Building a sustainable world one city at a time

Annika Andreasen, CEO at SIS, writes in the magazine ISO Focus about sustainable cities and how standardization can contribute.

Published in May/June 2020 ISOfocus

By Annika Andreasen, CEO, Swedish Institute for Standards, SIS

Sweden’s cities are reinventing themselves. Take Stockholm, for instance. Finding sustainable solutions, delivering prosperity to Stockholmers and applying green principles to design and construction have led the way to a smarter, more sustainable urban planning and city life. Back in 2010, Stockholm proudly became the first European Green Capital and since then has continued to engage in partnerships around eco-governance for cities. Sweden now hopes to share these tried-and-tested solutions with cities across the world.

And with good reason: cities are home to more than half of the world’s population, and this figure is predicted to exceed 70 % by 2050. Cities offer greater life opportunities for their inhabitants, jobs included, but this does not negate the challenges they pose for sustainable development. For despite occupying only 3 % of the planet’s surface, cities are also responsible for 75 % of all greenhouse gas emissions. Projections also indicate that over 80 % of the world’s urban population will live in developing regions in 2050, most notably in the cities of Africa and Asia, as rural zones gradually morph into urban. This makes efficient city planning and management practices essential to deal with the challenges of an urbanizing world.

Considered urban planning is imperative to create a sustainable world where cities meet the needs of their inhabitants without compromising those of future generations. The way we design and build our cities can also positively affect the climate, environment, not to mention our quality of life. This transformation involves five focus areas – energy, construction, transport, urban planning and water management –, but is further complicated by the high prevalence of poverty, crime and violence in cities around the world. This explains why creating sustainable cities that ensure economic, social and environmental progress is a major challenge for all countries.

To make our vision a reality, we must encourage well-anchored innovative and cross-sectoral solutions that are replicable to different world contexts. This requires orchestrating a constellation of actors such as government and local authorities, public- and private-sector entities, research centres and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In this sense, standardization offers significant benefits as a platform on which stakeholders can develop common solutions to address economic, environmental and societal challenges. It’s no wonder, then, that the ISO portfolio already boasts over three hundred standards for sustainable cities and communities.

The Swedes emphasize a culture of consensus where solutions are compiled using a holistic, inclusive and cross-disciplined approach. Sweden’s younger generation are not the only ones to clamour for the need to tackle sustainability and environmental concerns; stakeholders across the board have also embraced issues surrounding global sustainable transformation processes. At the Swedish Institute for Standards (SIS), our ambition is to act as a springboard to accelerate the worldwide transformation to sustainable cities using Swedish know-how that has proved its worth.
Through our stakeholders, we play an active role in many ISO technical committees, such as ISO/TC 268, Sustainable cities and communities, that are working hard to address these challenges.

Following our government’s action plan to reinforce efforts to implement the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SIS has been busy working on a new standard designed to further these global goals. Drawing on cross-sectoral collaboration between municipalities, industry, academia and NGOs across the country, the standard aims to offer guidance on implementing the SDGs at the local and regional levels. This has already attracted interest from more than two hundred national and international organizations that have asked to comment on the draft, reflecting the urgency of this work.

At SIS, we have high expectations for this standard and hope that it will be a source of inspiration globally. Sustainability has always been at the heart of Sweden’s smart city strategy. It’s about working in smarter ways with different partners and empowering citizen through a whole host of means. What we are proposing is a human-centred city development. We’ve proved that it’s possible, so let’s make it happen across the world, one city at a time.