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U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The U.N. SDGs are driving governments, individuals, universities, and businesses to adjust their practices to achieve benchmarks and secure a sustainable future by 2030. Incorporating SDG 11, Affordable and Clean Energy, into your business will empower you to tackle the unique challenges of urban sustainability, resiliency, reduce your carbon footprint, become a sustainability leader, and show your customers you prioritize the needs of all. This article will focus on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

What is SDG 11? 

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities is the SDG focused upon improving urban planning, management, and development and making the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. This is particularly urgent because currently, over half of the global population resides in urban areas, a number that is expected to increase to 70% by 2050

Environmental Impact

Urbanization has the potential to make implementation of sustainable development infrastructure easier and enable people to have more equitable access to clean water, sanitation, and power. However, increased urban sprawl leads to greater habitat destruction, species loss, and resource depletion that, if not dealt with intentionally, can exacerbate the effects of climate change. Beyond development-related environmental impact, cities require proper solid waste management to not only preserve resources but ensure the land does not continue to be depleted and polluted to a point where it is uninhabitable. 

Furthermore, dense urban cities require proper public transportation infrastructure to prevent intensive emissions and air pollution. In 2016, a measured 4.2 million premature deaths were caused by air pollution, a high percentage of those due to health consequences from air pollution in urban areas. Additionally, currently, only half of the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transportation. 

Global Development

Beyond environmental impact, lack of public transportation also affects the ability for citizens to find proper work, secure a livable wage, and improve their basic quality and standard of living. Rapid urbanization saw an exponential growth in the amount of people flocking to cities globally in pursuit of more perceived opportunities and a better quality of life. This spread has occurred worldwide, oftentimes at a rate that precedes the ability for governments to create the necessary infrastructure. This has led to a growing number of people living in derelict conditions in slums, inadequate shelter infrastructure, inaccessibility to basic resources such as water, food, and income, and worsening air pollution. In 2018, the global share of the urban population living in slums rose to 24%. The large majority of the urban sprawl and poor living conditions are in areas that are most susceptible to climate disasters, thus highlighting the importance of acting now.

Basic tenets of SDG 11:

  • Determining which development activities must be ceased and which should be accelerated
  • Building proper capacity and investments within stakeholder groups
  • Securing finance, design, and delivery models for integrated city infrastructure– buildings, energy, mobility, telecommunications, water, sanitation, and waste management
  • Establishing urban infrastructure that builds consensus, inclusion, resilience, and sustainability

SDG 11 Targets

The UN has identified 10 targets and 15 indicators for progress in SDG 11. Many of these goals are scaled for national government implementation. However, they can still be applied to business practice on a smaller scale to show a demonstrated commitment to securing a sustainable future.  

Below are the most applicable targets and indicators for businesses:

  • Safe and affordable housing
  • Affordable and sustainable transport systems
  • Inclusive and sustainable urbanization
  • Protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage
  • Reduce the adverse effects of natural disasters
    • Including death and injury, economic losses, and infrastructure damage
  • Reduce the environmental impacts of cities
    • Solid waste management and air pollution
  • Strong national and regional development planning and partnerships
  • Support least developed countries in sustainability and resiliency building

Why is it important for businesses to adopt SDG 11?

Since the beginning of modern civilization, cities have been the centers of trade and commerce. Historically, businesses have been the core of development of cities, livelihoods, and services to urban populations. Globally, cities generate more than 80% of global GDP and establish the foundation for boosting productivity needed for economic growth. This is particularly prevalent in cities that are in their early stages of infrastructural development. People flock to these cities most in search of more income opportunities; however, they are often left to live in unfavorable, slum-like conditions while competing for better paying jobs. 

Businesses operating in these cities and contributing to the overall economic prosperity by providing income and revenue have a responsibility and opportunity to support infrastructural development. They can help city and national governments develop clear, actionable plans to navigate these complex challenges. City governments can engage businesses early on in the planning and strategy development process and utilize business capabilities to identify innovative and cost-effective solutions to complex, interdisciplinary urban sustainability issues. 

Further, businesses have the opportunity to invest in research and development for key sustainable infrastructure technologies and build partnerships with cities to utilize their products. Sustainable technologies like microgrids, water sensors, various renewable energy sources, smart roads, and EV charging infrastructure each provide an opportunity for business and city partnerships. These partnerships will not only help drive cities towards the necessary step of being sustainable but will also reflect to stakeholders that your business is committed to taking measurable action.

Best practices to build a sustainable city and community

Below are the best practices for businesses to adopt SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities:

  • Implement company-wide policies for inclusion, resource efficiency, and disaster risk reduction.
  • Develop or participate in an existing sustainable community that involves all stakeholders possible to analyze issues, develop strategies, and act on functionality, resiliency, and sustainable development.
  • Make significant investments in local community sustainability infrastructure such as sustainable transportation, low-carbon and LEED certified buildings, 
    • Both the office and manufacturing host communities (if applicable)
  • Collaborate with local governments to find solutions to minimize environmental impact related to your company’s operations.
  • Adopt changes to improve your buildings’ overall infrastructure sustainability and build new facilities according to sustainable building standards.
  • Encourage workers to use public transportation 
    • Provide bike racks, incentive for using public transportation, and build facilities near existing public transportation lines.

SDG 11 Implementation Examples

NeighborWorks America

NeighborWorks America is a nonprofit organization working to increase community resilience and housing affordability across the US. They have an integrated Green Committee that meets quarterly to organize community outreach plans and facilitate discussions on sustainability throughout the organization. This effort to build organization-wide collaboration is combined with implementing green initiatives. Such practices include installing sensor-controlled lights and faucets, battery recycling stations, organization-wide recycling programs, and reducing unnecessary waste whenever possible. 

NeighborWorks America focuses on marginalized communities and a central tenet of their organization is supporting community development and resilience to take on today’s greatest threats such as climate change. NeighborWorks America is a model example of how the SDGs are interrelated. The organization’s mission has ties to SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG 1:No Poverty, and SDG 3:Good Health and Well-being. However, SDG 13:Climate Action is a pivotal force driving progress in these other goals. 

Learn more about NeighborWorks America in our member story: Neighborworks America: Sustainability Improvements Help Build Larger Community Resilience

Credissimo

Credissimo is a leading European FinTech group that was founded in 2007. Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Credissimo’s innovative, proprietary technology combined with superior customer service enables the company to deliver state-of-the-art consumer finance solutions. One of the reasons Credissimo has been so successful at sustainability is because the company has built “going green” directly into their core principles, which include constant innovation, service excellence, customer centricity, teamwork and social responsibility. In fact, team leadership has indicated that socially responsible behavior is at the core of Credissimo’s beliefs, allowing the company to support various internal and external initiatives that help the local community grow and develop.

In addition to focusing on their own office space, Credissimo is dedicated to bringing their green way of business to the surrounding community. In the past year, Credissimo has focused on improving the nearby urban environment by constructing three outdoor sports areas. The company is also currently designing another playground in Sofia that is specially designed for children, including those with disabilities. The playspace will follow Credissimo’s aim to be sustainable by being made entirely of natural materials. The focus of these projects is to improve the surrounding urban environment and to encourage the community to adopt a healthier and more active way of life.

“We are proud to be part of the international community of GBB and to receive recognition for our green policies,”  said Manuella Stoilova, Project Leader Credissimo EAD. “The quest for environmental protection and resource conservation has been the focus of Credissimo’s strategic development from the beginning, with the decision to offer all our services entirely online. We are happy to continue to achieve impressive results and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a member of this green community.”

Learn more about Credissimo in our member story: Credissimo: A Sustainable Business That’s Giving Back to the Community

Executive Summary

Business leaders, sustainability managers and green teams can find ways to incorporate SDG 11 into their business models and practices. Here’s a simple playbook for getting started:

  • Educate yourself, fellow executives and employees on SDG 11  (U.N. SDG Overview).
  • Identify your company’s initiatives that are aligned with SDG 11 already.
  • Implement the most impactful initiatives. Green Business Bureau has over 400 to choose from including initiatives related to efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, green procurement, vehicle emissions, water conservation, and pollution reduction.
  • Set measurable targets to increase resiliency
  • Report on progress routinely. Here’s a sample sustainability scorecard to keep track.
  • Communicate your company’s commitment to sustainability. You can reference SDG 11 for the initiatives related to sustainable cities and communities
  • Lead by example. Be an ambassador in the business world for developing a sustainable city

You may find that your company has already adopted initiatives that drive SDG 11 action. Educating yourself and your colleagues about the UN’s goals will help you identify which sustainable city and community targets are most appropriately aligned with your company’s processes. It is up to you to help turn your business into a platform for good and an example of taking developing a more resilient society seriously.

SDG Business Guides 

For more  information on other SDGs, check out our library of Green Business Bureau Business Guides for SDG.

About the Author

Leah Mowery

GBB Green Ambassador

Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.

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