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Viewpoint: Sustainable cities need sustainable solutions

London has been a successful world city for thousands of years, but can it continue to grow and meet its ambitious carbon emission targets in the face of serious cost constraints?

Later this month we will be holding an event in conjunction with London First to debate this very issue. Mind the Gap ( will bring together a high profile panel of speakers including Baroness Jo Valentine, London First chief executive, Jeremy Leggett, Solar Century chief executive, and Martin Powell from the LDA to discuss new ideas and potential solutions on the topic.

City index

We will also be launching the key findings of some GE sponsored research with ‘Forum for the Future – the Sustainable Cities Index’. This ranks the 20 largest cities in the UK according to the social, economic and environmental performance and is designed to bring rigour to the debate about ’ green’ and sustainable cities and engender healthy competition among our leading cities.

As the Index shows there are some great examples of best practice in certain parts of the UK, but how can we make sustainable cities a reality throughout the country and stimulate a green economy?

Having the right skills and suitably qualified workforce will of course play a vital role. Last month energy secretary Chris Huhne announced the intention to create 250,000 jobs in green industries as part of the government’s plans to give Britain the fasted growing renewable industry in the European Union.

These are fine aspirations, but if the UK is really to become the breeding ground for the green economy, the methods by which our city infrastructure and public services are procured need to change.

“How can we make sustainable cities a reality throughout the country and stimulate a green economy?”

If you consider that in most cities in Western Europe the biggest landowners are local and national government, for sustainable cities to become a reality there are significant challenges around public/private partnerships in achieving high ratings for building performance and energy conservation.

So what are the challenges faced by the public sector? The first relates to the age old question – ‘at what price innovation?’. Put simply, how can private companies, delivering the very latest environmental technologies, successfully deliver innovations in product intellectual property (IP) in an environment that is controlled by European public procurement regulations? How can they do this without giving away their precious intellectual capital?

New methodology is needed

The solution has to be a new procurement methodology which does not place undue emphasis on cost at the expense of challenging performance criteria. Clearly achieving value for money for the tax payer has to be a top priority but to constrain the quality of the ideas – this represents a false economy. Of course it is only right that the procurement process should specify desired outputs and performance criteria but the emphasis should not just be on getting a ‘good deal’.

Effective procurement should be all about encouraging the best and most innovative ideas at a competitive price as opposed to a compliant bid at a low one.

The UK wants its cities to be sustainable, but budget holders in local and central government need to break with the traditional procurement processes to get better value from the private sector, to in turn benefit the tax payer.

This is about the quality and impact of the ideas as much as the cost.

  • Mark Elborne is GE’s UK president and chief executive officer

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