How Cities, Builders Strive toward Sustainability and Energy Management

To find leaders in sustainability and energy management, look at some cities and countries around the world:

Globally, Sweden has emerged as a sustainability leader. RobecoSAM’s Country Sustainability Ranking declares it the world’s most sustainable country, largely because of the country’s renewable energy sources and low carbon emissions. The country also is home Vaxjo, the “Greenest City in Europe,” which plans to be fossil-fuel free by 2020.

Greener, smarter cities

About 30 minutes from the exotic Middle Eastern city of Abu Dhabi, you’ll find Masdar. Construction of the city began in 2007 with the goal of making it one of the world’s first completely sustainable communities. When Masdar is finished in 2016, it is expected to require only a quarter of the energy supply of a similarly sized conventional city.

The city sits on a 23-foot-tall concrete base to maximize its exposure to cooling winds and decrease the need for air conditioning. Gasoline-powered vehicles won’t be allowed, but beneath the concrete base, a fleet of computer-driven electric cars will navigate tunnels to move people around the city. Masdar plans to meet its electricity needs through solar power and a $2.2 billion hydrogen plant.

On the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, another sustainable community is about to break ground in October 2013. The “smart city” will take shape on 595 acres of a former airfield in the waterside district of Aspern. The multifunctional district is being referred to as a “living laboratory” and will include apartments, offices, and a business, science, research, and education quarter. Half the land will be reserved for public parks and recreation.

Siemens, a partner in the project, will test systems for intelligent cities of the future. The company says the community will integrate “intelligent traffic solutions, green building, water management, and smart grid infrastructure” to steer Aspern towards sustainability. Small renewable energy projects around the city will provide electricity. Special computer tracking will detect errors in the system, recognize power waste, and identify potential efficiencies. If all goes as planned, Aspern will house 20,000 residents by 2030.

Bigger, better buildings

While it’s not as radical as building a new city, one sustainable project in China stands taller than the rest. Most of its buzz about Sky City revolves around the fact that, once completed, it will be the world’s tallest building – 220 stories.

However, Sky City promises to be more than just an architectural wonder; it also will be a pillar of sustainability. The building’s height saves land. The builder, Broad Sustainable Building, is using technology that offers energy savings five times higher than those in conventional buildings. Technology featured in Sky City includes thermal insulation, four-paned windows, fresh air heat recovery, non-electric air conditioning, and LED lighting. Designers say the building can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake – roughly the force of the March 2011 temblor in Japan.

IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant, devotes substantial resources into more sustainable buildings, aiming to make its more than 300 stores and distribution centers completely energy independent. To achieve this goal, the retailer plans to harness the sun – it had installed 500,000 solar panels on buildings in nine countries as of August 2013. About 85% of IKEA buildings in the US have solar panels.

The company’s solar panels, 16 wind farms, and geothermal systems allow it to generate more than a third of its energy consumption through renewable energy. Steve Howard, IKEA Group’s chief sustainability officer, told BusinessGreen that the number of solar panels likely will double in the next three years.

College Campuses

The Sierra Club recently deemed the University of Connecticut the “Greenest” college in the US. UConn offers 600 sustainability-related classes, 40% of faculty members do original work to benefit the environment, and university leaders have retrofitted 13 buildings on campus to prevent 2,640 tons of carbon emissions. Second is Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, which features a certified-organic student farm. School leaders aim to reach zero net emissions by 2020.

Greener on the Other Side

These projects are impressive and innovative – even lofty. It will be interesting to measure their impact. Could the tallest building in the world hold the key to the future of urban development? Or will small, high-tech communities prove themselves? Will other large retailers make a commitment to become energy independent? One thing is certain: sustainability is being taken seriously, and the world many imagine is finally getting closer to becoming reality.

Samantha Alexander is a sustainability consultant for The blog serves as a resource center for insurance consumers and homebuyers across the country.

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