Citystates: How Cities are Vital to the Future of Sustainability

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012


Executive Summary

In the 21st century, cities will increasingly be the frame through which we understand and shape our shared economic, political and cultural circumstances. They will also be ground zero for the collision of economic, environmental and social imperatives that define sustainability. Together, these facts suggest that in proactively addressing the challenge of urban sustainability, business and others may have an opportunity to harness the power and positive characteristics of cities to drive sustainability more widely.

It is in this context that Citystates proposes a pair of related hypotheses: (1) sustainability needs cities as much as cities need sustainability, and (2) business and others should view cities as an increasingly crucial and constructive frame through which to understand and pursue sustainability. Specifically, we see cities as both linchpins and levers for sustainable development, and a source of potential lessons for how to drive the sustainability agenda forward.

  • Linchpins As cities come to house more and more people, metabolize a greater share of resources, and further shape the broader physical, economic and social landscape we inhabit, their sustainability becomes key to planetary sustainability.
  • Levers As hotbeds of innovation, cities could effect the speed and efficiency with which we develop new sustainability solutions. Furthermore, because of their growing power and influence, cities may provide a crucial means for replicating and driving successful solutions to scale.
  • Lessons Many cities are setting the example for how to confront challenging issues head-on. As such, they provide numerous lessons for how to address sustainability challenges more widely.

At its core, Citystates posits seven characteristics, or states — summarized in the adjoining table — that we see as key to advancing sustainability both within and beyond the city, and asks what business particularly can learn and/or contribute to improve their potential.

For us, this work confirms that cities must become an even greater focal point of sustainable development, and that through nurturing their particular strengths and attributes, we may improve the potential of cities’ own sustainability and that of the planet, all while contributing to a more vibrant economic future.

Download full report (PDF): Citystates: How Cities are Vital to the Future of Sustainability

About SustainAbility
“Founded in 1987, we’ve evolved alongside the broader sustainability agenda and helped to define and shape the unique role of business within it.  On issues from consumption, transparency, stakeholder engagement and strategy to innovation and transformation, we’ve helped hundreds of clients and partners better understand and create business and societal value in response to global challenges.”

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