The critical importance of city-business collaboration for sustainable development

City leaders around the world are driving real action on climate change and sustainable development–but they can’t do it alone. By Gino Van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, and Peter Bakker, President & CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development.


Advanced technology and innovation are urgently needed to ensure sustainable urban development. Energy-efficient buildings, highly efficient lighting, and smart grids will be needed to ensure energy security and the mitigation of climate change. Resilient infrastructure and systems will be needed to enhance the adaptive capacity of cities in the light of climate change and more frequent extreme weather events.

Sustainable and efficient solutions for urban transport and mobility can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and noise, improve air quality, and help to create high-quality public spaces. Technological solutions can contribute to enhancing and sustaining healthy ecosystems and ecosystem services, for example by reducing water consumption.

For urban planners and decision-makers, it is therefore key to know which technological solutions are available or which innovations can be provided by industry in order to successfully address their challenges and achieve strategic goals.

Business is a key solutions provider for addressing these complex urban sustainability challenges. The main infrastructure, technology, services and financing solutions that will support the sustainable visions and strategies of cities are predominantly developed, designed and implemented by the private sector.

Therefore it is crucial that cites and business develop new models for strategic engagement to realise the full capability of business to deliver innovative solutions. Unfortunately, institutional and perception barriers can limit city-business beneficial engagement where it is most critical–early in the planning process.

This is where ICLEI–the world’s leading association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development–and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)–the leading global business organisation promoting action for sustainability–have been working together to overcome these barriers and demonstrate in practice the real value of early strategic collaboration.

One key example is the WBCSD’s Urban Infrastructure Initiative (UII), which has demonstrated the value of early collaborative engagement between cities and business for sustainable development. The UII mobilised multi-sector, expertise from 14 leading companies to help 10 cities around the world identify innovative and effective solutions to realise their sustainability visions [see video below]. ICLEI played a very important role as a bridging organisation in the UII, facilitating the engagements with Turku in Finland and Tilburg in the Netherlands.

Another important example is the ICLEI Global Town Hall at Metropolitan Solutions, being held 7 to 11 April as part of the Hannover Fair. This innovative event is the paramount platform for city-business dialogues on innovative and sustainable urban infrastructure solutions, bringing together businesses, local governments, researchers, and developers for five days of face-to-face conversation and information exchange.

The Global Town Hall provides an excellent opportunity to launch the final report of the UII and to promote further dialogue on how city-business collaboration can really work in practice. ICLEI and WBCSD will also highlight the results of a global survey of city leaders we have conducted jointly, exploring the barriers and opportunities for scaling up city collaboration with private sector solutions providers.

While this is an excellent start, there is major potential for much more to be done. ICLEI and the WBCSD see an enormous win-win opportunity to drive transformational global action on climate change through bringing city and business leadership together–but early collaborative engagement is crucial for success. Cities win by getting practical, cost-effective solutions to realise their ambitious sustainability visions. Leading businesses will win through growth in the markets for innovative new solutions that will be essential for delivering transformational change.

We look forward to working together and catalysing action by cities and business to make this opportunity happen.

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