Cities showing the way

Cape Town – Water Conservation and Demand Management Program

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Despite its location on the southern coast of Africa, Cape Town was built in a semi-arid area where water is a precious resource. At the same time, the city is experiencing rapid population growth, with its population expanding 30 percent between 2001 and 2011.

In 2007, Cape town instituted a water management plan, dubbed the Water Conservation and Demand Management Program (WCWDMP). The WCWDMP, according to city officials, is a two-pronged effort that includes both raising consumer awareness and updating existing infrastructure. Under the program, the city trained more than 1,000 plumbers and then dispatched them into low-income communities to make repairs to leaking pipes free of charge. The city also implemented campaigns to raise awareness about water use and waste, coupled with a “stepped tariff” to discourage water waste. Additionally, the city has implemented various recycling programs, such as using wastewater to irrigate crops.

Under the program, Cape Town has saved 58,473 tons CO2 per year — the equivalent of 11,168 passenger vehicles — from reduced energy demands related to water pumping and wastewater treatment. Water demand has also decreased 30 percent since 2007, despite the city’s rapid growth in population.

Vancouver – Greenest City Action Plan

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

In 2008, when Gregor Robertson was elected mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, he set out to make it the greenest city in the world. In 2011, Vancouver outlined specific steps to meet that goal under the Greenest City Action Plan, which would render Vancouver both zero carbon and zero waste by 2020. The plan includes goals like reducing Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent compared to 2007 levels, requiring all buildings to be carbon neutral by 2020, and aiming to have half of the city’s transportation occur via foot, bike, or public transit.

As of 2014, Vancouver appeared to be making progress towards those goals, with emissions down 7 percent in 2014 and more than half of all trips taken in the city done via bike, foot, or public transportation. The city is also home to a growing green economy, with jobs in the green sector growing 19 percent since 2010 and employing 20,000 residents. Vancouver also created a new building code, considered to be the most advanced in the world, according to the Vancouver Sun, that has helped the city create greener buildings through things like mandatory low flow water devices and more sustainable construction material.

“This momentum that we see here in the room today and in Paris gives us great hope,” Robertson said at the award ceremony. “Let’s keep taking bold action.”

Washington, D.C. – District of Columbia Government Wind Power Purchase Agreement

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

In 2015, Washington, D.C. made history when it entered into an agreement with Iberdrola Renewables LLC to supply 35 percent of the government’s electricity with wind power from a 46-megawatt wind farm. It was the largest purchase of wind energy by a U.S. city to date, and also made D.C. the first city without a municipal utility to enter into a long-term wind power purchase agreement.

The agreement — which only applies to the D.C. government’s electricity, not all of D.C. — will reduce the D.C. government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent annually, saving some 10,000 tons of carbon emissions per year. That’s the same as taking nearly 2,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

D.C.’s wind power purchase agreement will also save taxpayers in the District money, by locking in lower electricity rates that will reportedly save D.C. residents $45 million over the next 20 years.

Stockholm – Stockholm Royal Seaport

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

It might seem counter-intuitive that a rapidly expanding urban area could have a negative carbon footprint, but that’s exactly what planners expect will happen with Stockholm’s Royal Seaport, the country’s largest urban development area. Despite the 12,000 homes and 35,000 workspaces planned for Stockholm’s Royal Seaport, the community is expected to be carbon positive, meaning it will sequester more carbon than it creates.

Planning for the community began in the early 2000s, and it is expected to be complete in 2030. Planners expect that through stringent requirements on building efficiency; the wide use and production of renewable energy throughout the community; measures to promote biking, walking, and public transport as the primary modes of transportation; and a goal of zero waste, the community could eventually reduce its carbon emissions to below zero.

It’s a lofty goal, and one that the community won’t be required to meet immediately — in 2030, it will only be required to be fossil-fuel free and emit less than 1.5 tons of carbon per person each year. Still, even that would be a huge reduction from Sweden’s average per capita emissions, which currently hang around 6 tons per person.