Building better cities for a net-zero carbon future

A new report from the World Economic Forum promotes an integrated approach as the solution to decarbonizing urban areas. Here are some top ISO standards to help.

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More than half the world’s population live in cities, which are crammed into just 3 % of the globe’s surface and are responsible for 70 % of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Net Zero Carbon Cities: An Integrated Approach highlights that, as urbanization is tipped to grow, more action needs to be taken by cities to achieve net-zero emissions and slow down rising earth temperatures.

“Systemic efficiency” is the answer to all our current crises, the report urges, encompassing “clean electrification, smart digital technology, and efficient buildings and infrastructure, along with a circular economy approach to water, waste and materials”.

ISO has thousands of standards to help city leaders heed the advice of the WEF and make their cities cleaner, healthier and more sustainable, from overarching frameworks to those that tackle every individual action. They help to build urban environments that meet the needs of citizens today, while investing in a better future for both us and the planet.

Below is a small selection of standards that can help.

Let’s start with a holistic approach

Having a clear understanding of what a sustainable city means and what areas a city needs to address is the logical starting point.

ISO 37101, Sustainable development in communities – Management system for sustainable development – Requirements with guidance for use, provides an overall framework for sustainable development in communities, helping cities determine their objectives and put in place a strategy to achieve them. Directly aimed at city leaders, this management system standard covers everything a city must address, such as responsible resource use, environmental management, citizens’ health and well-being, governance, mobility and more.

ISO 37101 is supported by many other standards in areas such as terminology (ISO 37100) and key indicators for measuring the performance of city services (ISO 37120).

The ISO committee of experts that developed these standards also has a range of guidance documents for smart community infrastructures, including important aspects such as transport. ISO 37161, Smart community infrastructures – Guidance on smart transportation for energy saving in transportation services, is one such standard that provides the transport industry and local and national governments with recommendations on how to reduce energy used in transportation for passengers, delivery, freight and postal services.

Front view of Hong Kong’s “Peak Tram” funicular emerging from a sea of greenery, with plunging view over the city.

The Peak Tram in Hong Kong.

Keep it circular

Moving from a throw-away society to one where nothing is wasted and everything gets reused or transformed is the key to a sustainable future and preserving the world’s precious resources. Known as the circular economy, it is a “trillion-dollar opportunity”, according to the WEF, with huge potential for job creation and economic growth. Recognizing its value in a sustainable future, ISO recently created a technical committee dedicated to the cause, with experts from over 80 countries and counting.

Some of its standards in development include ISO 59004, which offers a framework and principles for implementing a circular economy, ISO 59010, which provides guidelines on business models and value chains, and ISO/TR 59031, a future technical report that looks at a performance-based approach through the analysis of case studies.

Efficient energy management

Having an energy management system in place such as ISO 50001, Energy management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, helps organizations and entities of any shape and size achieve greater efficiencies and identify areas of improvement.

But ISO 17742, Energy efficiency and savings calculation for countries, regions and cities, is aimed specifically at communities and provides indicator-based and measure-based methods for calculating energy savings, taking into consideration end-use sectors such as households, industry, services, agriculture and transport.

Tapping into the potential of buildings

As the global population grows, so too do the energy needs of the building sector. Responsible for 28 % of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019, building and construction represent an enormous potential for improving efficiencies and achieving the net-zero target.

ISO’s subcommittee SC 17, Sustainability in buildings and civil engineering works, of technical committee TC 59, Buildings and civil engineering works, is continually developing standards to help capitalize on this opportunity to enhance the carbon footprint of every aspect of the building trade.

These include ISO 15392, Sustainability in buildings and civil engineering works – General principles, and the ISO 16745 series, which provides requirements for determining, reporting and verifying the carbon metric of an existing building while it is in use.

Better connected for a better future

With information communication technology (ICT) underpinning the vast majority of systems, services and processes in a city, having seamless, interconnected systems can help with many things, from improving energy use to reducing traffic jams. However, it is extremely complex. A new series of standards helps to remove some of that complexity by giving a clear overview of how systems interact. In this way, city leaders can best identify areas of potential improvements and efficiencies.

ISO/IEC 30145-3Information technology – Smart City ICT reference framework – Part 3: Smart city engineering framework, outlines a smart city engineering framework from the ICT perspective. Consisting of both the horizontal engineering layers and the vertical systems, it provides a clear mapping of the different techniques and components needed for smart city business processes.

Developed in collaboration with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the new series will soon be joined by standards that include ISO/IEC 30145-1Information technology – Smart City ICT reference framework – Part 1: Smart city business process framework, and ISO/IEC 30145-2Information technology – Smart City ICT reference framework – Part 2: Smart city knowledge management framework.

All of these standards can be purchased from your national ISO member or the ISO Store.

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