition towards renewable energy, CO2 emissions are reduced accordingly; different scenarios are proposed by two main Agencies (International Energy Agency and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis): the energy mix will in any case still feature a relevant contribution by fossil fuels, especially coal. Stronger policies are needed to stay within the maximum 2°C global warming goal. Synergies among renewable energy contribution, energy efficiency improvement and  saving play a key role in order to compensate the intermittency and reduce the demand.

Renewable sources with different production profiles need to be matched, the grids extended, the storage capabilities improved. If the local population is engaged, people will become actors of the change.

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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) addresses the need for a transparent information on a product or technology impact on the environment and for a fair comparison of the different alternatives.

This technique tries to consider all the stages involved: resource extraction, manufacturing, product use, waste management all along the product / stream life. It is useful not only for labeling, but also to identify possibilities for reducing environmental impacts. The analysis framework comprises the definition of goal and scope with the system boundaries, the inventory analysis, the impact assessment and finally its interpretation. Unfortunately, for recently developed technologies, it is difficult to assess some of the indicators (as the lifespan of solar PV panels and their recycle possibilities). When evaluating biofuels emissions, land use-related effects are determinant if the overall impact is considered. Second generation biofuels will possibly make use of agricultural wastes.

We are given an assignment to evaluate the convenience of near-zero energy (passive) buildings; the embodied energy of the additional insulation material is compared to the saved fossil-fuel energy relative to the benchmark case. Building materials for energy-efficient houses have a relevant embodied energy and CO2 footprint.

After an intensive morning on Energy Resources and Scenarios, we went to the Geneva Airport to learn about its development plan and sustainability in the aviation sector.

Geneva Airport occupies a total area of 340 hectares and is located only 5 km away from the city centre.

Airports provide worldwide connections and are crossroads of cultures and people, but feature a relevant socio-economic impact and energy hunger.

Jon Godson, Assistant Director – Aviation Environment, presents the main issues: legislations are rapidly evolving, and rather than burdens, they have to be seen as the opportunity of boosting innovation, especially to limit emissions and noise pollution (this through a noise absorber for indoor testing of the airplane motors), through mitigating measures which improve local air quality and cabin waste management, which is currently incinerated to avoid the transmission of diseases. Joint efforts are necessary: the aircraft industry is looking after alternative fuels, an environment committee advising the airport company policy is involved, additional problems with illegal protected wildlife species and ivory trafficking by criminals have to be faced too.

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The Corporate Social Responsibility covers a variety of social issues beyond environment (even ad hoc initiatives as humanitarian aid and employment of child labour) and, encouraging the dialogue with employees, clients, population, and human resources management, through ethical labour practices, is the right path towards a fair and sustainable development.

A complex infrastructure and logistic systems characterize the ground service: a Swiss Air Transport policy has been implemented in the last years: the main target is to compensate gaseous emissions (solar PV panels installed on the buildings, construction of energy positive buildings) and durably meet the demand of current and future transportation; the main initiatives are promoting sustainable mobility (free public transport ticket at arrivals and incentives to the employees). Very ambitious goals are set on the vehicle fleet, which is now 22 % electrically powered. Rainwater is recovered and used in the toilets. A new project will make use of the water from the lake to warm and cool the buildings.

Since 2014 a Sustainable Development Report has been published and updated every year. In order to preserve biodiversity, around 50 % of the area is covered by grass and features more than 200 plants (including orchids) and 11 endangered species, and for the fauna, a wildlife corridor and bird damage prevention are included.

We rushed back to the University to assist a very interesting session on Contemporary Challenges to Refugee Protection followed by a final and well-deserved Apéro!


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Day 6 -Private sector’s role in sustainable development

Written by Callum Alexander

There is a growing consideration that the private sector must be incorporated into driving environmental sustainability. International organisations like the United Nations (UN) are increasingly recognising the opportunity and necessity for the private sector to be encompassed into environmental strategy and decision making. In harmony with this, the United Nations Secretary General Ban KI-moon recently said:

“The United Nations and business need each other. We need your innovation, your initiative, your technological prowess. But business also needs the United Nations”

In accordance with the observation of the UN Secretary General a comprehensive framework  within the UN Global Compact initiative for business engagement was developed, within the detailed framework the UN specifically established how business leaders should enact to improve their influence within sustainability. Within the framework three of the principles established relate directly to environmental sustainability engagement:

  • Principle 7: businesses are asked to support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
  • Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
  • Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies

Going beyond the framework, the UN has worked to integrate the private sector into its formulation of goals and targets. During the original creation of the now widely considered failed Millennium Development Goals (MDG) the private sector was minimally included and considered throughout the process. This went some way to exampling why the MDG’s were unsuccessful. Consequently, the UN has since recognised the failure to fully involve the private sector in the MDG, indicated by the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’S). The UN sought from the very beginning of negotiations to formally bring the private sector into the dialogue; to the delight of many commentators goal 17 ‘Global partnership for sustainable development’ really focused on the involvement of the private sector and established the multi-stakeholder approach to formulating strategy for sustainability. Within goal 17, target 17.17 “Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships” specifically details the relationship between the public and private sectors. Furthermore, target 17.16 outlines how we need to achieve sustainable development through a multi-stakeholder approach by enhancing the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources”.

When international organisations such as the UN work closely with the private sector they must carefully consider their position on neutrality, as to ensure that a situation is not being provided where the private sector can profit from the UN’s operations. Many commentators believe that for this reason and due to the lack of understanding of the UN’s protocols and operations, there is a lower level of private sector engagement than many would like to see.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is an international organisation that brings together the public and private sector to support sustainable development. Working through its 190 international companies, the WBCSD provides a platform for companies to share experiences and best practices on sustainable development issues. It advocates their implementation, through working with and bringing together governments,  non-governments and intergovernmental organizations.

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On the sixth day of the Geneva summer school programme, we were given the opportunity to visit the WBCSD and find out first-hand how successful they have been with their model of linking together the private and public sector in the interest of sustainable development. However, from the information we were presented, there seemed very little evidence of concreate success but this might be limited by the presentation’s focus on up and coming projects.

From an external perspective of the WBCSD, commentators like Greenpeace have systematically accused the WBCSD of being the ‘Who’s Who’ for the world’s most carbon intensive organisations such as BP and Dow. This leads to many people suggesting the existence of greenwashing.

The private sector faces a variety of barriers when considering engaging in environmental sustainability, including but not exclusively the required return of investors and the lack of information within the private sector. Furthermore, there is a degree of public scepticism towards the private sector’s true intentions. Much evidence suggests organisations are systematically greenwashing; this is when a company spends more capital on publicising their environmental sustainability credentials rather than implementing them. Many of the organisations accused of this practice are the most carbon intensive organisations such as Royal Dutch Shell, who in 2008 were penalised by the UK Advertising Standards Authority for an advertisement that claimed that a $10bn oil exploration investment in Canada in some way contributed to a sustainable energy future. The existence of greenwashing unfortunately distracts from private sector organisations that are committed to sustainable development (

Achieving true sustainable development will require action from all segments of society; this will therefore require close partnerships between the private sector, business and financial institutions. Although public organisations will remain wary of the private sector and in some regards rightly so, but they must not allow this to affect their judgement.