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How Cost, Convenience And Collaboration Can Make Net-Zero Cities A Reality

The spotlight is being shone on the sustainability behaviours of individuals, companies and countries all over the world. The agendas and policies of our towns and cities are not immune to such scrutiny, especially capital cities whose presence on the international stage draws particular attention.

Moreover, it is forecast that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, making our towns and cities of fundamental importance in the global fight against climate change. But what can local authorities do to genuinely make an impact and how realistic is it to think that humans living in such close proximity to one another, can create sustainable and ecologically rich environments? 

The scale of the problems facing, and caused by, our urban environments is huge. Our cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, despite accounting for less than two percent of the earth’s surface. Consequently, more than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day due to the population densities in towns and cities.

However, over time, urban environments have always been well-placed to address many of the largest social issues. As epicentres for innovation and with well-established communication between residents and authorities, communities within towns and cities are often the harbingers of fast-paced and long-term change.

Cities are also much more likely than their rural counterparts to receive the funding needed to address the issues raised. In the UK, for example, government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44% higher in urban areas, compared to rural localities.

Cities at the forefront of achieving net-zero status include Singapore, which is renowned for the protection and integration of green spaces, with 10% of its land being allocated for parks and nature reserves. San Francisco, is also in contention to lead the charge, by making waves with its innovative waste management systems, which includes comprehensive recycling laws.

But, at HumanForest (the UK’s first truly green micro-mobility firm), we believe that the most obvious way to reduce urban pollution is by making changes to our transport infrastructure, considering 70% of all global emissions are produced by road transport! 

There is great progress being made – in Copenhagen over 60% of all citizens commute to work, school, or university by bike, and Amsterdam is now home to around 515km of dedicated cycle lanes. The EU has launched an ambitious plan to create 100 climate neutral, smart cities by 2030, which will undoubtedly place the transport sector under intense scrutiny. Similarly for the OECD, over one third of investment into green urban infrastructure is being channelled directly into transport systems.

This is also spurring on further ambitious plans. Paris, for example, is planning to ban almost all vehicles from crossing the core of the city, with the aim of potentially preventing more than 100,000 cars from passing through this zone everyday.

Similarly, Berlin has seen a recent and popular bid for a ban on private cars receive 50,000 signatories. This is a sentiment London, the birthing ground of HumanForest, has recently also pursued with the launch of an “Ultra Low Emission Zone” to further discourage mobility from combustion vehicles, with plans to extend the zone significantly over the coming years. 

However, all these measures rely significantly on consumer behaviour. The UK’s Climate Change Committee argues strongly that societal behavioural change is central to achieving the UK’s long term emissions targets. Nevertheless, driving or shaping consumer behaviour is multi-faceted and complicated.

However, John Thøgersen, Professor of Economic Psychology argues that whilst most consumers are not capable of determining which behaviour changes in relation to the climate are worth doing, “the biggest focus should be on making climate friendly behaviour the easy behaviour”.

So, what can be done to create an environment in which the sustainable choice is the easy one? Current inflation and soaring household costs are squeezing the consumer more than ever, discouraging many from basing their decisions on climate over affordability. As a result, finding the option that is both affordable and sustainable is paramount.

HumanForest’s business model allows all its eBike riders to access their shared electric bikes free of charge for ten minutes every day. By taking cost out of the equation, more consumers will be freed up to consider their transport options and modify their habits accordingly. 

Convenience is another key factor in the ease of decision making. The sharing economy prioritises access for services, over down payments and long term commitments. Here, shared micro-mobility relies on access and availability to be as convenient as possible for the end user. For this, HumanForest uses a highly optimised software platform to ensure efficient operations, with an aim of every rider being a maximum of a three minute walk from an eBike.  

Finally, collaboration is key. We cannot achieve net-zero in our urban environments without concrete efforts by local authorities and businesses to work alongside one another. Although recent research has shown that nearly nearly one in three consumers will stop purchasing certain products from brands which they have ethical or sustainability concerns about, it cannot be the end users’ responsibility to be an everyday activist.

At HumanForest, we proactively seek cross industry cooperation and partnerships to promote collaboration across London. We have worked with many well known brands who sponsor our riders’ free ten minute daily cycles, as well as industry bodies and London-based charities. 

With the number of cities pledging net-zero targets increasing month-on-month, it is important to remind ourselves of the scale of the task whilst breaking down the end goal into tangible, manageable steps. We believe that the best place to start is by addressing transport emissions – the key driver of air quality and pollution in our urban environments.

However, crucially, in order for any transport policy to be a success, they must be made easy for the end user. To make new, sustainable services easy to adopt, public and private bodies must focus on cost, convenience and collaboration, with the end goal of making net-zero cities a reality. 

Source: Startups Magazine

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