10 Ways Cities Can Create Sustainable Green Spaces
by Jane Marsh
The world is becoming increasingly aware of the problem of deforestation, but what about green spaces in cities?
The creation of green spaces such as forests and parks to pave the way for agriculture and sustainable space is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the 21st century.
Thankfully, new farming techniques and restorative practices are bringing green back to the planet (thanks to sustainable agriculture and reforestation). But what about the places where green spaces are more sparse, such as city environments?
Although it might seem challenging, many ways exist to bring the benefits of green spaces to highly-populated urban areas.
Create a Public Park
Parks are a staple of cities for a reason. They’re an ample green space that provides people with a sense of peace and community.
Studies show green environments have a positive effect on mental health. Urban areas with limited natural structures or fauna can be mentally exhausting for city dwellers.
Besides London, Vancouver, NYC, and Chicago, Green City Times details parks in many cities that are featured on pages throughout this site.
Make a Mini-Forest
Creating a mini-forest is a much larger project in which an entire community can participate. Mini-forests are precisely what they sound like — ample space with trees and vegetation. While creating one takes a lot of work and time, there are a good number of benefits to having a large green area.
Creating a mini forest can be a long-term goal that brings the city’s people together. Once completed, everyone can reap the benefits — including the next generation of the city’s population.
Create City Gardens
The most apparent way cities can bring some green to their neighborhood is to start making gardens a regular sight.
As long as space and soil are available, creating a garden can add some green to urban areas.
Gardens don’t have to be on the ground, either. Any space to put down some plants — like a patio or rooftop — can be perfect for a mini garden.
Most plants are hardy and can survive if they get enough sunlight and water.
Grow a Green Building
A simple but effective way to bring out some green in the city is to find places to create gardens on buildings. Rooftop gardens or small spaces near windowsills and balconies are a great way to bring some green to your apartment building.
Garden walls — also known as vertical gardens — are one of the best ways to create a big garden using a small amount of space.
Unlike traditional gardens, vertical gardens are built in columns instead of rows. This method minimizes the amount of space you need.
Of course, green spaces don’t mean just green. Dotting the cityscape with flower gardens can bring some life and color to the gray of the urban landscape. Like gardening, there are plenty of ways to use the space available to make a flower garden.
Some of the best places to plant flowers are curbs, storefronts, and front doors. While flowers might be more sensitive than garden plants, having such magnificent colors around is excellent for the city’s look and citizens’ morale.
Plant Wherever You Can
Adding green to urban environments can be done in more than big spaces. Planting trees, flowers, and other plants, wherever space is available, can give the city a more green look and feel. Even adding plants inside buildings can create a green space where people feel relaxed and welcome.
Start an Urban Food Garden
One of the sad realities of urban environments is although there’s so much food and resources available, not everyone can afford them. One small way to help solve this problem is by creating a public urban farm.
Urban areas can have these small farms in specialized areas to unite neighborhoods. People can even try planting their produce in empty plots.
Create an “Awareness” Day
An excellent way to encourage the creation of green spaces and bring communities together is to create a “green” awareness campaign. Making an event based on being environmentally friendly will allow people to learn about sustainability and plant their own gardens.
For example, San Francisco founded Park(ing) Day. Every September 15, people across the U.S. are encouraged to repurpose parking spaces temporarily into miniature public parks. This is to spread awareness of the importance of green spaces in urban environments.
Invest in Hydroponic Farms
Hydroponics is a new technology that allows cities to grow almost the same amount of plants and vegetables as a fully functioning farm. These hydroponic farms use a complex water delivery system to grow plants using little or no soil.
One of the most significant advantages of this technology is it can be built indoors using almost any space. Instead of tearing down buildings no longer in use, they can be retrofitted to become hydroponic farms.
Instead of shipping in products from farms several miles away, hydroponic farms can grow that food in the middle of the city. While not a “green space” in the traditional sense, hydroponic farms can bring a lot of green to supermarkets and grocery stores while using water efficiently.
Invest in Algae-Powered Solutions
Like hydroponic farms, algae-building technology might not be outwardly green, but it creates a sustainable environment using green-powered technology. Also known as bioreactors, algae-powered buildings are developing technology that uses the biological functions of algae in various ways.
These include using the process of photosynthesis to capture CO2 in the atmosphere and release it as oxygen, reducing the amount of carbon emissions in the air. In addition, dead algae can be burned as a power source rather than relying wholly on energy from fossil fuels.
Green Spaces Are Important for City Living
While it might take some additional planning and resources, the benefits of green spaces are enormous for big cities. Not only do they improve the mental health of its citizens, but they also help reduce harmful emissions that could adversely affect human health.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Oslo has fleets of electric mass public transit throughout the city - electric trams, buses, and ferries - that are powered by electricity from a municipal grid fed almost entirely by renewable energy (RE).
A share of Oslo's public transit fleets of buses and ferries run directly on renewables (renewable fuel such as biogas), and other fleets on electricity.
The capital city of Oslo is leading Norway down the green path to a net zero GHG emissions future. Renewable energy, district heating, as well as heat pumps and other green building practices, are all measures Oslo focuses on to reach net zero - as are electric vehicles (EVs).
These incentives include eliminating sales tax nationally for the purchase of some EVs, developing free parking spaces for EVs in major cities like Oslo, as well as building free parking garages for EVs with charging stations in Oslo.
Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are still taxed, providing a disincentive for ICE vehicles, while tax-free EVs are incentivized.
Norway plans to only allow zero-emission new cars to be registered in the country(starting in 2025, at the soonest).
As in the country of Norway as a whole, most new car sales in the capital city of Oslo are EVs. Oslo has the most EVs per capita of any major city in the world.
The old stock of fossil-fueled ICE vehicles are beingphased out in the city. Non-EVs account for a relatively small fraction of new vehicle sales in Norway today, as ICE vehicles become less and less popular.
Since 2010, an annual European Green City Capital has been awarded to European cities with a population over 100,000 (the population of Oslo municipality is about 700,000).
Oslo was the 2019 European Green Capital in recognition of high environmental standards, sustainable urban development, and green job creation.
Additional considerations for this award include public mass transit, conservation, biodiversity, air quality, waste management, and implementing measures to achieve a low citywide carbon footprint.
Oslo has also created its own Sustainable Cities Program, and has ambitious emission reduction goals.
Here are a couple of quotes from DW on why Oslo was chosen as Europe's 2019 eco-capital -
"Nearly half of all new cars sold [in Oslo] are fully electric. [Today, the share of new car sales that are EVs is well over half]. There are trams, electric buses and ferries, all running on renewable hydroelectric power. During the icy winters, a waste incinerator plant heats many of the city's homes.
The city aims to cut emissions by 36 percent from 1990 levels by the end of next year, and 95 percent by 2030. To achieve this, the city council has introduced its own climate budget — possibly the first of its kind in the world."
"[Europe's eco-capital award] honors high environmental standards, sustainable urban development and green job creation.
Indicators for being a green city include local transport, biodiversity, air quality, waste management, and noise [reduction]. Oslo, with its 660,000 inhabitants, is green not only due to its low carbon footprint of 1.9 tons per capita per year, Katja Rosenbohm tells DW.
As head of communication at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Rosenbohm was part of the jury that awarded Oslo its new title. "They have very ambitious targets, for example of having a car-free city by 2050." Rosenbohm also praises Oslo's "front-running activities in electro-mobility."
Regenerative agriculture creates carbon sinks; turning farms into healthy ecosystems that sequester carbon with plentiful plant life, while also producing crops for food.
Regenerative agriculture involves land use dedicated to polyculture, healthy ecosystems, soil nutrition, plant growth, and biodiversity.
Land use practices that favor organicplant growth, in addition to food crops, such as sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices, are among top readily available climate change mitigation solutions.
[Note: Sustainable and regenerative agriculture techniques do include land use where livestock are raised on farms for food, done with the sustainable technique of managed grazing (see more details below).
And a quick note about the terms in this article -all regenerative agriculture is sustainable agriculture, but regenerative agriculture has specific techniques and practices that make it a unique form of sustainable agriculture].
What Exactly is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming with the implementation of specificsustainable farming methods. Here are some key points in defining regenerative agriculture>>>
Cover crops, no-till farming, crop rotation, organic soil fertility, and polyculture - are a few agricultural practices that serve to increase soil health.
Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health.
Examples of cover crops include buckwheat, alfalfa, cool-season cereals (rye, winter wheat, barley, oats), clovers, winter peas, cowpeas, turnips, radish, and forage grasses such as ryegrass and sorghum.
Cover crops not only maintain farmland health but provide a source of potential income, providing useful crops to the community.
Polyculture is the practice of introducing and maintaining multiple species of crops and plants on farmland. Polyculture involves the consistent year-round farming practice of creating diverse crop and farmland plant species.
The biodiversity of a farm's crops and other ecosystems on the farm improves soil health, deters pests, and helps to maintain healthy ecosystems.
All other components of regenerative agriculture (no-tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, organic fertilizers, no pesticides, polyculture, managed grazing) support soil nutrition. For example, cover crops, crop rotation of a variety of perennial crops, and no-till farming are all designed to increase soil health.
Sustainable and Regenerative Agriculture - Managed Grazing
Effective global climate action depends on sustainable land use practices, such as organic farming, as the foundation for successful action. However, sustainable and regenerative ag. often involves raising livestock on farms, done sustainably with managed grazing.
Managed grazing with livestock can enhance the regenerative agriculture practices of diverse food crops, and land use with a focus on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.
Managed grazing helps to support regenerative farming objectives such as soil health and carbon farming (see information on carbon farming below).
Project Drawdown, a non-profit organization that details top climate change mitigation solutions, ranks managed grazing as a top climate solution (in the top 25 solutions); offering the following key points -
"Managed grazing imitates herbivores, addressing two key variables: how long livestock grazes a specific area and how long the land rests before animals return.
There are three managed-grazing techniques that improve soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention, and forage productivity:
Improved continuous grazing adjusts standard grazing practices and decreases the number of animals per acre.
Rotational grazing moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover.
Adaptive multi-paddock grazing shifts animals through smaller paddocks in quick succession, after which the land is given time to recover."
Carbon Farming and Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health
Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and the agricultural economy through the enhancement of natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is a common practice in most organic farming.
In carbon farming, agricultural techniques, such as the regenerative ag. techniques mentioned above, are designed to sequester carbon dioxide into the soil, crops, and plants.
Carbon farming practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as in permaculture. A sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term soil quality.
Some governments worldwide already have legislation to support farmers who use sustainable agriculture practices, but more is needed. The financial incentives for farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices such as carbon farming and the implementation of cover crops during off-seasons are a reality, however, the level of support for sustainable farms could be increased.
This involves increasing financial incentives, tax breaks, or direct payments, for farmers that practice sustainable ag. techniques. The easiest subsidized sustainable agricultural practice for farmers to implement is cover cropping, as there already are markets for the crops, so incentives will only help to encourage farmers to participate in existing markets, and to create new ones.
Solutions, in order to encourage farmers to implement the widespread use of cover cropping, include: providing government subsidies to farmers that practice cover cropping, providing guaranteed investment of markets for the crops, or at least making sure farmers get detailed information about cover crops.
Farmers who adopt regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover cropping, are helping improve ecosystems and mitigate climate change. Sustainable farms are carbon sinks; sequestering carbon and transforming conventional farmland into thriving, climate-saving, ecosystems.
Typically after farmland crops are harvested, and especially during wintertime, farmland just lays fallow. A few months later, when it's time to sow seeds for a new harvest - weeds, pests, and unhealthy soil fill the land. Tillage and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers only make the problem worse.
The simple remedies for this problem are cover cropping, no-tillage, and organic fertilizers. Cover crops help keep weeds and pests at bay, and maintain soil health during the off-season.
Here's a quote from the World Resources Institute on governments subsidizing sustainable agriculture for farmers willing to adopt practices that actively sequester carbon on farmland (through carbon farming, cover crops, and/ or another sustainable farming practice discussed above) >>>
"To both feed the world and solve climate change, the world needs to produce 50% more food in 2050 compared to 2010 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.
While government funding has an important role to play, a new World Bank report found that agricultural subsidies are currently doing little to achieve these goals, but have great potential for reform.
What is needed to mitigate the 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions contributed by global agriculture, including emissions from land use change?
The good news is that many opportunities exist to boost agricultural productivity to provide more food on existing agricultural land while reducing emissions.
Opportunity one is to increase natural resource efficiency by producing more food per hectare, per animal and per kilogram of fertilizer and other chemicals used.
Opportunity two is to put in place measures to link these productivity gains to protection of forests and other native habitats.
Opportunity three is to pursue innovations, because reaching climate goals for agriculture — just like for energy use — requires new technologies and approaches.
Overall, governments around the world should redirect more agricultural funding to focus on mitigation and the synergies between reducing emissions and producing more food.
A first step toward a sustainable food future is to make better use of the large financial support governments are already providing."
Project Drawdown estimates that transitioning global agriculture systems to sustainable practices can reduce global CO2 emissions by over 20 gigatons, stating that “bringing that carbon back home [carbon sequestration] through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.”
There’s a whole field of research devoted to achieving these goals: agroecology, the science of managing farms as ecosystems. By working with nature rather than against it, farms managed using agroecological principles can avoid damaging impacts without sacrificing productivity or profitability."
All countries and farm industries worldwide must adopt sustainable agriculture practices in order to reach global net zero; as the world begins transitioning to more sustainable food consumption habits.
This problem is largely due to deforestation to clear land for grazing; a significant amount of which is either directly or indirectly for the global meat industry. Land used for non-sustainable grazing is responsible for more GHGs than all of the world's transport systems combined.
The world should stop the unsustainable practice of deforestation, but an immediate global climate solution is simply improving practices on existing farms. A realistic solution is for the global agriculture community to be encouraged to maintain focused efforts on sustainable and regenerative farming practices.
The global transition to sustainable agriculture would be expedited if the global farming community was simply catering to a majority organic plant-based diet in the consumer food market. However, this ideal sustainable circumstance is far from realistic.
Going vegan, vegetarian, or at least eating less meat, helps reduce global GHGs by helping in the global transition to sustainable, plant-based agriculture. It helps fill the demand for a plant-based consumer diet as the global fight against climate change gains steam. It also helps to reduce your carbon footprint.
Meat for Food & GHGs
An Oxford study published in the journal Climate Changefound that the diets of meat-eaters who ate more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day – roughly the size of a pack of cards – contribute to GHGs significantly.
The average meat-eater has a much higher carbon footprint than people who adopt a plant-based diet - 50-54% higher than vegetarians, and between 99-102% higher than vegans. Of course, there are other ways for individuals in society to contribute to lower emissions, but veganism may be a top solution.
Research shows that, as Dr. Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden said, “reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural pollution down to safe levels."
The practice of raising cattle for meat and dairy, in a non-sustainable way, ranks close to the top of the list as a segment of the global economy contributing to GHGs (mostly in the form of methane emitted from grazing cattle).
However, transitioning to a plant-based diet now is considered one of the best ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and to reduce one's personal contribution to the problem of GHGs.
A study from the University of Chicago posits that eating less meat (or none at all) is more effective at reducing one's personal responsibility for GHGs than changing from a conventional car to a hybrid.
According to PETA - “…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 28 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The use of manure storage and of manure being used as fertilizer for crops and feed, which then generates substantial amounts of nitrous oxide, contributes greatly to the greenhouse gases affecting the global warming crisis."
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The three most critical GHGs responsible for climate change are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide - and together they cause the majority of climate change issues.
Methane is a gas that can be produced from stockpiling of animal and human sewage, manure used as fertilizer, as well animal’s personal “gas emissions”. Methane is a potent GHG (much more potent than CO2, with a much shorter duration in the atmosphere).
Methane is released from livestock in large quantities globally, exacerbating climate change, and is closely followed in significance by nitrous oxide in unsustainable agriculture practices.
Nitrous oxide emissions are primarily direct emissions from fertilized agricultural stock, and manure, as well as indirect emissions from the leaching of fertilizers and pesticides; which is when rainwater causes part of the nitrogen in fertilizers and pesticides to leach into groundwater and eventually into rivers.
Nitrous oxide is a roughly 300 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane is roughly 25-80 times more potent than CO2 (depending on the time frame being looked at).
CO2 is the most well-known GHG because it’s the longest-lasting in the atmosphere, and the most significant GHG in terms of quantity of CO2 released in the common industries tracked for GHG emissions (energy generation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, buildings).
In basic terms, societies should begin to try and transition from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet today; and the global farming community absolutely must switch now to sustainable agriculture practices, in order for the global fight against climate change to be truly effective.
Food consumption habits greatly affect land-use/ agricultural practices. Project Drawdown ranks having the global community transition to a plant-based diet as one of the most effective climate mitigation strategies, albeit one that has gained very little global momentum (as eating meat and dairy remains very popular worldwide).
The U.K. is a lot better than the U.S. as far as the vegetarian portion of the population, with estimates that as much as a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom will be vegetarian by 2025.
Dietary consumer choices directly influence land use and agriculture. One solution to the global climate crisis is to focus on changing cultural dietary choices and, in turn, help foster the transition to sustainable global land-use/ agriculture practices to effectively mitigate climate change.
A “zero-emission” district in Freiburg, Germany, most energy for buildings in Vauban is sourced from rooftop solarpanels.
Energy for Vauban is also supplied by a local biomass-fed cogeneration plant (fed by woodchips). Vauban's electricity is mostly supplied by solar photovoltaics, and district heating for Vauban is supplied by the local cogeneration plant.
Residents in plus-energy buildings in Vauban sell excess energy generated by their home or building back to the municipality (for use in homes in the community), resulting in lower electricity bills.
Vauban's Urban Planning
Urban planning helped to create a city layout that lends itself to cycling as the primary mode of transit. Vauban's urban plan is connected streets throughout the town (forming a fused grid), plenty of pedestrian and bike paths, as well as designated lanes for mass transit (filtered permeability).
Vauban's streets have minimal parking spaces, with roads primarily designed for pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit instead of cars.
The majority of Vauban residents don’t own a car, choosing instead to use the tram, cycle, or simply walk.
Vauban is notcompletely emissions-free, as cars are actually allowed (if you pay at least $23,000 USD for a parking spot on the outskirts of town).
Theurban planningstrategies of filtered permeability and fused grid were implemented in the design of the municipality of Vauban.
Residents of Vauban primarily live in co-op buildings, such as the Sun Ship.
Here's an illustration of the layout of the city district of Vauban>>>
The radical culture of Vauban has roots in its dramatic history. Ironically, Vauban was a military town through WWII (a French army barracks site, after the French took it over) and into the early ’90s. When the military left, the vacant buildings were inhabited by squatters. These vagabonds eventually organized a group called "Forum Vauban", organizing a revolutionary eco-community with the help of the Freiburg City Council.
Today, Vauban is modern, beautiful, and represents the very cutting edge of sustainable living.
And, here are the rankings for Green City Times' top 10 greenest cities in the world>>>
Austin, known for its environmental justice movements, is emerging as a leader in renewable energy and community solar, and in LEED building technologies.
In Austin, through non-profit organizations, sustainability groups, and local government; there are constant efforts in environmental justice.
Austin's local sustainability organizations also work to improve the city's carbon footprint and make strides toward a renewable energy-based local economy.[See below, at the bottom of this article, for a few examples of Austin's sustainability and environmental justice organizations].
Austin’s sustainability measures are extensive; which is why the city has consistently been recognized as a leading U.S. green city in national sustainability studies.
Austin is an attractive city both in terms of its location and the city's economy. This is true for hard-working professionals in a variety of fields, from education to agriculture.
Additionally, tech and artistically-focused, sustainability-focused people, and entrepreneurs do well in the city. Austin attracts a diverse population; attracting people to the city due to its unique physical setting, its thriving culture and economy, and its leadership in many sustainability fields.
Community solar projects are arrays of solar photovoltaics (PV) invested in by members of a community from which energy and financial benefits are derived.
Community solar is an excellent example of how Austin is emerging as a leader among American cities, and worldwide, in renewable energy.
A major component of Austin's prominence in terms of renewable energy projects consists of community solar investments. These investments are typically made by Austin's residents, commercial and business building owners, and small businesses.
Austinites who want solar, or simply see it as a profitable investment, can invest in community solar projects. A group of potential renewable energy investors is able to pool their investments into a community array of PV panels; as seen in Austin Energy's variety of community solar programs [Austin Energy].
With solar, there is direct community involvement. An increasing quantity of Austin's residences and buildings have rooftop solar panels or are invested in community solar projects.
There are some communities in Austin that can optimally put solar panels on their rooftops because they have access to abundant solar resources - for others, there is community solar.
Many community solar investors live in properties that don'thave access to optimal solar resources (for example, a property within a shaded area).
Often, community solar investors are people who can't install solar PV panels on their property (such as in the case of a rental property or HOA that doesn't allow solar PV).
Some community solar investors simply like the investment opportunity these renewable energy projects provide.
Available energy from solar in Austin is abundant. On average, there are over 200 sunny days per year in Austin (along with over 100 partly cloudy days with intermittent sun).
Austin not only has the right weather for community solar but the right political climate as well.
“As cities are leading on climate change, Austin is focused on inclusive innovation around sustainability. We are realizing a greener future, and the Austin Energy Community Solar initiative shows the world how everyone in your community can support and benefit from renewable energy.”
Austin has gained a reputation as a sustainable, progressive, and innovative city.
The city's green reputation has spread internationally as well as in the states. The city is well-known for its actively involved citizenry in many sustainability and justice issues.
This is evident by Austinites' active participation in sustainability and social/ environmental justicemovements[see below for a few examples of Austin's sustainability and environmental justice organizations].
The roles played by the active citizenry in sustainability movements are evident in Austin. Active citizenry is fundamental to the sustainable success, progress, and growth of a city. The city is certainly blessed to have such a well-informed citizenry [evolveaustin.org].
Here is a brief snippet from Architectural Digest on the reasons for ranking Austin as the #1 most sustainable city in the United States -
"While five out of ten of the greenest [U.S.] cities are located in the Northeast, the number-one spot went to the hipster haven of Austin, Texas, and its surrounding area of Round Rock.
Austin scored the top slot by a landslide thanks to its 5 LEED buildings per every 1000 residents.
Its title can also be attributed to the .097 miles of bike lanes per every 10,000 residents, demonstrating that commuters are ditching their cars in favor of pedaling their way to work and thereby shrinking their carbon footprint.
There's also .16 farmer's markets for every 10,000 residents, .94 electric car plug-ins for every 10,000 people, and 15% of Austin's land area is park, green spaces, or forest..."
10% of Austin’s land is designated for parks, urban forestry, and other open, green spaces. The City of Austin has not only dedicated much of its land to parks; Austin also has plentiful green areas around freshwater lakes, rivers, and springs.
"[Austin] - green space per capita: 2,978 sq. ft...
Wildflower centers, hike and bike trails, and Lake Austin beach entrances make up 20,000 acres of green space. The Texas town touts the health benefits that public open space offers, particularly in the development of children, higher property values, and decreased crime rates.
Events like Zilker Botanical Garden’s Monarch Appreciation Day, which promotes further pollination for an even greener ecosystem, draw thousands of visitors to Austin annually."
Austin draws about 5% of the city’s energy needs from hydroelectric projects (dams, tidal barrages) in the lakes of Austin.
Additionally, Austin is deploying a larger number of hydroelectric turbines to generate energy, including tidal barrages in rivers to harness the energy of tides and currents.
There are three lakes formed by dammed portions of the Lower Colorado River in the Austin area - Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis.
All three lakes are used for recreational camping, hiking, boating, and fishing; but a couple of the lakes also double as hydroelectric reservoirs.
Northwest of downtown is Lake Travis - Austin’s largest lake. Lake Travis is designated as a lake that has sections that can be used as hydroelectric reservoirs.
Lake Travis has some of Austin's best beaches and parks, is used for recreational boating and fishing, and is used for flood control.
Lake Travis supplies water to parts of Central Texas.
Between Lake Travis and downtown Austin is Lake Austin. Lake Austin is created by dams along the Lower Colorado River.
Lake Austin is used as a reservoir for hydroelectric energy generation through the dams with its tributaries and rivers. Lake Austin also supplies water to the municipality, is used for recreation, and is used for flood control; controlling the flow of the Lower Colorado River.
Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin does not allow motorized boats and is not currently designated for any hydroelectric generation.
Austinites and The Great Outdoors
It is worth noting that a city’s population relative to the quantity of nature surrounding the population can greatly affect urban social structures.
Natural settings in an urban environment influence the way people interact with each other and form priorities for social justice and environmental justice issues.
In such a rapid urban growth scenario as Austin, it is important that the definition of a livable city is clearly outlined and it must stress having maximum open green spaces.
Austin features over 200 parks and more than 50 miles of hiking trails (and many of the trails are also biking trails).
The connection of Austinites to their city’s natural landscape is immensely strong, and this creates a unique sense of place. This connection to the environment is apparent throughout the historical evolution of the city and is made manifest through a variety of avenues like environmental protection campaigns.
Examples of such environmental campaigns, like the Texas Campaign for the Environment, are initiated by non-profit sustainability advocacy groups, as well as municipal agencies and institutions.
The purpose of these environmental justice campaigns is to raise awareness about sustainability concerns. For instance; the struggle to protect Austin’s green spaces and local waterways (detailed in the section on Save Our Springs below).
These sustainability campaigns (see below, at the bottom of this article for a few prominent sustainability campaigns in Austin) also allow the citizens to band together for the betterment of the city and environment.
Most of the new homes and businesses developed in Austin are built to the latest energy efficiency standards. Many new buildings in Austin are built to LEED green building standards [leedatx.com].
In Austin, some new construction is even carbon neutral; with on-site solar energy generation. Austin is on track to get at least 35% of its energy citywide from renewable energy sources, while all of Austin’s public buildings are already powered by renewable energy.
Wind farms in and near Austin supply a substantial amount of energy to Austin's energy grid; contributing over 15% of the city's energy.
Additionally, the city deploys anaerobic digesters at some of the city’s farms to harness the energy of agricultural and animal waste produced at the farms.
Anaerobic digesters (AD plants) turn waste into energy that can be used to power the farm or is distributed to the grid for the city’s energy needs. Food waste, and even household waste, is diverted from local landfills and used for the same purpose at local anaerobic digesters in Austin. AD plants generate biogas...converting waste into a useful form of energy.
All renewable energy in Austin is backed up by natural gas generators, and/ or energy storage in utility-scale battery storage facilities. Additionally, large quantities of energy storage are in Austin’s hydroelectric reservoirs.
Overall, the energy of Austin is green and clean; and accomplishes the city’s goal of lowering the city’s carbon footprint.
The city aims for a public transportation fleet that has a low carbon footprint. Over 1/2 of city buses in Austin currently run on alternative, cleaner fuels like compressed natural gas or biodiesel. Ambulances in Austin have solar panels on the roofs of their vehicles to power EMTs’ medical equipment.
*** (demographic info on what makes Austin uniquely sustainable)
Austin, Texas - A Shining Example of a Sustainable City
Austin is the capital city of Texas, as well as Travis County’s seat of government. The city is a thriving and populous city with a population of almost 1,000,000 people and a population density of just over 3000 people per square mile. These population numbers can be largely attributed to the city’s never-ending expansion and migration to the city.
The city’s demographic story is greatly influenced by the incredibly sustained job opportunities that it offers. As the number of people tempted to find job opportunities in the city rises, the population of the city increases. This further intensifies the population density of Austin.
Some facts about Austin’s demographics will offer a clearer picture of the demographic dynamics of the city:
In the previous decade, the population in Austin increased by roughly 20%.
The population of Austin is nearly 1/2 college graduates, and 88% are people with an HS degree or higher.
The number of Latinos in Austin is relatively high, at over 30% of the population.
The number of people living in poverty in Austin is under 20%, but above 15% (ex. of the definition of living in poverty is a family of 4 living on under $25,000 combined income annually per the US Census Bureau).
In the American South, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. After Phoenix, it is the 2nd most populous state capital, where a 40% rise in population has been observed since 2000. Moreover, Austin is the 11th most populous city in the US, and Texas’s 4th most populous city.
Among the roughly 1 million citizens of Austin is a significant population of migrants and job seekers. Austin is primarily focused on the technology sector of its economy. Additionally, Austin is home to the main campus of the University of Texas, where over 40,000 students are enrolled. Austin has been ranked the #1 city to start a small business by Fortune Magazine.
Austin’s music and entertainment industries are key economically productive sectors in the city. The focus on the tech, music, and arts industries in Austin are further enhanced by several cultural events. The most famous such event is the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. SXSW is Austin's premier technology conference and music & film event.
The latest trends observed in Austin’s population offer ways through which the city’s sustainability prospects can be assessed. The most significant demographic trend is that Austin continues to be a growing, diverse city, where the majority-minority division doesn't exist anymore. There isn't a single demographic group that can claim a majority in this city, which is a welcome societal change.
Another trend in the Austin population is that there is a decline in families with children, which is the result of the city’s rapid urbanization. This trend offers an insight into the rapidly changing demographic dynamics in Austin.
The number of young, highly educated, and skilled people moving to Austin to join the workforce is increasing. Newcomers tend to choose to live in the urban center of the city, while a majority of families opt to move to nearby suburban greenbelts.
These migratory trends in Austin change the median age and the number of members per household within the city. This affects the public services sector including schooling (e.g. at UT Austin), mass transit, and other city services – services that are overwhelmingly used by young adults.
It's important that Austin adopts new initiatives that encourage a focus on improving sectors like transportation. This is in order to address population-oriented issues such as traffic congestion, housing, and real estate sector prices. The most pressing ecological problem that must be addressed with the rapid growth of the city, is environmental pollution.
Also, Austin should adopt a newer approach to address these issues in order to make the city inviting, healthy, and investment-worthy for families with children [austinindicators.org].
Hardworking, talented, skilled, and innovative individuals from across the globe are instantly attracted to the city. The investment made by its citizens in the urban landscape has made this city’s quality of life its main engine of economic development. On the other hand, its diverse demographic structure tends to complement and support the city’s quality of life.
The population of Austin has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the 21st century; hence, it is essential for the city administration to cautiously devise strategies for the future of the city with attention to demographic trends in Austin such as the growing migrant population and the diverse socio-cultural foci of city residents.
It is necessary that the city formulates policies that ensure sustainable development of the city and help in improving the implementation of, and the efficiency of, eco-friendly practices, among other top sustainability concerns for the city, like social justice issues.
Many Austinites worry that the city’s environment will be destroyed because of continuous population growth. Ultimately, the city’s quality of life will be determined primarily by its environment instead of its size or economy.
Proponents of quality of life, such as Austin community members in environmental justice and social justice non-profits, are determined to preserve environmental and socially altruistic aspects of the city that define the identity of Austin.
The city of Austin has historically dedicated itself to becoming a sustainable city, and made efforts at social and economic sustainability.
The Smart Growth Initiative in Austin has become an important example of both the pros and the potential cons of large-scale urban sustainability efforts. This initiative was directed towards addressing the problem of food and clean water deserts within east Austin.
The multi-faceted basis of the SGI are the pillars of economic success, social parity, and conservation. Smart Growth zones include a Drinking Water Protection Zone, Desired Development Zone, and Urban Desired Development Zone, in Austin's designated watershed regulation areas.
SGI was launched to limit the developments in West Austin, to ensure the preservation of its natural areas, and to stimulate sustainable growth and development of the urban eastern Austin area. West Austin is in close proximity to the city’s current urban center - East Austin.
Despite being constructed with positive outcomes as the ultimate goal, the net result of this initiative was negative social justice consequences (Green Policy 360). However, SGI also produced positive environmental, clean water, and sustainable development results.
Success and Failures of SGI
The Smart Growth Initiative was originally devised to stimulate urban renewal, economic productivity, and environmental protections. In Austin however, eventually, it turned out that the plan ended up destabilizing local residents and underpinning their racial attitudes.
The sustainable redevelopment and rezoning of east Austin under the SGI resulted in the subsequent influx of upper-income, highly educated, and young white shifters. This demographic moved to this area in search of affordable homes, as well as to live in an area that has some identity and character of its own.
Also, part of SGI's priorities was gaining easy access to the downtown, which promised to improve residents’ quality of life. SGI sought to expand employment opportunities and amenities for Austin’s affluent community; but at the same time, these developments affect the cost of living in that area tremendously.
Therefore, gentrification quickly became an important sustainability and social justice issue in Austin. This is a central consideration when developing urban sustainability strategies and policies in Austin, and became the focal point of social and environmental justice groups such as PODER.
People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER)
In the sustainability agenda for Austin, environmental issues, and economic growth and development, are sometimes prioritized over the issue of social equality, which is why addressing gentrification often takes a backseat. People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) is an interracial organization working in Austin to protect lower socioeconomic communities.
One of the most noteworthy and widely acknowledged achievements of PODER is their work against the development of locally unwanted land uses, which usually occur in the form of landfills, incinerators, and waste treatment plants near low-income neighborhoods, and has become a key focus in the development of East Austin.
PODER’s work for environmental justice is indeed quite successful and it is due to their genuine, consistent efforts and effective use of awareness programs to promote public engagement and generate citywide concern among the masses.
PODER has worked vigorously against the gentrification of East Austin and has helped in the promotion of environmental justice issues, as these have become a lot more critical to urban sustainability.
PODER Speaks for the Environment and the People
In the gentrification issue, the argument endorsed by PODER has been that the city has been focused on the support of environmental principles, which is positive, but while following these principles, the priorities and sustainability concerns of communities of color have been unjustly diminished, which indeed is not justified.
The influence and importance of this non-profit organization, PODER, in voicing the concerns of the low-income and minority groups of the community cannot be overlooked. The advocacy of PODER is one of the main reasons that the voices of low socio-economic, predominantly minority, communities have been addressed by local policymakers in Austin.
PODER has also helped in fostering the belief that an inclusive approach is important for urban sustainability; and that social and equitable elements of environmental justice must be taken into consideration when the Austin City Council develops public policy.
All of these myriad elements affect the city of Austin and, if addressed constructively, will help in positive sustainable development for the city.
Urban Sustainability Issues in Austin
There are still many sustainability issues that have to be resolved in Austin, which do relate to the environment tangentially but relate to urban sustainability directly.
One of the most urgent issues in Austin is allowing the voices of Austin’s diverse city population to be heard, particularly lower socio-economic, predominantly minority communities, and to be reflected in decisions made by City Council, and city planners.
Sustainability movements in Austin can be at least partially understood to be the efforts to include a wider swath of Austin’s diverse population in the decision-making processes vis-à-vis public policy in the city, particularly with regard to city planning.
In Austin, as with any growing American city, environmental and social justice, and sustainable equities, also refer to the impacts of over-industrialization, distributional injustice with respect to environmental amenities, and vehicle use/ traffic patterns, on communities in the city.
Traffic congestion is a big issue in Austin. Austin residents experience traffic congestion on a regular basis, which is indicative of the way population growth has surpassed the limits of the available infrastructure in the city, resulting in undesirable, yet unavoidable, environmental impacts.
In a 2011 study conducted by Texas A&M, Austin ranked number three in the US as the most traffic-congested city. Forbes magazine has consistently ranked Austin as the fastest-growing city in the U.S., with the most employment opportunities available in U.S. cities (according to Forbes).
This substantially explains why car-centric, freeway, and highway infrastructure is believed to be insufficient for Austin's population, as well as environmentally concerning.
CAMPO’s Sustainability Advocacy
Organizations like the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Org. (campotexas.org) are striving to address traffic issues in Austin. Examples of CAMPO’s sustainability advocacy include creating awareness in the population aimed at reducing the demand for transportation via automobiles. CAMPO also works to increase accessibility to trails, sidewalks, and bike lanes, and increase the use of public transit systems.
In addition, CAMPO is actively spearheading advocacy actions aimed at infrastructure improvements, like highway infrastructure capacity to prevent traffic blockage, such as express transit lanes for carpooling.
Urban sprawl and traffic congestion both tend to be incredibly degrading for the environment, and these affect the livability aspects of a city. The prevalence of these issues stands in contrast to Austin’s claim to the title of a top eco-friendly city.
The efforts of Austin to improve the sustainability of the city are substantially reflected in the need to decrease car use, or to improve the efficiency of vehicles being driven around Austin, as well as through issues that emerge with the lack of easy modes of transportation for low-income and minority populations.
A group called the Save Our Springs Alliance represents a major source of organizational action in the sustainability agenda for Austin. S.O.S initially represented a group of citizens struggling to help preserve environmental aspects of the 4,000-acre development proposal for the Barton Creek Watershed.
A night-long meeting was held with Austin City Council members in June 1990, where the planned development was unanimously rejected by the council.
With the establishment of the Save Our Springs Alliance in 1992, S.O.S advocated aggressively for the Save Our Springs Ordinance to become law in the city. The S.O.S. Ordinance ensures that the quality of drinking and potable water for Austin isn’t affected by the water coming from development areas.
The water running off development areas eventually mixes into the Barton Springs Watershed. Around 30,000 supporting signatures were received in favor of this ordinance. Because of the rigorous efforts of the S.O.S. eventually, the ordinance was approved by Austin voters in August 1992. S.O.S. quickly became a popular, mainstream, relevant organization.
The scope of S.O.S. has been expanded, as its profile now includes creating awareness and alliances across Austin. The S.O.S. Alliance officially became a non-profit organization in 1997. This organization now works regularly with local conservation groups to promote the need to protect Barton Springs and Edward’s Aquifer.
Due to the efforts of S.O.S, Barton Creek and Barton Springs are now recognized as key sources of success in advocacy for environmental sustainability causes to Austin residents.
In its World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency identifies pathways for clean energy technological solutions needed to reach global net zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2050. It also details interim goals that will ensure the world is on the path to net zero. In order to achieve these goals, global electric vehicle sales need to increase from <20% of new vehicle sales to 50% by 2030.
Increased awareness of fossil fuels' effect on the planet, and the universal imperative for all nations across the planet to act on climate NOW to reduce GHGs, have driven many countries around the world to implement policies encouraging electric and hybrid vehicles. The sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have increased globally, with EVs, including 100% EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) now expected to top 14 million new vehicles sold in 2023.
Other major vehicle-producing countries include India and Mexico. The remaining auto manufacturing, representing the final ~1/3 of the global vehicle market, is done throughout other countries, most significantly South Korea.
Even with all of the above countries contributing to manufacturing EVs, EVs still only account for less than 5% of vehicle manufacturing globally (mostly in the form of electric and plug-in hybrid light-duty passenger cars and trucks). This number of EV production needs to increase significantly in order for the world to meet global climate goals.
The global reliance on the automobile results in a rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Climate change has disrupted the entire atmospheric setting of the planet, causing global warming and extreme weather such as floods, increased sea levels, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and more storms; all of which in turn affect food production, human health, and our general well-being.
Norway is first on our list because its government is in full support of cleaning the atmosphere and creating sustainable energy for its citizens; especially with regard to EVs. Norway has substantial tax incentives for EV buyers/ owners. Norway has built an extensive EV infrastructure, with ubiquitous, often free, EV charging; and Norway further incentivizes EVs with dedicated, free EV parking spots with charging included, as well as entire EV garages dedicated to these perks, and free use of bus/ carpool lanes for EVs.
Even with the yellow vest events, the sales of electric cars in France went up. Paris is aiming to ban all cars except electric vehicles by 2030 in the city, and in the country, there will be a similar ban by 2040. In the bid to reduce GHGs and air pollution, the Emmanuel Macron government has offered incentives for the cost of EVs.
China is the largest producer of fossil fuel vehicles globally, but with the country's moves towards clean energy and sustainability, China is at the forefront of producing electric and hybrid cars, trucks, and buses. Sales of EVs in China climb higher as the need for clean energy and GHG reduction nationwide remain a priority.
Electric cars and hybrids have flooded the streets of Germany. Germany is known for its financial incentives for buyers of German EVs and hybrids. There are over 39 makes of German EVs, including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Germany has a goal of reaching 15 million EVs on the road in the country by 2030.
Brazil is not just a country that uses electric cars, but is among the pioneers of pushing for renewable energy in all facets of its economy, including transportation and biofuel-based hybrid vehicles. Since the gradual introduction of EVs in Brazil, the emission rate has been reducing as more electric cars are seen on the streets. The country also uses cleaner fuel alternatives such as ethanol blends and biomass.
Please see our article on Curitiba for more on this city in Brazil, and Curitiba's successful use of hybrid vehicles in sustainable mass transit systems.
The Netherlands has set a target for itself that only emission-free vehicles will be allowed on the streets by 2030. The government of the Netherlands subsidizes the sales of electric vehicles, beginning in 2021. EVs will be exempt from taxes on motor vehicles starting in 2025.
The success of EVs in India might be achieved by the widespread adoption of two-wheel electric scooters throughout India to combat the dense population of the country and pollution. Hopefully, soon, electric scooters will be made more affordable for the masses in India, with the aim of cutting down on the GHGs in the country.
The government of Canada is investing in green infrastructure and clean technologies including partnering with private and public bodies to attain the dream of a clean Canada. This drive toward sustainability has also pushed the need for zero-emission vehicles on Canadian roads, as well as the introduction of charging stations to accommodate the growing number.Although it has not attained the position of countries like Norway, China, or even its neighbor the US, it is on the verge of being one of the countries with a higher renewable and sustainable energy in the future.
[Other countries not on this list, but notable for their production and incentivizing of the use of EVs, include South Korea as well as other countries throughout Asia and Europe].
The earth is our home, and EVs are part of the solution to mitigating anthropogenic climate change. Countries setting policies that help people make the sustainable transition to cleaner transportation; and the global population taking the initiative to adopt hybrid vehicles, plug-in EVS, and 100%-EVs, is a significant help to the cause.
The demand for EVs globally is expected to rise sharply in coming decades, as illustrated in this chart - with stats from BNEF, BP, OPEC, Exxon, and the IEA>>>
About the author - Eseandre is a passionate freelance writer, with over 2,000 positive reviews on Fiverr, who loves traveling and caring for the less privileged, and the earth. You can find her here- https://www.fiverr.com/eseandre
Chicago might not be widely known as a green city, however, the city has a vast network of sustainable mass public transit options, a Sustainable Action Agenda, a high share of energy-efficient buildings, thousands of acres of land designated for natural, green spaces, and is home to a wide range of other green city initiatives.
Public mass transit options in Chicago include a large network of buses, Metra commuter rail lines, and 'L' railcar lines. The 'L' railcar lines are above-ground rapid transit railcars running on elevated subway routes, which combined make over 2,000 trips/ day on over 200 miles of track.
Chicago features 145 stations for its 8 'L' rapid transit rail lines, and over 120 bus routes with over 1800 buses with a combined ridership of around 500,000 per weekday. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the 'L' rail lines and Chicago's bus service.
CTA has a goal to use 100% clean energy by 2040 and has been able to cut its GHGs by over 10% annually. CTA has been able to maintain this GHG reduction, while growing its city fleet, by incorporating more energy-efficient transit options.
CTA plans on having an all-electric bus fleet by 2040.
Chicago not only features exemplary mass public transit networks but excels at maintaining green spaces in the city as well.
The greater Chicago area consists of over 12,000 total acres of parkland (this includes land managed by the state and county - there are over 8,800 acres of green space owned by the Chicago Park District, including over 600 parks). ≈8.5% of the land area of Chicago is green space open to the public.
One great example of a large community park in Chicago is Lincoln Park, the city's largest park, at about 1200 acres. Lincoln Park is the adjacent home to a city district in Chicago's Northside (home to over 68,000 people), as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The City of Chicago has worked hard to put in motion plans to transform the city into one of the world’s brightest examples of a sustainable metropolis.
A path to this goal is found in the 7 themes of “The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda”. These 7 themes include Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy, Waste & Recycling, Waste & Wastewater, Transportation Options, Economic Development & Job Creation, and Parks & Open Space.
Chicago's citywide Climate Action Plan mirrors the goals of Chicago’s Sustainable Action Agenda. The ChicagoClimate Action Planincludes climate change mitigation strategies featuring energy-efficient buildings, clean & renewable energy sources, improved transportation options, and reduced waste & industrial buildings.
Sustainability Action Agenda of the City of Chicago:
Focus on LEED buildings
One of the aspects of the Sustainability Action Agenda the City of Chicago has been most successful at implementing, and a major part of that which makes Chicago a sustainable city, from an energy use standpoint, is developing sustainable energy efficient buildings.
Another is the city’s implementation of sustainable technology with regard to retrofitting buildings.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifies buildings that demonstrate excellence in the following categories: sustainable sites, location and transportation, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design.
Energy Star is another high energy efficiency standard for buildings and appliances within buildings, particularly high-efficiency electric appliances (such as electric HVAC units). Chicago excels at producing highly efficient buildings, and the electrification of buildings in order to enhance energy efficiency.
The Willis Tower (pictured above) went from LEED Gold to Platinum certification in just one year through efficiency retrofitting. The Willis Tower, the tallest U.S. LEED Platinum building, has made significant energy, sustainability, and air quality/ healthy building environment improvements.
In order to make even more advancements in residential and business buildings’ energy and water efficiency, and reduce GHGs associated with buildings in the city, the City of Chicago has launched Retrofit Chicago -
"[Former] Mayor Rahm Emanuel has identified energy efficiency as a priority for strengthening Chicago— helping Chicago to be the most affordable, competitive, attractive, livable, and sustainable city of the 21st century.
Retrofit Chicago’s energy efficiency pursuits will help:
- Create Jobs
- Save Chicagoans money
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Demonstrate Chicago’s environmental leadership
The City of Chicago is making progress on implementing energy efficiency citywide."
The city's (former) Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Park District, and City Colleges of Chicago, had previously agreed to a 100% clean energy program for Chicago to be implemented over the next 2 decades.
The city of Chicago has initiated a Sustainable Development Division (SDD) to address sustainability concerns in the development of Chicago.
“... the Sustainable Development Division is responsible for creating and expanding public open space systems and developing policies and programs to advance the sustainability of the City's buildings, businesses and urban form. Long-term initiatives include waterfront access improvements, the expansion of natural habitats, improvements to the environmental performance of development sites, and the promotion of urban agriculture and other aspects of the local food system."
Additionally, Chicago has created theSolar Express renewable energy initiative largely to advance green buildings in the city. The Chicago Solar Express is a public-private initiative to bring low-cost solar panels to the rooftops of Chicago - by cutting fees and streamlining permitting and zoning processes.
Since 2012, the City of Chicago and ComEd have worked with private partners and the University of Illinois, under a grant from the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, to lower cost barriers and reduce market prices of purchasing and installing solar PV for the city.
"By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st-century economy here in Chicago," [former]Mayor Emanuel said. The city of Chicago will achieve that commitment in a number of ways, including on-site generation and the acquisition of renewable energy credits (mostly wind and solar energy).
Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club supports the effort, "...by moving boldly to re-power its public buildings with renewable energy like wind and solar, Chicago is leading by example at a time when local leadership is more important than ever.”
These efforts of Chicago in green building illustrate the success of Chicago Sustainability themes - substantially developing energy-efficient buildings, and retrofitting buildings in Chicago to be LEED and Energy Star certified. Chicago Solar Express, as well as the widespread development of electricity & renewable energy to power buildings throughout Chicago, illustrates more Sustainability themes - clean energy & energy efficiency.
Waste Management is yet another Sustainability theme in which the city of Chicago excels.
Chicago's Waste Management
The City of Chicago has developed ambitious recycling programs throughout the city. By reducing Chicago’s waste and implementing various recycling programs, the city of Chicago is making an effort to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste management, lower Chicago's carbon footprint, and reduce space in areas surrounding Chicago currently needed as landfills.
These are some of the programs offered by the city of Chicago to increase conservation in the city, especially focusing on Chicago’s recycling programs:
-Blue Cart Recycling – “The City's Blue Cart program provides bi-weekly recycling services to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings. By recycling regularly, [residents of Chicago] can help reduce the need for landfills, lower disposal costs, reduce pollution, and conserve natural resources, such as timber and water.” [quote from - 311.chicago.gov/Blue-cart-residential-recycling-program]. Blue Cart Recycling includes almost every type of household waste and had diverted over a half-ton of waste from landfills in the first 10 months of 2018 alone.
Another key sustainability initiative that is helping Chicago save money and resources is the city’s wastewater management program. New wastewater treatments are assisting in the recovery of essential energy, solids, and water. These resources are then recycled and transformed into assets that can generate revenue for the city, and protect the environment.
Green Infrastructure in Chicago, and Chicago's Greencorp
The city has also installed 50,000 water meters through the MeterSave program, to help residents of Chicago conserve water and reduce water bills. The city has made a $50 million investment to clean and upgrade 4,400 miles of sewer lines, while also upgrading the built infrastructure, creating a cleaner, greener infrastructure.
The City of Chicago is also investing in replacing and enhancing rooftops and roadways in the city to allow for stormwater to circulate back into the environment.
Chicago plans to continue to replace or build new clean green and clean infrastructure. The city is replacing sewer mains in order to control stormwater accumulation in the sewers. Sitting next to Lake Michigan and atop a swampy marshy land, water management is crucial for Chicago to become a more sustainable and resilient city.
With a history of water pollution and toxic city water, Chicago became one of the lead innovators of waste and water management by securing federal funding in 1970 to upgrade its treatment facilities as a result of the Clean Water Act. Chicago continues to lead by example while reducing its water usage and increasing its efficiency.
Chicago is also keenly focused on developing sustainability training and jobs among the inner-city population- namely through its flagship program, Greencorps Chicago.
Greencorps Chicago provides training and jobs in environmental conservation, as well as nature-area management careers, to Chicago residents with barriers to employment.The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, which launched in 2013, provides paid, sustainability-focused summer jobs.
In addition to robust citywide conservation and waste management programs, the city of Chicago also has well-developed sustainable mass transit systems.
Chicago’s mass transit options include transportation offerings from the United States’ 2nd largest public mass transit system; run by the Chicago Transit Authority, which operates bus and rail lines in the city, including 145 rail stations for the 'L' rapid transit rail lines and over 120 bus routes.
The city of Chicago is on the way to becoming a leader in sustainable transit. Chicago Transit Authority is committed to providing integral transit options that are greener and more sustainable. CTA is a huge contributor to the city’s sustainability movement because it helps to reduce vehicle emissions by replacing automobile trips with mass transit, reduces traffic congestion, and enables compact development.
The City of Chicago has launched a significant sustainable mass transportation campaign in order to reduce GHGs, decrease transit costs for the city and its residents, and increase efficiencies associated with transit. Chicago has 1,900 energy-efficient buses that were converted to ultra-low sulfur diesel engines in March 2003; since 2007 any new buses acquired have been equipped with clean diesel or hybrid-electric engines. The city of Chicago plans to purchase additional all-electric buses and eventually (by 2040) have all its buses run on electricity.
Chicago has also made an effort to promote its multimodal transportation. That includes its Bike & Ride program. This program was established to improve bicycle access to bus routes and rail stations. In order to do that, the City of Chicago helped develop 6,000 Divvy bikes (Divvy bikes are part of a bike-sharing system run by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation), available for rent at 580 stations across the city.
CTA has also worked with car-sharing companies to make for easier access between public transit and car-sharing. The CTA’s multimodal integration addresses transit-friendly development by working with the City of Chicago and other municipalities to connect their services and destinations.
Climate change is adversely affecting all parts of the earth. There have been dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) globally since the industrial revolution of the 19th century.
The planet warms faster as more GHGs are added to the earth's atmosphere.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expressing the global scientific consensus on the matter, warns that “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air...The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future.”
Unfortunately, much larger changes to the earth's climate are projected despite the current pace of global climate change mitigation.
Thus, an increase in the pace of climate change mitigation (such as increased global investment in, and implementation of, clean and sustainable energy technologies - most notably - renewable energy) is imperative to slow the pace of climate change.
In this article, the focus is on just a few (of many) categories of climate change, all of which represent significant adverse impacts to people and ecosystems.
Adverse climate feedback loops will lead to 'tipping points' that might cause 'runaway climate change'. The way to avoid this scenario is for governments, industries, and the private sector throughout the world to increase investments exponentially in climate mitigation technologies.
Adverse Climate Feedback Loops
As the planet's temperature rises, ocean temperature also rises in some regions globally, while simultaneously droughts and wildfires increase in other regions, andadverse climate feedback loopsoccur globally.
For example, as the earth's temperature and ocean temperature rise, there is also an increase in the size and frequency of intense storms and flooding.
The increase in extreme storms leads again to an increase in the very factors that lead to more extreme wet weather in the first place (evidence of an increase in adverse climate feedback loops).
At the same time that extreme storms pummel some regions, global warming leads to severe drought in other parts of the planet, and severe wildfires result. The larger wildfires and drought dry out land and make way for more adverseclimate feedback loops (higher average temperatures, more extreme drought, more extreme wildfires, etc...).
An increase in severe drought globally also has knock-on effects, such as devastation to agricultural food crops throughout entire regions of the planet.
"From the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization: "The percentage of the planet affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years and in the same timespan droughts have affected more people worldwide than any other natural hazard.
Climate change is indeed exacerbating drought in many parts of the world, increasing its frequency, severity and duration. Severe drought episodes have a dire impact on the socio-economic sector and the environment and can lead to massive famines and migration, natural resource degradation, and weak economic performance."
Global warming presently is primarily due to human-caused GHGs from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Essentially, rises in GHGs will continue to increase average global temperatures at a continuously higher rate.
The impacts and pace of global warming simultaneously accelerate adverse feedback loops, which have the effect of increasing the pace of global temperature rise.
Thus, the hope to reduce the consequences of climate change is tied to the successful global effort to reduce GHGs - first and foremost, through the increased use of renewable energy on a global scale.
Consequences of global warming and related adverse climate feedback loops include increases in extreme weather events of all kinds, such as:
- increased severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones
- disruption of global weather patterns, such as jet stream disturbances that send colder weather further south (i.e. 'polar vortex')
- chaotic increases in rainfall and flooding in parts of the world, while simultaneously other parts of the world experience -
- drought, heatwaves, wildfires, and devastation to agriculture
- increases in toxic algal blooms; especially in freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, but also in coastal marine habitats
- extinction of wildlife species and ecosystems; degradation of wildlife habitats and biodiversity globally
The consequences of melting glaciers and sea ice have worldwide implications including rising ocean water levels.Icebergs and other smaller ice formations throughout the sea are melting due to global warming, in addition to glaciers in Greenland, and throughout the world and Arctic.
Sea level rise is already threatening some regions of the planet, especially during extreme high tide and flooding events, and especially for low-lying communities on coasts and islands. Melting ice of all sizes, and warming oceans, adversely affects the lives of marine wildlife species and ecosystems. Read more about the adverse effects on marine wildlife from global warming below.
Ocean acidification has led to mass die-offs of coral reefs, home to a diverse set of marine species. Compounding adverse marine changes have affected coastal ecosystems, island-nations, and communities, causing them to face increasing exposure to storms, floods, as well as the aforementioned marine ecosystem issues.
All of these factors have led once-thriving marine ecosystems and coastal communities to be in a state of distress, struggling for survival.
The increasing number of wildfires will, in turn, cause a continued increase in global temperatures. This is a diabolical adverse feedback loop of increased atmospheric GHGs and adverse effects of global warming; a continuous cycle of global environmental devastation.
Despite the seemingly unusually high frequency of wildfires that took place recently, it is alarming that there are many more large wildfires predicted over the coming couple of years.
In California and Australia, as well as throughout the entire planet; warmer temperatures, drier land conditions, and extreme dry gusty winds are expected to expand the length and increase the intensity of wildfires.
Thawing permafrost will release large amounts of potent GHGs, such as methane, increasing global warming. Thawing ground (for example, in Siberia) is also likely to disrupt municipal building sectors and other infrastructure on a regional basis; for regions where human activity and permafrost are both present.
Nuclear is a global incumbent energy source and is associated with a great deal of money and political influence worldwide. Therefore nuclear energy continues to have support from most politicians in the United States. The "good" thing about nuclear energy production is that there are little to no greenhouse gas emissions (no GHGs associated with the actual energy production from nuclear fuel, other than water vapor, in the form of steam).
However, it's necessary to find suitable locations to safely secure the radioactive waste produced from the combustion of nuclear fuel. Next-generation nuclear fuels promise to burn fuel significantly cleaner (Gen IV nuclear promises to run on spent uranium or thorium - much cleaner sources than uranium).
One other major consideration, to put it mildly, with current nuclear reactors is that we have to hope that there's not a Fukushima-type catastrophe. The solution is advanced nuclear reactors.
Gen IV nuclear promises to be safer, as well as cleaner, than current nuclear reactors. This is only theoretical at this point, as Gen IV nuclear is still in this design phase.
Gen IV Nuclear
4th generation nuclear promises to be safe, clean; and a source of cost-competitive and efficient energy. New reactors being planned in advanced nuclear designs can run on spent uranium and even thorium. 4th generation nuclear has entirely safe, cost-efficient designs. These reactors just need to get through R&D and demonstration phases, and become commercially viable alternatives in global energy mixes for countries.
Economies of scale (ideally) will drive down the costs of building the next generation of new nuclear plants - eventually over time. The remaining costs of developing and running a new generation of nuclear plants are projected to be cost-competitive with other "base-load" forms of energy generation, e.g. combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT). The probable, hopeful future cost-competitiveness of nuclear is another point that makes nuclear energy a viable energy solution for the future.
The following are snippets from articles listing reasons nuclear and renewable energy are the best options for future global energy sources:
"Nuclear power and hydropower form the backbone of low-carbon electricity generation. Together, they provide three-quarters of global low-carbon generation. Over the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power has reduced CO2 emissions by over 60 gigatonnes – nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions." FROM - iea.org/nuclear-power-in-a-clean-energy-system
"Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant." - quote from the EIA.
* Examples of levelized costs of energy include:
up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy)
marginal cost of the fuel source (which is much higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing for free, abundant sources of renewable energy like solar and wind energy, and very low cost for hydro, geothermal, and biomass)
cost of maintenance for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc...
cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy)
costs associated with transmitting/ distributing the energy, insurance costs for the energy producing facility, etc...
Gen IV nuclear promises to have reasonable capital costs, and low marginal costs. Until Gen IV gets developed and deployed, we just have to hope the costs really are going to be low as advertised. So, other than a relatively higher up-front capital cost than renewables, hopefully, the rest of Gen IV's LCOE data points should look roughly similar to renewable energy.
How Much Better Are Nuclear & Renewable Energy Than Fossil Fuels?
The reason that economic arguments tend to trump environmental arguments when finding solutions to anthropogenic climate change, is because many politicians are more likely to respond to economic arguments. You could simply say, "renewable energy is better than fossil fuels, because renewable energy is better for the environment, and is a more efficient energy source overall".
However, odds are politicians won't care until you also point out that the LCOE of renewable energy is less than the cost of fossil fuels. Many politicians already do want to support clean energy transition strategies. Finding ways to convince all politicians to support clean energy investment is important.
Republican politicians will also be needed to pass environmental regulatory laws - laws that support clean energy, and hopefully a majority of politicians soon support a federal carbon pricing system - that also supports clean energy.
Politicians don't necessarily have to want to protect the environment, or "give in" to the science behind anthropogenic climate change. Politicians can simply vote for energy policies that represent a cost savings; which tend to be clean energy investments. That includes supporting both renewable and nuclear energy.
Overall, the lowest cost of energy production are wind and solar (which also have zero negative externalities) This is followed by natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities). Natural gas is followed by more renewable energy sources, most significantly solar thermal and offshore wind.
Other than solar and wind, nuclear and hydroelectricity represent the past, present, and future of global clean energy on a large-scale basis. In fact, historically, nuclear and hydroelectricity have been the largest sources of global clean energy. Hydroelectricity also represents a relatively low cost source of domestic energy for the United States.
When the costs of the negative externalities (damage to public health & the environment) associated with fossil fuel production are added in with the LCOE, the relative cost of renewable energy sources (as well as Gen IV nuclear) vs. fossil fuels is lower still. In fact, producing energy from coal is no longer cheaper than renewables or gas, and is very harmful to both the environment and public health (negative externalities).
What are future generations of batteries going to be?
Next-Generation Li-ion Batteries
Next-gen lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries can charge quickly, are rechargeable, have a higher capacity, and are more cost-efficient than previous battery generations.
New li-ion battery varieties have increased energy efficiency, often while also reducing costs. Varieties of next-gen li-ion batteries are already currently in the marketplace, and emerging li-ion technologies with even greater efficiency and capacity are being developed.
New varieties of advanced li-ion batteries maintain a stable capacity for 20+ years.
The most common type of high-capacity, widely used, advanced batteries being developed today are li-ion batteries made in combination with other metals. Developing advanced batteries ends up creating a unique battery technology (like li-ion cobalt oxide, which is frequently used today in portable devices - cell phones, laptops, etc...).
Here are a few other examples of emerging advanced li-ion next-gen battery technologies (and other battery chemistries) currently in the market (but much less widely commercially available than li-ion cobalt varieties).
These promising, best-in-class batteries based on advanced li-ion chemistry and other chemistries tend to be more efficient than the products of previous li-ion battery generations. These batteries tend to be lighter, longer-lasting, and often still rechargeable, while also developed to charge quickly; and they tend to have a higher energy capacity.
Each new emerging advanced battery type mentioned here has its own set of reasons for still being in research & development (R&D). Cutting-edge next-gen batteries based on the latest battery chemistries are emerging into the mass marketplace; as they transition from R&D, beta-testing, and demonstration phases.
- aerospace applications, other industrial applications, and much more.
Summation of Current Advanced Lithium-based Battery Technologies and Other Emerging Technologies
Widely commercially available advanced li-ion batteries (such as li-ion cobalt oxide, or the promising LFP batteries gaining popularity for home energy storage and EVs) remain the most prominent high-capacity batteries widely available in today’s market.
These advanced batteries are produced for smartphones, laptops, and EVs, as well as small-scale (residential/ commercial building), and large-scale (grid, industrial) energy storage.
These emerging battery technologies, as well as flow batteries and air batteries, could produce a more efficient battery with possibilities for long-term energy storage and applications for a wide range of products - if R&D in these technologies yields batteries that can be widely commercially marketed.
Lithium-vanadium phosphate batteries are a next-generation battery solution that shows promise; as they can extend the range of EVs, for example. These batteries potentially have greater power than advanced batteries found in many EVs today, but also greater safety than the batteries found in smartphones and laptops.
In addition, recharging lithium-vanadium batteries could be faster than batteries currently used in EVs and computers. Other promising advanced next-gen battery types with varying degrees of research and development, and at different levels of marketability, include various types of flow batteries.
Flow batteries, such as vanadium flow and zinc-iron redox flow, have a longer battery life than conventional li-ion batteries. Flow batteries have a battery life of over 20 years, quickly charge and discharge, and easily scale up from under 1 MW to over 10 MW.
Vanadium flow batteries represent high-capacity energy storage, can be idle when solar and wind aren’t producing, and then discharge instantly. They have the unique ability to charge and discharge simultaneously and to release large amounts of electricity quickly.
As they are inexpensive to scale up, vanadium flow batteries represent an opportunity for reliable, affordable large-scale energy storage. At this point, many types of flow batteries are still in the R&D phase due to the expense of manufacturing these batteries; with only limited commercial availability.
However, commercial deployment of flow batteries is seen in some areas worldwide today, including some large markets - such as Australia and Asia.
Air batteries - Unlike vanadium flow batteries, which currently represent a great, realistic battery alternative, lithium-air batteries only theoretically represent a great battery alternative. Lithium-air batteries could triple the range of EVs, and could give fully charged EVs the same range as maximum-range gasoline cars with a full tank.
However, whereas vanadium flow batteries can charge and discharge repetitively with no problem, it has been notoriously difficult to manufacture rechargeable varieties of lithium-air batteries.
New batteries are currently being manufactured with:
batteries based on vanadium, zinc, sodium, or even graphene.
Advanced R&D is being done on "superconductors", flow batteries, solid-state batteries, and various metal or air-flow type batteries. Additionally, there are emerging experimental combinations such as lithium-sulfur, lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt, sodium-ion batteries, graphene-based batteries, and lithium-titanate oxide.
New advanced next-gen batteries are quickly gaining ground both in terms of R&D, as well as deployment. Advancements in next-gen batteries will help add renewable energy storage to the grid, add charging capacity to our cell phones and laptops, and help extend the range of electric cars to compete with gasoline ones.
The next step in ensuring that future generations of li-ion batteries are actually a sustainable solution is a concerted effort by battery manufacturers to develop batteries with future recycling and 2nd-life battery options built into the battery design.
Here's a snippet from C&EN about the importance of having future recycling requirements in mind as a priority for battery manufacturers:
"Lithium-ion batteries have made portable electronics ubiquitous, and they are about to do the same for electric vehicles. That success story is setting the world on track to generate a multimillion-metric-ton heap of used Li-ion batteries that could end up in the trash. The batteries are valuable and recyclable, but because of technical, economic, and other factors, less than 5% are recycled today.
The enormousness of the impending spent-battery situation is driving researchers to search for cost-effective, environmentally sustainable strategies for dealing with the vast stockpile of Li-ion batteries looming on the horizon."
"Batteries still have a lot of life in them after being swapped out of EVs. Why not use them on the grid? Reused or “second-life” lithium-ion batteries still have a lot of juice left in them, but so far the concept of using these batteries in stationary applications has yet to gain real market traction. New research, growing automotive industry interest and an expanding startup ecosystem suggest that that could now finally be changing."
One glaring issue with li-ion batteries is the lack of sustainability in sourcing the critical rare earth metals used in li-ion batteries. Especially problematic is cobalt sourced from Congo (cobalt is frequently found in li-ion batteries in EVs, mobile phones, laptop computers, and other electronic products).
Cobalt sourced from Congo (which supplies roughly 2/3 of the world's cobalt), and then used in li-ion cobalt oxide batteries (as well as other batteries - for issues such as battery durability and the like) are unsustainably and unethically sourced.
Cobalt from Congo is the product of cobalt mining rife with human rights abuses (child labor, labor for insufficient wages, labor in hazardous, unregulated conditions), unmitigated environmental and social injustices, and other unsustainable practices.
Cobalt is found in many varieties of li-ion batteries, in nickel-based batteries, and in other batteries that use a combination of metals and elements. However, there are batteries with no cobalt or other unsustainable rare earth metals (such as those promising emerging advanced battery types mentioned above in this article).
There are manufacturers producing li-ion cobalt-free batteries, as well as many battery manufacturers committed to using cobalt that is not sourced from Congo; but rather from other parts of the world that do not have human rights abuses in cobalt mining.
"Since child and slave labor have been repeatedly reported in cobalt mining, primarily in the artisanal mines of DR Congo, technology companies seeking an ethical supply chain have faced shortages of this raw material and the price of cobalt metal reached a nine-year high in October 2017, more than US$30 a pound, versus US$10 in late 2015.
After oversupply, the price dropped to a more normal $15 in 2019. As a reaction to the issues with artisanal cobalt mining in DR Congo a number of cobalt suppliers and their customers have formed the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) which aims to end the use of child labor and to improve the working conditions of cobalt mining and processing in the DR Congo.
Members of another ethical cobalt mining organization, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, include Fairphone, Glencore, and Tesla, Inc. Research is being conducted by the European Union on the possibility to eliminate cobalt requirements in lithium-ion battery production.