Smart Cities and Communities – Sustainable?

In the recent blogs I have composed about city ambitions for sustainability it seems the concept of a ‘smart city’ is falling between the cracks of silo-thinking when it has the opportunity to integrate, unify and deliver multi-ambitions and objectives. Too often the comment is ‘well, I am in charge of transport but the person in charge of ‘smart’ is over there in economic development’ … or, ‘we’ll do the smart bit when we’ve cracked this highways contract and decided what to do with the economic regeneration plan, I’ll have more time then’.

Big missed opportunities.

It was heartening, then, to attend the excellent Smart Cities and Communities conference last week in Manchester where several cities and agencies showed how they were actively integrating their ambitions for growth, quality, citizen engagement, transport, energy, asset management, governance and performance. Many were trialing things at a manageable (albeit still ambitious) scale – such as the work underway in the Manchester Oxford Rd corridor and across Peterborough.

One cannot help but be impressed by the commitment to the smart agenda in Singapore – a city half the size of Manchester but with twice the population. Culturally atuned to technology and acting smarter it’s invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to achieve its positioning in the global economy and to ensure that it is able to embrace opportunity.

I would like to see other cities, like Nottingham and Sheffield (where I work and live) embrace these opportunities so that they can achieve their ambitions for carbon reduction, liveability, traffic congestion, air quality improvements, etc. Birmingham and Bristol have embraced this in their ‘commissioned’ strategies. Sheffield‘s recent Green Commission report paid lip service to ‘smart’ but it showed a lack of understanding. In Nottingham, I hope, it will be seen as an opportunity to harness the collective agencies for transport, energy, planning, regeneration, business growth, citizen engagement, green and blue space management, healthcare, security, etc. But there is some catching up to do.

So the question posed by Cedric Price remains a good one. It’s not all about technology, of course, but without a vision, leadership, some projects, willing partners and a desire to make the sum of the parts add up a little better, you’ll not be smart. And that makes you ….

ISCN Conference Day 2 – Corporate/University Engagement

What are the skills that business needs in its workforce? How can universities ensure their graduates are equipped with those skills to enable business to be more sustainable? Research underway by the ISCN shows that whilst universities are providing well for the corporate sustainability roles there is significant room for improvement in how a wider range of disciplines are given the skills and knowledge to support wider roles in business.

Surely, by doing this, we are ensuring our graduates are better equipped, better placed and more employable? So, how might universities better understand the needs of business so that they can provide for them? Dialogue is key, building strategic relationships where the direction of businesses (large and small) is better understood. 

In this session we heard from Swire, a Pacific based conglomerate with its origins in Liverpool, UK. 

Joseph Mullinix, Deputy President at The National University of Singapore, recognised that whilst understanding of research outputs is good and well established, understanding what corporate leaders in Singapore need from college graduates across broader sustainable management skills. Key points were:

  • Some recognition that there is a need to respond to global mega trends such as climate change through systems thinking, resilience, partnership development. 
  • Graduates with a global mindset, that transcend political boundaries need leaders who can inspire, lead and communicate complexity and value to society (of businesses contribution towards sustainability) neither convictions and passion.
  • It’s clearly not about technical solutions! These areas of expertise can be bought in when needed. What businesses need is the ability to engage effectively with clients. Employees with the analytical skills to make the business and societal case.

Is what universities deliver in line with this need? What should they do?

  • Develop breadth and integration – focus on enhancing and integrating breadth of skills and less emphasis on the depth of skills. 
  • Values and passion – engaging students in society and business 
  • Articulating and leading – to ensure students have the ability to undertake complex analysis and communicate it effectively. 

The Fung Group, with origins in Southern China, spoke about the skills needs of cultivating leaders in a changing world. This is in response to some key trends:

  • Globalisation – e.g. China opening up and creating a factory for the world by doubling the size of the global workforce. 
  • Rising middle class in emerging markets 
  • Technological change – what is bought, how it is bought and how they work. Disruptive technologies are going to change the way in which society functions. 
  • Sustainability – growth in Asia has been at a cost. Environmental and human costs have been accrued. Business needs to have a response to the social and environmental challenges. 

skills sets identified:

  • Global mindset – leaders who think in a connected way at a global scale 
  • Customer focused – with a focus on the needs of the customer.
  • Innovation mindset – where and how in the process can an agile response be enabled. E.g. Rapid prototyping to create mini solutions and improve through iteration.
  • Collaboration – you need to work with others through integrated supply chains.
  • Developing other – working with colleagues, suppliers, etc.

Fung have recognised they need to engage with their workforce in a cost-effective and engaging way using multi media video across 15000 factories. 

The development of a sustainable apparel coalition supported by Nike, Puma, etc to ensure environmental data and performance information is captured and supporting factories to be able to undertake this work themselve across 40 economies in 14 languages. 

The concluding thoughts were that the focus should be on the solution – working across disciplines. There will be trade-offs but there will be compromises. Graduates needs to understand this process and work within it. 

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network  recognised the spiritual leadership, e.g. The commitment of the Pope Francis to the challenge of climate change. More practically, the University of Siena is illustrating how sustainability adds positive advantage to business. Moving from ‘why’ to ‘how’ to achieve it is the crucial next phase.