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Net zero: Smarter cities for a sustainable future


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For several years now, local authorities working in construction project management have been looking at how data can improve a city’s environmental sustainability and make them easier to live in. Our behaviour patterns – where we like to shop, run, relax, socialise and how we commute – are all affecting how the cities of tomorrow will be shaped through sustainable construction.

In our latest guest blog, sustainability expert, Dr Jose Hernandez of Perfect Circle, a SCAPE partner, discusses how smart cities and data can support the long-term future of the built environment.

What is a smart city?

From a technological perspective and broadly speaking, smart cities are areas that use devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to give local authorities real time data to solve problems.

In fact, you’re already likely to be living in a partially-smart city right now. Increasingly, smart bins are being introduced across cities in the UK to alert the council when the bin is at its capacity, while many car parks are equipped with green lights to make it easier for drivers to spot a free space.

With the rollout of 5G, these sensors will become more widespread and have the capability to store and analyse more data.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Having smart infrastructure that can monitor aspects like air pollution is already vital to ensure sustainable development in cities.

Sustainable solutions in the built environment

With so much data available to local authorities, more cities are sharing their information with one another in an attempt to come up with new solutions for old problems.

Air pollution, for instance, is one of the biggest problems affecting major cities and predicting where air quality is at its poorest allows authorities to set out construction management measures to help these areas.

Leicester City Council has worked with Siemens to replace its traffic signals with longer-lasting LED signals, to reduce carbon emissions. The council has implemented several smart measures in recent years and has worked with Pick Everard – one of Perfect Circle’s shareholders and founding partners – to manufacture air pollution sensors and place them across the city.

London has been introducing smart lampposts with sensors and electric charging, as well as retrofitting buildings with low-carbon energy sources.

Sustainable buildings and circular economy models will be key in a smart city

Currently, it’s estimated our cities produce approximately more than 60% of world emissions. For our cities to thrive, we need to closely monitor air pollution and design out waste material from the earliest stage.

A circular economy is one that produces little to no waste or pollution and one where we make use of disposed products, parts and materials.

Amsterdam is an example of a city which has introduced initiatives to ensure it strives as a circular economy, promising to reduce 50% less raw materials by 2030. The city is enforcing material passports for building sites and increasing sustainability requirements when issuing tenders, requiring more recycled material to be used.

Circle Economy, an Amsterdam-based organisation has produced an app, that hopes to guide local authorities to discover and prioritise circular economy opportunities. The organisation has helped cities as far as Philadelphia create circular economy plans and intends to invite city authorities around the world to sign up to its new app.

According to the Dutch company, global resource consumption has hit 100 million tonnes, so it’s integral that smart cities of the future have robust circular economy plans to help overcome construction waste and work towards net zero building.

Spending on converting our cities to smart cities will increase across the world. As technology gets more advanced, the chance to develop sustainable urban areas – a strong goal within public sector procurement – becomes an increasingly likely reality.