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Sustainable development is under discussion for quite some time, so there is no wonder why specialists started to offer more attention to this topic. The world population has grown exponentially in the past 100 years, which led to some questions. Are the resources that the Earth provides enough? Is nature suffering because of humankind? Is global warming happening because what people do? The answers to these questions are not positive at all, and they should act as triggered alarms. Applying strategies that can transform cities in sustainable ones and expanding these strategies at a country level could save the Earth in the long run, increasing the quality of life of inhabitants at the same time. Some countries in Europe already started making progress in adopting sustainable urban planning strategies. Sweden is one of them. Here are some movements that truly had an impact on the environment in the past year, and that should inspire other cities and countries to adopt them as well:

How eco-city is defined?

An eco-city is the city that has a smart infrastructure, used to save energy, reduce the costs of living and make their urban carbon footprint disappear. There are several changes that have to be done in order to transform a regular city into an ecological one. The five principles that are necessary to create the base of smart infrastructure include:

  • Creating a model, visualizing the model and supporting decisions – this step involves optimizing the initial model of the city and finding modalities to make it sustainable, creating the model and visualizing the potential results that the city may take advantage of after implementing the changes, as well as supporting the selected decisions through arguments. The model obtained has to include security systems and smart sensor networks. This might be the most complex stage of implementing a sustainable strategy in a city, and it takes the longest time to complete.
  • Collaborative knowledge and process tracking – this step involves brainstorming ideas with the people who are actively engaged in urban planning, starting the process and tracking its progress. To track the progress of the new urban planning model, a system has to be developed. Smart tracking and monitoring are part of this stage, as well as using virtual and distributed collaboration. Integrating all these systems is mandatory.
  • Smart service systems – instead of using outdated service systems, eco-cities must be entirely based on smart service systems. This will reduce bureaucracy and the amount of paper used. Smart communities will replace the normal service systems with integrated ones that are based on value-added networks and collaborative systems. All these new systems should be based on the human agent.
  • Innovative transport and distribution – the transport system in a city can contribute tremendously to pollution, can increase the levels of energy consumed and – of course – increase the carbon footprint. An eco-friendly transportation and operation system should be based on a smart supply chain. Electric vehicles should be promoted instead of fuel-based cars and the city should invest in installing recharge systems everywhere, to make this option available for people. Robotic systems that handle operation and distributions should also be considered to achieve an innovative, eco-friendly overall management system.
  • Water networks, food, and health – eco-cities should focus on responsive health systems, healthy water networks and food recycling systems. The water systems in the city should become smart to encourage consuming just the amount of water needed. Without wasting water or food, energy is saved and the carbon footprint is reduced to a minimum.

Making the changes

In order to put theory into practice, several sustainability indicators must be taken into account. Putting the aforementioned stages into practice seems to be the biggest challenge that cities face. Applying a series of sustainability indicators means that the progress can be quantified, as the indicators act like variables. Reducing large amounts of data to simple forms that can be understood and applied rapidly is the key to integrating sustainable models effectively. The functions of a sustainability indicator are to assess the current conditions of the city and the wanted result, to compare potential situations, to provide warning information if it is required, to set goals and targets in space and time and to anticipate future situations.

The indicators that are used in most situations include the environmental impact that the city has in comparison with other cities, the ecological integrity of the city, the air and water quality standards (if they are respected or not, and what the consequences are for each situation). For cities that have larger concentrations of people, the indicators might differ. Based on these indicators, changes must be gradually applied. Once the changes are applied, the indicators should turn 180 degrees. Approaching the issues in a sectoral manner is the best way to apply an urban environmental model.

Sweden – a case study

Swedish cities seem to make a great effort to become sustainable. This is why they have numerous initiatives and projects that will soon be integrated which drastically reduce the entire country’s carbon footprint. The teams at Miltek in Sweden are doing great efforts to encourage recycling among small and medium companies. People already adopted recycling in their own homes.  Sweden’s second largest city shifted from oil to district heating as far back as 1990, thus reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of the country tremendously since the very beginning of the movement.

At Stockholm’s Central Station, the country made an impressive move – the geothermal system is created so that it captures body heat from the hundred thousand commuters that pass this area daily and transforms it into an actual heating system. More than that, the cooling system makes good use of the surrounding environment entirely. Since the latest news regarding bees going extinct, a suburb in Stockholm encourage pollinating and bee repopulation. Sweden has become of the best countries in terms of sustainability and they continue adding projects to their list. Other countries in the world are making such efforts, but the results would triple if all cities would become eco-friendly.

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Henry Young
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