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Cities must support green economies

Cities must support green economies

City authorities must take the lead in promoting sustainable choices to encourage long-term economic and environmental viability.


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Canal du Midi

By Michael Hiller, KPMG in Australia

Green economies will not grow organically. City authorities must take the lead in promoting sustainable choices to encourage long-term economic and environmental viability. Shifting perspectives to a longer-term view on returns will likely reap dividends for the city and its community.

Focusing on the longer term

It is easy to go for quick wins on economic development and focus on the short term. City leaders need to consider the longer-term horizons when making decisions. Planning, procurement and other initiatives can provide different returns in three to five years than they can in 60, 70 or 80 years.  It is not about making a quick return, but instead establishing an economy that will benefit and support our children and our children’s children.

Encouraging innovation

Cities need a mixture of effective leadership at government level, combined with incentives to develop capability and promote innovative thinking from start-ups and small enterprises. Community-based organizations, charities and not-for-profits often require support when tendering for work against more established corporations. These can play a very effective role in driving an innovative approach, helping to offer real alternatives and developing the green economy – but they need help to get up and running.

While small green enterprises possess a lot of energy and enthusiasm, they frequently lack the financial resources and technical sophistication of big business. Without help, they will struggle to grow into a viable alternative to other parts of the market. Guidance and mentoring, financial advice, consulting support and educational awareness programs can help make them more competitive. Such organizations provide a rich diversity and encourage innovation.

The role of planning

Planning departments within local governments play a key role in establishing sustainable building standards. As the strategic thinkers in local government, they have the opportunity and responsibility to set the standards in promoting green economies. 

The cost of retrofitting infrastructure to make it sustainable is so much higher than getting it right in the first place. City leaders can promote requirements to source materials locally, provide increased green space and minimize waste to any project – all of which can benefit the movement towards a greener economy.  

Ensuring environmental concerns are part of the debate

I agree with Paul Gilding, the Australian environmentalist, who argues for environmental concerns to become a central part of economic debate. Actively measuring the impact of human behavior on carbon emissions or the use of natural resources means it becomes tangible. Charges can then be made for the use of those resources – something that makes the argument more real for many people.

City authorities can make this a reality by introducing environmental taxes, charging for excess waste production, carbon emissions, vehicles, non-compliance with building standards and so on. Kanpur, India, charges a tax on vehicles over 15 years old in an attempt to promote the use of more modern less-polluting models, for example.

The importance of communication in engaging citizens and stakeholders

At the same time as introducing measures to promote a green economy, city leaders need to explain their choices to their citizens. There has been scaremongering on both sides of the environmental debate. People need to see that there are long-term economic benefits of being more thoughtful about our use of resources. Social media provides more communication outlets than ever to engage people and help them understand the benefits of a more sustainable approach to city living.

Taking a long-term perspective, it should become clear that there does not need to be a conflict between ecology and economy, but rather one links to the other. It must be possible to create economic growth and development without degrading the environment around us – we owe it to the future generations.

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