Co-creating the City of the Future: A Role for Business

CEM work on nature-based solutions | IUCN

This week I enjoyed being part of the Nature of Cities Festival. With over 2,000 people from 60 countries and 80 disciplines, the participants shared many ways in which companies and cities can work with nature to address both social and environmental issues. They also provide a lens into new ways of thinking and managing cities and eco-systems, with many lessons for how business can adapt to a changing climate in ways that co-create resilient and inclusive cities.  In the past, the evolution of cities obliterated nature, destoryed rivers, and decimated forests. The city of the future partners with nature to build a resilient eco-system, a SMART City, with government, business, biologists, and citizen groups.  

At the Festival we “toured” dozens of cities around the world addressing climate change through Nature Based Solutions. Also known as NBS, Nature-Based Solutions use nature as a model to address environmental challenges such as flooding, pollution, and climate change while promoting well-being and maximizing health.  The NBS Initiative at the University of Oxford defines Nature-Based Solutions as “working with nature to address societal challenges, providing benefits for both human well-being and biodiversity.” Basically, it’s like asking: what would nature do?  

In order to become future-ready, companies must play a role in protecting, managing, and restoring nature in and near cities and in key eco-systems, for example by:

  • Creating green roofs to reduce the impact of heat islands  
  • Collecting rainwater for use in manufacturing
  • Protecting forests
  • Protecting and restoring areas on or near the coast, such as reefs and marshes. These can mitigate the impact of storms and promote biodiversity, and
  • Protecting mangroves as a natural way to sequester carbon.     

The city of Toronto provides many great examples of NBS. They require buildings to have rooftop gardens, some of which grow “foodscapes” as well as hosting pollinators such as bees.

Toronto and many other cities are developing ways to be nature-ful. The word “biophilia” is another useful term for understanding the changes cities are making in order to become more livable and usher in the climate revolution. Biophilia means loving nature and cities and locations making this shift will be able to advance both planetary and citizen well-being.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, volunteers are planting “pocket forests” to foster biodiversity in one of the world’s megacities. In Bogota, Colombia, a factory has built a “green curtain” to filter out the noise and smell of the manufacturing processes from residents of the city.  These Nature-Based Solutions provide many co-benefits. In many cases, there are benefits to humans, to wildlife and to future generations. Ecosystems such as forests and ravines provide services such as purifying air, cooling, while creating meeting places and opportunities for recreation. 

2021 marks the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Decade is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme, both of which offer guidance on how to get started. There are a range of financial instruments emerging such as eco-bonds to support NBS. There are also alliances of cities to share best practices.