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We need to build our cities from the ground up with sustainable choices

25th August 2021 Gabrielle Brussel, Chief Development Officer – Cities and Alan Sullivan, Co-Chief Executive Officer, JCDecaux North America, Inc. 3 min read

Municipal Tenders Should Value Partners Through a Sustainable Filter

Only systemic policy can address climate change and municipalities need strategic approaches

To change the way we build our cities, to change the way we live in on our streets. Only government has the vantage point to affect what is needed.

Sustainability is the “buzz word” of the day, describing policies for creating inclusive and thriving urban environments. Nations accounting for as much as 70% of the world’s GDP have set net-zero emission targets and stakeholders are demanding social justice initiatives from private firms.  Companies are responding  to the call by committing of significant resources.  More than 300 firms have joined the RE100, the Climate Group’s renewable energy corporate initiative, including JCDecaux, which is the first in its industry to do so. Many more have embarked on important social and environmental justice initiatives, such as JCDecaux’s pilot sensor program with Microsoft Research, Urban Innovation Group and the Array of Things team to provide the public with granular data about Chicago’s air quality. Private enterprise alone, however, cannot power the enormous changes necessary. Local policy must drive sustainability – procurement criteria is the right focus.

Municipal policies are vital to sustainability and to addressing the disproportionate impact underserved communities experience from climate change 

Cities must embed ‘equity’ in their local streetscapes. With the growing evidence that government policies such as “redlining” created systemic inequity across our cities, and with poorer and minority neighborhoods bearing the brunt of increased temperatures and fewer green spaces, it is incumbent upon city governments to redesign their streets. Sustainability, however, is not a component to embed here and there – it must be the filter through which all policy is framed. It is only through a measurable and consistent sustainability strategy across an entire administration that change will come.

Cities should embed sustainability criteria in their procurements – procurement is a tool for prioritizing climate change impact & creating sustainable streetscapes

Cities can lead by rigorously applying sustainability standards to their own supplier and vendor relationships as well as street solutions. Partners should be evaluated with measurable criteria which rate the use of materials, recycling programs, green energy, the inclusion of landscaping, the possibility of environmental, and social justice through amenities (such as art programs and community messaging), to name just a few categories. Cities should assess partners for their community priorities, environmental impact and even the timelines that their resources or infrastructure is expected to last. They should value designs with longer usable lives over those that must be replaced in shorter timelines and score companies with established track-records using green energy higher than those without such plans.  Extending the life-cycle of products for city-dwellers would reduce our cities’ carbon footprints and free up more resources to provide more amenities redressing social, environmental and health equity.

Unfortunately, most public procurements do not include such criteria. In 2019, JCDecaux conducted a survey of over 200 projects, including 162 public tenders, across a range of 49 countries. Although 52% of tenders included some environmental or social criteria, only 28% of tenders included both.  Environmental criteria alone were included in just 24% of public procurements, while 10% of the tenders had social sustainable initiatives only.  Simply put – although governments care about sustainability and have set important targets, cities do not apply such criteria to their own streetscape procurements.

We need to build our cities from the ground up with sustainable choices

Just as private actors are increasingly regulated to meet green standards, municipalities should impose such requirements in their own public-private street programs.  Urban planners are communicating important ideas for sustainable communities,– but to tackle the massive environmental and social challenges facing our communities, cities must apply exacting standards to their own activities. If the catalyst for the growth of our societies – our cities – embed sustainability criteria in tenders, evaluate said criteria in a measured, quantitative manner and reward those who take sustainable values seriously, systemic change will occur.  This in turn will help address environmental, social and community needs and redressing long-standing issues of disparity will result in healthier and more equitable cities.