Blogs > Guest Blog > June 2013 > Laboratories of Sustainability

Laboratories of Sustainability

"Laboratories of Democracy” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis coined this term to describe the 50 States, each able to conduct its own “experiments” in public policy, each serving as a source of valuable lessons for the others, and sometimes for the nation as a whole. Indeed, some of our most cherished national programs, including Social Security, had their beginnings as state programs.

This idea of multiple experimental laboratories is compelling in other contexts as well. For example, cities today need to function as “laboratories of sustainability.” Urban areas account for two-thirds of the world’s energy consumption and 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They are truly the front lines of the effort to achieve sustainability. Since many cities share similar challenges—in transport, energy, infrastructure, etc.—they have a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other.

The beauty of scientific laboratories is that they publish their results, allowing the rest of the world to learn from their experiences. For cities to function as true laboratories of sustainability, they need a way to share information quickly about what works and what doesn’t. Only when that information flows freely can sustainability advance with speed and intensity around the globe.

Thankfully, organizations are emerging to fill this critical information-sharing role. One of the most prominent organizations is called C40 (, a global network of cities that are implementing meaningful solutions to address climate change. The 58 cities of C40, which include many of the world’s largest megacities, account for an impressive 18 percent of global GDP and 1 in 12 people on earth. The hope is that by implementing effective climate actions across this network, C40 will have a significant impact and provide working models of successful initiatives for other cities.

Examples of case studies currently being shared across the C40 network include an innovative financing model for energy-efficient building retrofits in Berlin; congestion pricing to reduce inner-city traffic in London; water conservation strategies in public buildings in Hong Kong; and solid waste management in San Francisco. In these cases and others, C40 provides member cities with support from its own experts for implementing these policies, a platform for sharing information between cities, and a forum for communicating successes to the broader world.

By sharing success stories widely, C40 is increasing the scale and speed of climate action in the urban environment. Over 4,700 separate climate change initiatives have already been implemented across the C40 network, and more are on the way.

Nearly half of cities around the world are already contending with the effects of climate change. Over 90 percent of urban areas are in coastal zones, putting them at direct risk of flooding from rising sea levels and severe storms. The task of implementing sustainability is urgent, and there isn’t time for every individual city to learn the critical lessons on its own. The mission of C40 and organizations like it is to ensure everyone benefits from the most innovative ideas in urban sustainability, no matter where they originate.

Posted: 6/12/2013 3:06:45 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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