Designing Green Cities of the Future

green cities of the future

We may all conjure up different images when we try to think what cities in the future will look like, say 20, 50, or 100 years from now. For the optimistically minded, these cities may be idyllic, clean, hi-tech, and utopian, while for the more pessimistic among us, such cities may look bleak, barren, in disrepair, and dystopian. To give a bit more credence towards the former vision, most cities are – in general – tending towards greener and more optimal technologies and design plans. It is therefore fascinating to consider how a major city in the far future will look, assuming that green city planning continues to flourish, although, indubitably, green cities of the future are likely to look and function in a way beyond our comprehension, given the limits of our current technology and the unpredictability of future technological discoveries and developments.

Nonetheless, if we focus on some of the eco-friendly technologies and city design ideas that are budding as of right, and which are feasible to implement, we can already start to form a rough vision of a better, greener city in our minds, one that is in greater harmony with the natural world, more sustainable, and more fine-tuned to meet the psychological needs of human beings. In this essay, I would like to outline some innovative technologies and design plans – encompassing the myriad aspects of a city – that can help to create a realistic image of green cities of the future. This will not be an exhaustive list of current or possible green technologies, of course, nor can this constitute a complete plan of a green city, even roughly. That would be far too ambitious to attempt. Instead, I have plucked out a panoply of ideas and technologies that stand out in some unique way and which can go a long way in developing green cities of the future.

Urban Farming

One important feature of a green city of the future will likely be technologies that allow people to easily and efficiently grown their own crops, either at home or in designated, community gardens.

Modern agriculture is extremely unsustainable. As a case in point, food production is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making agriculture a significant driver of climate change. Farming practices use up 70% of the planet’s accessible freshwater. Worse than that, huge quantities of water are wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, wasteful field application methods, and the cultivation of thirsty crops not suited to the environment. Excessive irrigation can also:

wash pollutants and sediment into rivers – causing damage to freshwater ecosystems and species as well as those further downstream, including coral reefs and coastal fish breeding grounds.

Indeed, modern farming practices are unsustainable in a variety of ways. Agriculture has used up around 50% of the world’s habitable land, with farmland now covering 38% of the planet’s total land area. Agriculture results in the loss of 12 million hectares of land every year to desertification, while roughly 4 million hectares of forests in South America are destroyed every year to grow soy as feed for livestock. Moreover, soil erosion caused by soy production in Brazil results in the loss of 56 million tonnes of topsoil every year. This reduces soil fertility and degrades the land. Other major crops that lead to reduced soil fertility and degraded land include coffee, cassava, cotton, corn, palm oil, rice, sorghum, tea, tobacco and wheat.

Buying our food from supermarkets is also problematic. It means our food has to be transported huge distances, which contributes to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases. And then when you buy your food in a supermarket it comes packaged in plastic, a material that we really have to do away with if we want to protect the environment.

Clearly, the way that we produce our food needs to change, and radically so. We cannot keep growing crops in this manner; otherwise, we will deplete all of our natural resources or continue to exacerbate climate change. There are life-threatening implications involved here. Many innovative and ambitious startups and companies are seeking to find solutions to these issues. And one Italian startup is showing promise in this regard.

Hexagro Urban Farming is a startup that “strives to deliver sustainable, scalable and community-based farming systems to let anybody, anywhere access healthy food”. And they have created an indoor gardening system which does exactly that. It’s called the Living Farming Tree: “a modular, scalable and automated indoor garden that allows you to grow healthy food without spending time in maintenance”.

Hexagro Urban Farming highlights a number of benefits from using the Living Farming Tree, including the lack of pesticide use; the ability to grow several kinds of fruits and vegetables; the chance to scale up your system and maximize yield; 90% less water usage than would normally be required, high-efficiency aeroponics; the ability to harvest in less than two months, with a short amount of time spent in maintenance; and a reduction of GHGs.

The company says that as many as 13 growing modules can be connected as a single unit, allowing you to grow 78 plants. This means that it would be possible to grow more in a physical footprint than you would be able to do with a traditional garden bed. The relatively small amount of space required for these units would allow homes, restaurants, offices and many other places to have freshly grown food available without the system becoming a nuisance. While the Living Farm Tree can’t grow everything, Hexagro is still keen to point out its amazing capabilities:

The modularity of our system lets you produce any plant you want as long as it can be grown aeroponically. I’m sorry, this means you cannot plant a cherry tree there. However, you can go from micro-greens and sprouts up to aromatic herbs, salads, leafy greens and berries. If you want to produce higher plants, you will just need to configure the system in its 2D configuration, and you will immediately be able to produce plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, medicinal herbs and many more!

According to researchers from Arizona State University and Google, “urban agriculture may be critical to survival or a necessary adaptation to climate change.” Researchers say that urban farming could supply nearly all of the vegetables that city dwellers need while reducing food waste and emissions from transporting food.

The United Nations points out that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be city dwellers, with the urban population in developing countries doubling. Farming in rural areas and transporting food to all these people is not a sustainable way to feed people. In his book, The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, author Peter Ladner writes:

When urban agriculture flourishes, our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, more local jobs are created, local economies are stronger, our neighborhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive.

Another startup that could help make urban farming viable is Agrilyst. The startup is a virtual agronomist platform that helps indoor farmers manage their crops using sensor data. In 2018, the company raised $1.5m. This is on top of the $1m funding Agrilyst received in 2016. Indeed, the company is proving to be highly successful. In 2015, Agrilyst won the Disrupt San Francisco Startup Battlefield. In 2017, the company attracted 100 new customers, and since 2016, Agrilyst has seen a 500% growth in both revenue and customers. It offers its services in 10 countries and its tools support the production of over 50 vegetables and 800 crops. 

Agrilyst is at the forefront of the fast-growing indoor farming industry. Urban agriculture could end up being necessary for our survival and critical to adapting to climate change. It is entirely possible that urban farming could provide all the food that city dwellers need. What Agrilyst is doing is making this revolution in farming more intelligent.

The company’s founder, Allison Kopf, has written about how AI in agtech is going to make it possible – and highly efficient – to feed a growing global population in a sustainable way. Agrilyst is also business savvy – Kopf emphasises that the company “has always been focused on doing one thing: helping growers increase profits significantly.”

In order to achieve this, Kopf says that companies trying to predict diseases using imaging also need to add climate and nutrient data into the mix. Otherwise, the predictions aren’t going to be very accurate. Agrilyst’s growing success is based on its drive to collect as much data as possible about crops and to take as many variables as possible into account so that farmers can produce higher yields. Kopf has detailed what the company offers its customers:

Agrilyst is a workflow management system. We’re focused on using data to automate the non-mechanical processes on a farm. Processes like production planning, crop scheduling, quality optimization, risk management (disease, pest, crop success), labour planning, sales, and inventory management all fall into our domain. We don’t make hardware and we’re not focused on automating processes that can be replaced by machines, like seeding, harvesting, processing, and packaging.

Our software is a critical part of running daily operations on a farm. Growers use Agrilyst to track crops from seed to harvest, store yield data, track pests, record nutrient metrics, and more. All of this user-generated data makes up the core of our data set.

We also have an open API to connect to any device a grower has on their farm. Growers who have sensors, climate control systems, nutrient dosing systems, or connected lighting can connect to Agrilyst through the API for real-time data collection.

All of this data combines to build a proprietary network of data that strengthens as it interacts.

In building AI-driven workflow, Agrilyst digitalises all of the manual data collection processes. This data is then used to figure out why something happened, which is known as diagnostic analytics. Agrilyst also offers predictive analytics (forecasting how crops will perform), prescriptive analytics (recommendations on what farmers should do), and cognitive analytics (fully automating the planning component of farming).

Kopf points out that the company’s most utilised algorithm is their yield forecast, “which helps growers understand their expected harvest yield 30-days in advance with 90% accuracy.” AI drives accuracy, efficiency, and optimal results. And in this respect, increasing automation could be crucial for global food production that is truly sustainable.

Utilising Nature to Tackle Urban Pollution 

Cities all over the world are struggling with air pollution. Delhi, Beijing, Karachi, Los Angeles, Mexico City. All of these cities are notorious for their poor air quality. Living in a smoggy city means that have a higher risk of a number of health problems, including asthma, heart disease and stroke. High levels of air pollution also deplete the ozone layer, which exacerbates global warming. We desperately need a viable and efficient way to tackle urban pollution.

Air pollution has also become more of an issue for some cities in recent times. London, for instance, started to experience an air pollution crisis in 2017. Over 9,000 residents die every year because of poor air quality. Findings show that “7.9 million Londoners live in areas exceeding the World Health Organization air quality guidelines by at least 50%.” However, a German startup called Green City Solutions has come up with an ingenious way to tackle urban pollution. It has created something called the ‘CityTree’, “a mobile and intelligent air filter”.

The company highlights on their website that 90% of all city dwellers breathe in dirty air every day; 7 million people die every year due to air pollution, and an estimated 1.3tr Euros are lost annually in Europe because of air pollution. But the CityTree offers a unique solution to this alarming problem. 

The CityTree isn’t actually a tree, but a wall of densely packed moss culture, housed in a metal frame. It can filter as much air as 275 trees can filter in a year. Which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that the unit has an area of only 3.5 square metres. This makes the CityTree extremely efficient. Zhengliang Wu, co-founder of Green City Solutions, states: “Moss cultures have a much larger leaf surface area than any other plant. That means we can capture more pollutants.” The CityTree is also able to improve air quality in a sustainable way. As TreeHugger reports:

The installation powers itself through its solar panels, and rainwater is collected and automatically redistributed using a built-in irrigation system. Sensors can be added so that data can be collected on the CityTree’s performance.

The CityTree has already proved to be an attractive investment, with around 20 units installed in Paris, Oslo, Brussels and Hong Kong. There are plans to install the CityTree in other countries around the world. Politicians and city planners should take note of the considerable benefits to air quality and public health that would result from adding these units to the urban environment.

Each unit costs $25,000, which may not seem cheap at first glance. But when you think about the environmental, health and financial cost of air pollution, it seems like a no-brainer to make the investment.

The CityTree is an innovative, practical and efficient way to remove CO2, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the air. It is of paramount importance for cities to take on board these kinds of technologies in order to ensure cleaner air in the city.

Tiny Homes 

The tiny house movement is the architectural and social movement that promotes living in small houses. Advocates emphasise that there are many benefits to living in tiny houses (or micro houses, as they are also called), including the ability to travel in your home and affordability (especially when compared to how much a mortgage costs). You can actually own and travel with a fully functional home for under $10,000. There are also many environmental benefits to owning a micro house and with a rising global population, increased urbanisation, and the mass movement of people to cities, living in tiny homes may be the only practical way to ensure that enough homes can be built for everyone, whilst also being sustainable. 

The first environmental benefit of building a micro house is that this obviously requires fewer materials. While an ordinary house may need several truckloads of lumber, a tiny house will only need half a truckload. As a result, fewer trees need to be cut down and less fuel will be used in transporting the materials. Moreover, fewer materials will be needed to replace those in a tiny house. For example, a microhouse will usually have only one bathroom, meaning there will be fewer fixtures to repair and replace compared to a standard home. The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University estimates that if you were to halve the size of a house, this would reduce this ‘life cycle’ cost by 36%.

A bigger home will also use more energy than a smaller home. According to Colby College, the average-sized house uses around 12,773-kilowatt hours of energy per year; whereas a micro house consumes 914-kilowatt hours annually. In addition, an average-sized house will produce 28,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year, while a tiny house will emit 2,000 pounds. Thus, owning a tiny house could go a long way to reducing your personal carbon emissions to a more acceptable level. The primary reason why tiny homes use less energy is that there is simply less space to heat and cool. Another reason is that fewer electrical appliances are needed.

Micro houses, unlike standard homes, can be built in other ways that make them well-suited to sustainable living. Since less material is needed, it is easier to build them using recyclable materials, which are usually not available in the quantity needed to construct an average-sized house. Some people have built their micro houses out of material collected from dumps. And many people fit their homes with compost toilets and solar panels for electricity generation.

You can also buy your micro house from companies that use recycled or sustainably-sourced materials. For example, Tiny Green Cabins constructs micro houses using materials such as recycled jeans, recycled steel and locally sourced lumber. Green Built, meanwhile, aims to build their micro houses using hempcrete, a sustainable building material. As UK Hempcrete highlights:

Hempcrete is a “carbon-negative” or ”better-than-zero-carbon” material; more carbon is taken out of the atmosphere by the growth of the hemp plant than is emitted as a result of its production and application on site.

We need to realise the potential for tiny homes like these to tackle the combined problem of overcrowding in cities (which will inevitably rise, unless population control measures are voluntarily opted for or enforced) and unsustainable housing. An interesting case study to highlight this issue (and solution) is Hong Kong. Around 200,000 people in Hong Kong live in so-called ‘coffin homes’, which highlights the seriousness of the city island’s housing crisis. The crisis is due to a rising population, high demand for accommodation, skyrocketing housing prices, and land limited by the city’s geography. The 2017 Demographia International Housing Affordability found that Hong Kong has the least affordable housing market in the world.

In response to the problem, the design firm James Law Cybertecture designed a microhome that would make affordable living a reality for many residents. In the future, people in Hong Kong – and city dwellers all over the world – could be living in houses built from concrete water pipes. The Hong Kong-based company has developed OPod Tube Housing, which is:

an experimental, low cost, micro living housing unit to ease Hong Kong’s affordable housing problems. Constructed out of low cost and readily available 2.5m diameter concrete water pipe, the design ultilizes the strong concrete structure to house a mirco-living apartment for one/two persons with fully kitted out living, cooking and bathroom spaces inside 100 sq.ft. Each OPod Tube Houses are equipped with smart phone locks for online access as well as space saving furniture that maximises the space inside. OPod Tube Houses can be stacked to become a low rise building and a modular community in a short time, and can also be located/relocated to different sites in the city.

These tube homes are far removed from the cramped and deprived conditions of a coffin home. Company founder James Law envisions that these micro homes could be stacked on top of each other and would especially appeal to “young people who can’t afford private housing”.

Law states that his micro apartments would cost around £11,000 to manufacture and residents could rent them out for less than £300 a month, around the same price to rent out a coffin home. Currently, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong is over £1,500 a month. Each unit weighs 20 tonnes and can be lifted with a medium-sized crane onto a long flatbed trailer. This means they can be relocated relatively easily, which is an attractive benefit of tiny homes in general.

The OPod Tube House is still a concept, although a prototype has been built. Alkira Reinfrank, a journalist at South China Morning Post was the first to try out living in one of these homes. She said that the unit was cosy, but noisy and chilly in mid-winter. She adds, however, that if a heater added it would fix the latter issue, and suggested double glazing for insulation to fix the noise problem.

There is a global housing crisis, so cities around the world could benefit from these low-cost and efficient homes. The idea of living in a tube home may not sound ideal, especially if you’re someone who wants a big kitchen or living room, but when you compare the monthly rent of the OPod Tube House (under £300) compared to, say, a one-bedroom flat in London (over £1,600), it seems that what you would save more than makes up for the space or possible amenities you would sacrifice.

Improved Recycling Technology

Green cities of the future are also likely to recycle waste in a far more efficient and useful way. As a case in point, take the example of DB Export, a New Zealand-based brewery that has developed a machine that turns beer bottles into sand. The company hopes that this will help to save New Zealand’s beaches, which are being depleted of this very valuable resource. These bottle-to-sand machines have been set up and trialled across cities throughout New Zealand. 

The world is running out of sand. Demand for sand is skyrocketing (it is used in everything from construction to pharmaceuticals), and with unrestricted mining to meet this demand, shortages will follow. Take Vietnam, as a case in point. Demand exceeds the country’s reserves. And if this discrepancy continues, Vietnam could run out of construction sand by 2020. In 2010, countries across the global mined about 11 billion tonnes of sand for construction alone.

Sand is a key ingredient for concrete, roads, glass, and electronics, and is used for land reclamation and beach renourishment. Increased flooding, which requires construction, also increases the global demand for sand. Competition for sand has led to rampant violence, with organised criminal gangs illegally trading the diminishing resource.

Furthermore, the global overexploitation of sand has negative environmental effects, including alterations to rivers and coastal ecosystems. Mining operations threaten numerous animal species, including fish, dolphins, crustaceans, and crocodiles. Sand mining can also impact people’s livelihoods. Beaches and wetlands help to protect coastal communities against sea surges. The increased erosion that results from extensive mining, therefore, can make these communities more vulnerable to floods. A global strategy for sand governance is necessary. But DB Export is proving how commercial enterprises can be part of the solution too.

The brewery has built machines that can turn an empty beer bottle into a sand substitute in just five seconds. DB Export Beer Bottle Sand is then supplied to construction companies, which reduces the need to remove sand from New Zealand’s beaches. As the bottle is inserted into the Beer Bottle Sand Machine, a laser triggers a wheel of small hammers that are spinning at 2800rpm. As the bottle is pulverised, a vacuum system removes silica dust and the plastic of the label, leaving behind 200 grams of sand substitute. Sean O’Donnell, Marketing Director at DB Breweries, said:

We can’t solve the problem alone but we knew we could do more to help. Our ambition is to help drive more recycling whilst looking out for the beaches which are an integral part of our Kiwi DNA. We’re proud to launch an initiative that can help us do our bit to protect our beaches for future generations.

In New Zealand, three out of every twelve beers sold end up in a landfill. DB Breweries’ Beer Bottle Sand project aims to keep recyclable glass out of landfills and to preserve the country’s beaches at the same time.

Generating Power From the City Itself

The city itself has the potential to generate power, a key fact shown by Deveci Tech, a company based in Istanbul, Turkey that is developing an innovative piece of technology called ENLIL, named after the ancient Mesopotamian god of wind. It is a smart vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) that is able to turn the winds created by passing vehicles into electricity. It is intended to be strategically placed near roadsides and railway tracks. ENLIL also includes a solar panel as an added way to generate power.

The ingenuity of Deveci Tech led to the company being awarded first prize in the Technology category at the Mercedes-Benz Turkey startup competition in 2018. The wind turbine has so far been tested on major roads in Istanbul. Deveci Tech claims that ENLIL can produce 1kW of energy per hour, which is enough to meet the power requirements of two homes. The device can also take measurements of air quality, humidity, CO2, and even earth tremors.

Deveci Tech’s device is known as a Darrieus wind turbine, a specific kind of VAWT formed by curved aerofoil blades fixed to an upright rotating shaft. This is different from the much more common type of wind turbine technology you’ll see, known as a horizontal-axis wind turbine (HAWT). ENLIL’s design allows it to utilise the maximum amount of wind energy. The company wanted to be able to capture the energy that is generated by modern cities. However, Sam Tonge, a writer over at YouGen, had this to say about the technology:

The design does raise a few questions. For example, could the close proximity of the turbine result in increased drag on larger vehicles such as buses and lorries? Some comments have even questioned whether turbulence created by vehicles even qualifies as renewable energy, but instead just increasing the efficiency of fuel spent by vehicles. Deveci Tech have stated in 2018 that the ENLIL wind turbine is still in its developmental phase. Its design is still being tested and improved to ensure that the technology is as efficient and durable as possible. 

With the global populating rapidly rising, the demand for energy is increasing day by day. Non-renewable sources of energy are running out, so continuing to rely on them is not a viable, long-term strategy. The benefit of the ENLIL wind turbine is that it offers a pollution-free alternative to the burning of gas, oil, and coal for the production of electricity. Many people are using wind turbines in order to simultaneously reduce their energy costs and their impact on the climate. There are a number of reasons why homeowners could benefit from using VAHWs instead of HAWTs. Conserve Energy Future underscores:

  • You can build your wind turbine close to the ground so if you do not have a suitable rooftop for placement, or if you live where there are hills, ridges, etc. that prohibit the flow of air, they work wonderfully for your needs.
  • Since VAWT are mounted closer to the ground they make maintenance easier, reduce the construction costs, are more bird-friendly and does not destroy the wildlife.
  • You do not need any mechanisms in order to operate the wind turbine
  • Lower wind startup speed.
  • The main advantage of VAWT is it does not need to be pointed towards the wind to be effective. In other words, they can be used on the sites with high variable wind direction.
  • You can use the wind turbine where tall structures are not allowed.
  • VAWT’s are quiet, efficient, economical and perfect for residential energy production, especially in urban environments.
  • They are cost-effective when compared to the HAWTs. It is still best to shop around and check prices before making a purchase, however.
  • Many of the turbines are resistant to many of the different weather elements that you may experience. It is imperative to choose a unit that offers this valuable protection and extra durability when you need it the most.

Nevertheless, there are some disadvantages to VAWTs, as Conserve Energy Future points out:

  • Decreased level of efficiency when compared to the HAWT. The reason for the reduced amount of efficiency is usually due to the drag that occurs within the blades as they rotate.
  • You are unable to take advantage of the wind speeds that occur at higher levels.
  • VAWT’s are very difficult to erect on towers, which means they are installed on a base, such as ground or building.

Overall, the benefits of VAWTs are wide-ranging and seem to outweigh their downsides. Cities around the world should certainly consider implementing the kind of technology being developed by Deveci Tech. We have untapped sources of energy that we can’t afford to waste.

More Sustainable Transport

Transportation is a significant contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Statistics from the US show that the transportation sector is responsible for 27% of these emissions. The main GHG emitted is CO2, a heat-trapping gas which is driving global warming. If we want to avoid the far-reaching, long-lasting, and devastating consequences of climate change, then we need to reduce our emissions (CO2 in particular, which makes up 82% of all GHG emissions). In response to the harmful impact of transportation, car company BMW has said that an effective way to cut our emissions is by building elevated roads for electric bikes.

In coming up with a solution to the problem of congested commuting, which increases vehicle emissions, BMW has suggested creating a separate elevated cycleway for two-wheeled electric traffic. These cycleways would serve as a direct link “between key traffic hubs”. This proposal isn’t a new one, but what is interesting about this version is that it would be roofed over; plus, it would include many other eco-friendly, energy-efficient features, such as solar panels and rainwater collection technology. The BMW E³ Way concept has been developed in collaboration with Tongji University and BMW’s technology office in Shanghai. Markus Seidel, head at the office, said:

The BMW Vision E³ Way opens up a whole new dimension of mobility in overcrowded conurbations – efficient, convenient and safe. It works by simply creating space for two-wheel zero-emissions traffic. In China, more than a billion people will be living in cities by 2050. The country will become the global incubator for numerous mobility innovations such as the BMW Vision E 3 Way, after all, nowhere else is there such an urgent need for action.

China is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, so the country needs to do all it can to reduce its emissions. BMW has emphasised the benefits of the concept:

Initial feasibility studies demonstrate that a concept such as the BMW Vision E³ Way can significantly reduce congestion, emissions, travel time and the risk of accidents. Traffic flow is permanently optimised by means of automated video surveillance systems and artificial intelligence as well as through the integration of smart city ecosystems. And the best thing is that its modular design and free scalability make the concept essentially suitable for use in any megacity.

Furthermore, rental e-bikes could be made available at each entry point, so that pedestrians and tourists could easily travel between key areas in the city. E-bikes are much better for the environment than cars and are six times more energy-efficient than rail transit. When it comes to emissions from vehicles, Green Future states:

Much of this pollution is produced by commuters making short trips from home to work and back, and switching to an electric bicycle for these commutes cuts down on a huge amount of harmful emissions and fossil fuel usage.

In fact, if every American living within five miles of their work were to commute by bike at least one day a week, it would be like taking a million cars off the road entirely.

The Circular Economy

A circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emissions, and energy leakage are minimised. This is achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, manufacturing, refurbishing, and closed recycling loops. It’s a sustainable alternative to the traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose).

A circular economy is all about keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while they’re being used, and then recovering materials at the end of each service life. Pushing for a more circular economy will reduce waste, driver greater resource productivity, tackle resource security/scarcity issues, and reduce the environmental impact of our production and consumption.

Taiwan is becoming a key player in the circular economy space. The group Green Drinks Taipei – which hopes to create an environmental social hub in Taiwan’s capital – organised events as part of the Circular Economy Club’s (CEC) Mapping Week in 2018. The CEC is a non-profit international network of over 2,600 circular economy professionals and organisations in over 60 countries. And the purpose of its Mapping Week was for volunteer organisers across the globe to literally map the circular economy initiatives in their cities. The CEC states:

One of the challenges in implementing the circular economy framework is understanding what circularity means in practice, what is already working and what is not. The Mapping Week helps solve this challenge by gathering as many circular initiatives as possible in an open online directory.

The Green Drinks Taipei event a couple of years ago was held in Sanshi, perhaps the only circular café in Taipei. Green Drinks http://www.greendrinks.org/ holds environmental meetups all over the world, and in Taipei it brought together expert researchers from a variety of sectors and identified 148 different initiatives in the country. There are, of course, many more circular economy projects in Taiwan, as well as plenty that are yet to be discovered. Initiatives that stood out at the event include: 

  • ChingPiao  – This initiative has created a cup rental system service for conferences, festivals, and special events. ChingPiao’s cup system lets attendees and concertgoers avoid single-use plastic items and instead ‘rent’ a durable, hygienic, reusable plastic cup. As a result, conference organisers deal with less waste and can reduce their spending.
  • Simple Eco LifeSimple Eco Life creates wrapping made from beeswax as a replacement for plastic film or wrappers. These easy-to-use durable wrappers keep food fresh without relying on plastic. An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year.
  • Dandelion Recycled Tissue PaperCLC, a paper manufacturing company in Taiwan, launched its ‘Dandelion’ tissues in 2009, made from recycled paper, without bleach, and reliant on renewable energy. Dandelion is the country’s first paper brand to pass three types of certification: Taiwan Green Mark, FCS COC, and the Taiwan Carbon Footprint Label. Dandelion products have been widely used by government agencies and civilian groups supporting environmental protection. Dandelion has also won the Green Brand Award.

Circular economy initiatives will play a key role in helping create green cities that are sustainable in the long run. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the most effective way to manage a city of the future will involve building a framework of a circular economy. Growing urban areas, the need to build more housing, greater pressure on road and rail networks, and the increasing demand for resources. These areas all call for more efficient planning, construction, infrastructure, and resource use, and we can expect that further innovations in artificial intelligence, transport, recycling, and data collection and analysis will all be helpful in improving cities in these respects. A circular economy is intended to mimic living systems, with each part working harmoniously, interdependently, and effectively with every other part. Green cities of the future may not only look more like living systems (e.g. with more green spaces, vegetation, gardening, and farming integrated into the city), but these cities may function more like a living dynamic system as well.

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