Smart Cities Europe Conference 2012

Last week, on the 19th and 20th of June, The Lancaster Hotel in London hosted the Ovum Smart Cities Europe 2012 Conference. We from Connected Liverpool were present, and are now happy to share our experiences with you about this inspiring conference.

The conference was a collaboration between Imperial College London, Ovum and invited speakers to deliver the world’s leading cross sector forum for the exchange of knowledge related to digital cities. It emphasises the need for an integrated approach to city planning and management to build integrated cities and create urban opportunities.

After a nice welcome and introduction speech by Ovum’s director Eamonn Kennedy, Larry Hirst CBE (former Chairman IBM EMEA) took over to highlight the importance of a smart city agenda to face world problems as resource depletion and climate change as a result of urbanization. With the use of a pre-recorded video, Neelie Kroes (Vice President, Digital Agenda for Europe, European Commission) emphasized the importance of facing urbanization as cities are the home to 70% of the word population, representing 75% of our carbon footprint, 70% of our energy and a growing share of waste in addition to a continuous aging population. She defined the term ‘Smart’ as the following:

  • Making better use of data through sensor infrastructures and social networks by opening up data of public administrations
  • Empowering people by providing them with better information and tools to allow participation in policy making and service development
  • Removing barriers between sectors like energy, transport, water and healthcare to allow collaboration and develop better services for the end consumer
  • Having agreed and transparent standards to measure the net benefits of innovations to find out what is most effective

The 2-day conference was split up in breakout sessions which allowed visitors to attend speeches and panel discussions related to their area of interest. The following breakout sessions were offered:

  • Energy for Digital Cities
  • Transportation for Digital Cities
  • Retail in Digital Cities
  • Global Competitiveness Among Cities
  • Healthcare in Digital Cities
  • Incentivising New Consumption Behaviour in Cities
  • New Business Opportunities in Digital Cities
  • Managing a Smart City

Overall, the conference provided the visitors with an extensive insight in the smart city industry that the private and public sector are desperately trying to create. Smart City initiatives from all over the world were discussed and assessed such as PlanIT Valley in Portugal, PlaNYC 2030 in New York, Greenwhich in London and Seoul in South Korea.

Other topics that were covered were the unsuccessful Smart Meter initiatives, the need for a data road-map, the role of a smart infrastructure including sensor technology to derive data and transform it into usable information such as air quality, water quality and energy consumption levels, new consumer behaviour stimulated by contemporary technology and the opportunities that are being created for SME’s as a result of the smart industry.

Throughout the conference, the need to break through the silo-based structure in the public sector was often emphasized and collaboration between governmental departments and between the public and private sector was concluded to be critical.

Ovum has announced to organize more events throughout 2012, we’ll keep you posted!

The Connected Liverpool Team




Corporate Social Responsibility

Tyler Elm had an interview with Canadian Tire in 2008 and he gave them the vision that there’s money to be made in environmental sustainability. At first they thought: ‘Why should we care about environmental sustainability?’. But Elm explained to them that for example excessive packaging is a waste of paper, plastic and money. He said that a smaller package reduces waste and unit size, therefore meaning more products per shipping, translating in lower shipping costs. His idea to make a smaller package led to a 15 per cent cost reduction in the shipment of that product.

Elm is now Canadian Tire’s Vice President of corporate strategy and business sustainability. He sees sustainability as a business strategy and tailored that concept to their for-profit mandate. He and his team have thought of many ways to reduce costs by thinking of sustainable ways to make business. They discovered that changing the position of overhead lights could reduce energy use by up to 25 per cent. And they also discovered that a white roof, reflecting light and retaining less heat, leads to savings on air conditioning costs in the summer.

So they are improving the company’s environmental records, and they are making money. The best win-win situation! And Canadian Tire is just one example of a company that is using this win-win situation. There are a lot of other large and small companies that have rallied under the banner of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This CSR stands for businesses having a moral conscience on social issues and a concern for the needs of the future generation when it comes to the environment.

Ford Motor Company is probably not the first company that you think about when you think about sustainability. This is because they used to be famous for their heavy-dusted, gas-guzzling pickup trucks. But nowadays they get associated with their line of fuel-efficient motors, their EcoBoost-branded engines and the all-electric Focus.

Stephanie Janczak, Ford’s manager of electric vehicle infrastructure and policy, says that about a decade ago, the company started looking into designing hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles. This is because they felt that there was demand for this and they could earn a lot of money. They want a quarter their global fleet of vehicles to be electric by 2020.

Tima Bansal, executive director of the Network for Business Sustainability at Western University’s Richard Ivey School if Business, will soon release a study. The study claims that for companies to survive on the long-term, they need CSR. She tracked the progress of 211 companies that are socially and environmentally responsible and have been since the early 1990. And she compared these companies with an equal number of companies that aren’t identified as responsible. She came to the conclusion that companies with a decent CSR are more likely to survive.

Heather Lang, director of research products with Sustainalytics, notes that consumers become more and more aware of the product that they buy. They start demanding safer, healthier and sustainable products. And she said that it can be up to consumers to demand social and environmental issues to companies.

In 2004, clothing company the Gap was seeing consumer backlashes worldwide after it came out that their supplier factories in the developing world were using child labour. Consumers couldn’t abide by this and they started boycotts so the Gap would cut ties with this supplier and clean up its damaged image.

Gap wanted to show that they were on the right path again so they started issuing annual reports on the safety standards and working conditions of its suppliers. Ford and Canadian Tire are also issuing CSR reports. With today’s social media, it’s easy for consumers to show when they’ve been duped, and destroy the reputation of a company. This has become one of the most biggest concerns of companies these days. If people perceive them as not doing the right thing, it can turn out very costly.

So when companies found out that a well-communicated and considered CSR initiative could mean more to them than just social responsibility but could also save them a lot of money and efforts, they heard the sound of business.

EU on the RIO+20 summit

The first Earth Summit took place twenty years ago in Rio. The global community created this summit because they wanted a more equitable and sustainable model for the course of human development. These days, sustainable progress has been made and the world has changed a lot. The RIO+20 summit will have different challenges than last year. They need to think about the changing global landscape, the international economic crisis, rising population levels, global resources and the still unacceptable level of poverty in the world. So there is a great responsibility on the community of state to make new strategies on this RIO+2O summit  and search for more inclusiveness and sustainability.

The irresponsible behavior of the financial sector, lax regulatory oversight and deep-seated imbalances were the causes of today’s economic crisis. These deep-seated imbalances need to be corrected if we want a more sustainable growth for the world. And  it’s not just the global economic imbalances but also the imbalances in the ecological footprints. And although, in the 20th century, the quality of life rose very much, this came at the price of unsustainable use of scarce global resources like fuel, metals, minerals, timber, water and ecosystems.

A Challenge in the world of today is to work together, especially when you realize that by 2050, the world population will have reached 9 billion. If we don’t work together and think about how to best use our precious resources, we will need two planets to sustain us. It’s up to the RIO Summit to take the discussions about stable economies and increased growth, discussed at the G20 Summit in Mexico, and include an inclusive and sustainable path to reach these goals.

The EU really wants a concrete Rio agenda so they can discuss all their goals and targets for key areas that underpin a green economy. They want to talk about water, the oceans, land, ecosystems, forests, sustainable energy and resource efficiency. And the goals they have are all linked to sustainable growth, poverty, social development, food security and nutrition. But the EU won’t be able to make their case at Rio if they don’t get the support, engagement and mobilization of both the public and private sector. So it’s up to RIO+20 to strengthen engagement of the private and civil sector, because these are the real engines behind our economies in sustainable development.

The  Millennium Development Goals make that the EU remains committed to achieve their goals. And they are also ready to engage in a discussion on Sustainable Development Goals suggested by some G77 countries. An example of their commitment to global sustainability is the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit that was organized, in coordination with the UN, in Brussels on April 16 of this year. A new EU Energizing Development initiative was announced. This initiative should provide sustainable energy services to 500 million people by 2030. And the European Commission is currently also establishing a technical assistance facility to provide governments with the expertise to engage in reforms and to develop their own National Energy Access Strategies. The EU wants to mobilize at least 400 million euros over the next two years to go into these two strategies.

Because we are in an economical crisis, we need to find innovative ways of developing financial assistance. A valuable resource to fund development could be a global Financial Transaction Tax. This could also ensure that it’s not just the financial sector that needs to pay a contribution to the economy. So the revenue generated by a European Financial Transaction tax should be put into the future EU budget to help ensure that the EU continues to be one of the world’s biggest providers of development assistance.

UK as first country where companies need to measure carbon footprint

Nick Clegg announced that the UK wants to measure how quickly natural assets are being lost by recording them as part of GDP. The UK will be the first country in the world to force major companies to measure their carbon footprints. More than 1,000 companies have to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions so they realize how much they are polluting. The plan is that these companies will stop polluting and start looking for more sustainable ways to form a business.

This is all part of a concept called GDP+, where all countries have to start measuring their natural capital. The main goal is that countries start thinking about more than their material wealth. They will also need to reveal their natural wealth, like rainforests, clean rivers and fresh air. They can put a value on precious resources like forests so they understand what it means when they start chopping them down. Because keeping them would boost the GDP of the country.

GDP shows the growth of a country, but when we think about it, it only shows a little part of a country’s welfare. The GDP doesn’t take into account the quality of the growth, like the natural environment needed for a future prosperity. And an average environmental degradation costs the world around 9 per cent of GDP every year.

So GDP needs to have a broader look, it should be a measurement for individual countries to measure what is important, like the forests, so countries can make informed decisions.

Clegg spoke at the Rio Earth Summit where world leaders came together to discuss global issues on sustainable development. He said that Britain will lead the way for other countries by forcing their businesses to act first in measuring their carbon footprint. And this is the first step to managing the greenhouse gases that create global warming.

Hiding greenhouse gas emissions isn’t a good way to lead a business. Reducing them is has many positive outcomes. Not only for the planet but also for the business, they can save money on energy bills and attract companies with their green reputation.

The treasury plans to bring a ‘green tax’ in next year as part of the Carbon Reduction Commitment. But this will be a burden for lots of companies. Ian McCafferty, CBI Chief Economic Advisor, said that measuring carbon is useful for companies, but taxing carbon makes companies uncompetitive with companies abroad and less attractive for foreign investors. So he want the plans for the Carbon Reduction Commitment to be scrapped.

Starting from April 2013, the businesses listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange will have to start the carbon reporting. In 2015, they will be reviewed and ministers will then decide if they want to extend the program to all large companies.

The EEF, representing UK manufacturers, complained that Mr Glegg should have thought about the impact on the home economy before announcing all these new regulations internationally. British businesses already have to cut carbon and reduce greenhouse gases by 2025 under European regulations.

Glegg also believes that investing in renewable energy  is the best way for the UK to boost their economy in the future. For example he wants to boost the energy subsidies on green technology like wind energy.

The UN Rio+20 summit will probably not be as spectacular as the last Earth summit in 1992, where a large number of global agreements to tackle climate change were made. Now they want to decide on new sustainable development goals like switching to renewable energy and cutting pollutions. But environmentalist say that the summit is too weak to force actions. There is also some anger because David Cameron didn’t attend the summit himself but sent Clegg.

The idea of putting a price on nature has been protested against by many, including Sarah Reader, campaigner from the World Development Movement. She said that putting a price on nature allows multinationals and governments to buy the right to destroy landscapes without having to feel guilty because they paid for it. She said that ecosystems should be protected by law.

UN Conference on sustainable development

On the last conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago, countries could sign the UN framework convention on climate change. This convention should have stabilized global annual green house gas emissions at 1990 levels. And since the industrialized nations have done  most polluting to the atmosphere, the convention has placed the biggest responsibility to lead by example on these countries. And now that the United Nations is holding another conference in sustainable development, it are these rich countries that need to prove the most.

But the convention isn’t really working. Annual global emissions have continued to rise and the rich countries didn’t lead so far. Rich and poor countries took pledges for action by 2020, but it still seems like the world is heading towards a global warming of 3°C or more. That means there will be temperatures that the earth hasn’t seen for about 3m years.

While approaching this new summit, poor countries are sceptical. This is because it are always the rich nations that express lofty ambitions but they don’t seem to be able to keep up to their promises. An example is the Kyoto protocol that the US and Canada signed, and they weren’t able to honor their signature.

So these rich countries will need more than just words to restore the trust of poorer countries. They are tackling climate change but they are taking their time and in the meantime, they are also criticizing the developing world. But they don’t realize that these ‘poor’ countries are also taking steps in finding solutions to climate change. Some of them, like China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other emerging powers, even have ambitious plans to tackle problems like deforestation and emission. So it’s normal that they’re sceptical when looking to the richer countries since they are the ones who are actually implementing their plans.

And it’s not fair. These poorer countries are most exposed and vulnerable to the impact of climate change, but they have done least to raise the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. So they must, with the small budgets they have, fight poverty, develop and grow economically and now also manage the risks of climate change. But when they invest in a low-carbon economy, they will also need a clear and credible policy and they can start building new technologies and markets. This will all help to create the only truly sustainable growth path for the future and it might even help these developing countries to get out of the depression of their own making.

So it is up to the rich countries to accelerate their own actions but also support the developing countries with technologies and resources.