How sustainable cities are reshaping industries

rethink sustainability

How sustainable cities are reshaping industries

Once bustling hubs with poor air quality and congestion, cities are changing. As the world moves towards net zero, there are few better illustrations of how life is developing than looking at the built-up sustainable cities around us.

In Lancaster in California1, residents can get solar panels on their homes at reduced cost. In Burlington in Vermont2, the sustainable city owns its own electric power company which generates energy from renewable sources. In Nottingham, England3, emissions were reduced by 41% between 2005 and 2019 while residents in Krakow4 in Poland have voted to ban the burning of coal and wood in homes.

And such changes cannot come too early. Cities are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and with populations growing, it is time that they become leading examples of the shift to net zero. Behind the move is a similar shift within industry. Among companies which were once considered to be the root of the emissions problem - cement, steel, manufacturing amongst many others – there have emerged leaders that are seeking solutions to dealing effectively with the problems of climate change.

Discover more in our FT video on green aluminium here

Cities are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and with populations growing, it is time that that they become leading examples of the shift to net zero

So what are the firms that are helping our cities work towards the 2050 net-zero deadline?

Building a better way

As thousands of people flock to Africa’s cities every day, a housing crisis has emerged. In order to address the problem, the building multinational Holcim, formerly known as LafargeHolcim, and the UK’s CDC Group have formed 14Trees5, which uses 3D printing technology to build affordable and low-carbon housing and schools, starting in Malawi. The houses can be built in just 12 hours, a small fraction of the time that a standard home would take to be constructed. The units cost under $10,000 to make and are said to reduce the carbon footprint of a newly built home by up to 70%. According to UNICEF estimates, the shortage of 36,000 classrooms in Malawi would take 70 years to build. 14Trees estimate that this can be achieved in ten using 3D printing. The method of using new technology to address an old problem is aimed at tackling the shortfall of 17 million units across Africa.

The units cost under $10,000 to make and are said to reduce the carbon footprint of a newly built home by up to 70%

From waste to walls

French start-up Neolithe has found a way to transform non-recyclable waste into materials which can be used in the construction industry. The founders - which include a father and son duo - developed a method of grinding waste into a fine powder and then adding a binder, which creates an aggregate material called “anthropocite” that can be used in road construction and the manufacture of concrete. The solution helps reduce CO2 emissions significantly. What further reduces emissions is the fact that the waste can be treated in a mobile factory unit that can be installed on a building site in a day, which gets rid of the harmful effects of transport. The company says that any type of non-hazardous, non-inert waste can be transformed into mineral aggregates. In total, the solution is said to pollute 80% less6 than incineration and landfill.

Read about the 10 steps to a circular economy here

 

Making breathing buildings

In the UK, EcoLogic Studio has produced the PhotoSynthetica7 system which has been described as an ‘algal curtain’ or an algae-based ‘cladding’ style series of panels which suck in unfiltered air, clean it and then release it back into the atmosphere. The panels, which measure 16.2 by 7 metres can be fitted to the outside of buildings and ‘suck in’ air that comes up from the street. CO2 is captured by the green algae and then photosynthesised oxygen is released back into either the street or the interior of the building.

 

Electricity from thin air

The air around us has unharnessed energy. Now a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst believe that they have found a way to harness it. They have created the ‘Air-gen’8 machine which they say is able to use a natural protein to create electricity from water vapour in the atmosphere. The new machine is said to be non-polluting, renewable, able to generate clean energy all day every day and low-cost. It can work indoors according to Jun Yao, in whose lab it was created, and differs from other forms of renewable energy in that it does not require sunlight or wind. The current generation of machines are able to power small electronics and it is expected that they will be commercially available in the near future.

The air around us has unharnessed energy. Now a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst believe that they have found a way to harness it

A new type of home

Commercial developments using shipping containers to run restaurants and small businesses from are a frequent sight in large cities. That concept was extended to housing in the UK when architects were given the green light to construct micro-homes using the containers. Architects Fraser Brown MacKenna9 got planning permission to build a development of the micro homes with green roofs as part of a regeneration plan for an underused area about an hour northwest of London in a space where the development of apartments was not possible. The container homes have 280 square feet of living space with a bedroom, storage space, bathroom, kitchenette and living space in each one. High-performance insulation in the walls, ceiling and floor lead to more energy efficiency and lower heating bills.

Read more on how sustainable materials from seaweed to hemp help build greener buildings here

 

Changing cities, changing investment

It is not just the cities around us that are changing. Nor is it the companies that build them. Investment is changing and Lombard Odier is leading the way in investing in that change. As the world moves towards net zero, it is vital that capital is centred around sectors that are transitioning from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. We believe that high-emitting sectors that have plans set out to transform themselves for an emission-free future need to be scrutinised.

As the world moves towards net zero, it is vital that capital is centred around sectors that are transitioning from being part of the problem to being part of the solution

We rigorously analyse companies for their sustainable credentials so that we can identify both the leaders of that transition, and the solution providers that may enable it. By investing in them, we will work towards a more sustainable future.

References to specific companies are meant for illustrative purposes only. They do not constitute an investment recommendation to buy, sell, hold or directly invest in the companies.

 

1 https://zeroenergyproject.org/advocate/cities-on-a-path-to-zero/
2 https://zeroenergyproject.org/advocate/cities-on-a-path-to-zero/
3 https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/transitioning-carbon-neutral-3-uk-cities-leading-example
4 https://www.climate-kic.org/news/krakow-transforming-the-city-towards-climate-neutrality/
5 https://www.cdcgroup.com/en/news-insight/news/14trees-pioneers-3d-printing-technology-in-africa-for-affordable-housing-and-schools/
6 https://www.f6s.com/neolithe
7 https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/ten-top-sustainable-innovations-2020/
8 https://phys.org/news/2020-02-green-technology-electricity-thin-air.html
9 https://www.dezeen.com/2019/07/31/shipping-container-micro-home-fraser-brown-mackenna-architects/

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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