Transformation—Sustainable Urban Development

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

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Stephen W. Maye

Hello. I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I’m here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode, we’re talking about sustainable urban development. Over the last century, the world’s population has made a major shift to urban areas. 

Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. And the U.N. estimates that figure will rise to 68 percent by 2050. Urbanization comes with so many economic and social benefits—people have opportunities to pursue careers and share cultural ideas in totally new ways. But rapid population growth also puts pressure on urban environments. And when it’s not managed sustainably, intense urbanization can end up degrading the natural resources that communities depend on to live.

Tegan Jones

That’s true. But managing growth in a sustainable way requires a lot of proactive, big picture planning. And, it can be really difficult to make time for this process, which can be very intensive, when things are changing so quickly. 

But there’s a lot at risk if communities don’t make this a priority. For instance, the U.N. reports that 90 percent of people who are living in cities worldwide are currently breathing unsafe air. 

And water scarcity is also becoming a really serious issue. 

Stephen W. Maye

If communities can’t drink the water that’s available to them locally, they’ll have to import water from elsewhere—and that can be a material economic burden on families and communities. Cities are going to have to significantly change the way they think about water management if they want water to be affordable and accessible.

Tegan Jones

Yeah, and this is something that we heard from Hassan Aboelnga. Hassan is a researcher in urban water security at Koln University of Applied Sciences as well as a management committee member of specialist groups at the International Water Association. Hassan made some really good points about how teams need to take more of a systems approach to this problem if they want to come up with sustainable solutions. So we’re going to hear from him in just a few minutes.

Stephen W. Maye

Systems thinking seems like it would be extremely helpful on any sustainable development project where you’re working to balance the need for job creation and economic growth with long-term goals around environmental and social sustainability. This is something I recently discussed with Suresh Kotla. Suresh is the director of sustainable manufacturing for the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Mumbai. And we’re going to get to him a little later in the episode. 

Tegan Jones

But first we’re going to hear from Kaustubh Tamaskar. Kaustubh is a senior urban planner and designer with Beca and an urban resilience consultant for the World Bank based in Auckland, New Zealand. 

He talked about how teams can keep sustainability front and center on development projects, even when they’re under a lot of pressure to move quickly. 

Our contributing editor Matt Schur has the full story. So let’s go to him now. 

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Matt Schur

Sustainable urban development isn’t just about creating less waste or reducing carbon footprints. It’s about striking a long-term balance between the environmental, social and economic factors that define a community’s quality of life.  

Kaustubh Tamaskar says that starts with understanding what the community needs and what it can deliver—rather than focusing on a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Kaustubh Tamaskar

I think the context is very important. It’s very difficult to generalize the sustainability issues that different places face. For example, the United Nations has a very comprehensive framework that can be used to address and customize solutions locally, but many a times in the real world it is not possible to have such a big focus on sustainability. 

Many a times the cities in developing countries are doing plans for the first time, so we need to be very creative as consultants and advisors to go around the lack of data. And having a knowledge of the whole government system and the bureaucratic setup does help a lot to at least get the best available information to make informed decisions.

Matt Schur

On these projects, Kaustubh says it’s his job to demystify the sustainable development process. By simply refocusing the conversation, he helps communities see where sustainability is within reach.

Kaustubh Tamaskar 

For example, an issue we faced in Myanmar was that they were really focused on getting things done because of the sheer development pressure and tight timelines and budgets, but there was no intent of thinking about issues of sustainability. 

But it’s just about educating them to say that there are specific aspects, if done well, can help you save time, money and effort in the long-run. 

Matt Schur 

But what about communities that are already committed to sustainable development? Here, Kaustubh helps teams focus on future-proofing. This helps shore up the project’s long-term ROI—and protects the community from future stresses and shocks.

Kaustubh Tamaskar 

In developed nations, like say Singapore, we are already talking about getting LEED and Green Mark certifications for all government projects, which, to a large extent, is driven by technology.

You are talking about using electronic automated vehicles to reduce the carbon footprint. You are talking about ambitious plans of having automated underground logistics networks so that it creates a truck-free environment on the ground and adds to the mobility portion for people. So, I guess the challenges we faced in that project were of a different nature, was more to do about thinking of how new technologies can be integrated in the development, and to maintain that flexibility and accommodate the future unknowns.

Matt Schur 

Development projects can define how a community will function for decades to come, which means passions on these projects often run high. That’s why—no matter where he’s working—Kaustubh says collecting stakeholder feedback and fostering communication is key to delivering a successful, sustainable outcome.

Kaustubh Tamaskar

Politicians will have their own agenda, and we need to respect that because those are the people that are going to help make the project a reality. But I guess the opposite side of that spectrum is speaking with people on the ground and respecting their opinions as well. And we realize, more often than not, that the knowledge that the local people can share and their expectations does help a lot going along the way to make the project sustainable. 

And it’s not an easy process. Many a times that’s a very tense conversation when you get all these people in one room, but yeah, that’s our job to ensure that the outcome will eventually benefit the community as a whole and not just one set of stakeholders.

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Stephen W. Maye

I was fascinated to hear how Kaustubh compared his work in Singapore with the work he’s done in Myanmar. In a place like Singapore, which is recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable cities, teams have decades of experience with sustainable development projects. Plus, Singapore ranks seventh in terms of GDP per capita, which means there’s less immediate pressure to spur development. In Myanmar, on the other hand, more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty, which means there’s a much greater need to push development projects forward.

Tegan Jones

That said, development projects can make a really big economic impact. One analysis by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that shifting investment toward sustainable infrastructure and commercial enterprises could yield a direct economic gain of 26 trillion U.S. dollars globally between 2018 and 2030. 

So that means communities don’t necessarily have to choose between economic progress and environmental sustainability—they just have to think strategically upfront in order to reach both of these really important goals. 

Stephen W. Maye

Right, because if communities and governments don’t invest in sustainable infrastructure on the front end, they may end up having to spend a lot more to manage problems on the back end. 

For instance, according to The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report, three of the top five risks that could have the greatest impact on economic development are related to the environment. And the number four risk on this list relates to water crises, or a significant decline in the quality and quantity of fresh water.

Tegan Jones

That kind of uncertainty can also have widespread economic impacts as people struggle to try and manage this really serious issue on a day-to-day basis. So, we’re going to learn a bit more about this problem—and how to solve it—from our next guest. Hassan Aboelnga is a researcher in urban water security at Koln University of Applied Sciences, as well as a management committee member of specialist groups at the International Water Association. Hassan is currently based in Cologne, Germany, but he’s originally from Egypt, so he’s seen the impact of water scarcity on communities firsthand. 

Stephen W. Maye

Well, clearly Hassan has an incredible breadth of experience to pull from. Let’s hear what he has to say.

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Hassan Aboelnga 

So today urban areas have been facing increasing demands due to population growth coupled with climate change, with hydrological uncertainty and extremes, such as floods and droughts. All of this have put a great pressure on urban development projects and the way we live in cities today.

Meanwhile, cities have become responsible for providing infrastructure and more resilient services to more people, but they often lack somehow the sufficient resources to do so. So, it’s important for us as project managers to understand how we can do more with less and also ensuring that the urban projects and the cities are sustainable. 

So, besides the global change pressures of population growth and climate change, many cities today are at risk of running out of water. It’s very clear that the way also we manage water today in many cities, in particular in developing countries, poses a serious risk to human well-being and sustainable development. Many cities have this linear system of use and dispose, which means using high drinking water for all-around use. They use water once and throw it away, and by doing so they are consuming water beyond sustainable limits.

And consequently, we see many cities today are connected to the water networks but don’t have water on the tap or receiving water less than 24 hours, which we call it intermittent water supply. And you can find most of the cities and developing countries, especially in my region, in the Arab regions, where water is very scarce. For instance, in Amman, the capital of Jordan, people are receiving water only once or twice per week. 

So, it’s important for us to think differently about the way we manage our resources today and also to understand that continuing business as usual means allowing overwhelming neglect to worsen. But there is solutions for that. We just need to shift our mindsets from this linear system of use and dispose to more circle economy whereby economic development is balanced with the protection of natural resources and environmental sustainability.

Complex problems are systems issues that requires from us systems thinking to solve it. So, it’s important to have, you know, strong managers with holistic mindsets to see the big picture and deal with such a complex environment. So, systems thinking is a discipline for seeing the wholes. It’s a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

So, project managers need multidisciplinary team, and this needs to be made up of all different stakeholders in the process from different disciplines with different skills. From project sponsors, domain experts, developers—just to mention a few—all of them have to align the project to sustainable development goals to ensure that the urban development projects are inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable and prepared for future shocks. 

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Stephen W. Maye

Both Hassan and Kaustubh mentioned the need for sustainability projects to be inclusive and resilient. I think this is such an important idea because it can be easy to think of sustainability as a nice-to-have or something that just gets tacked on to a larger, more important initiative. But these guests are saying that these goals, in fact, need to be integrated.

Tegan Jones

This is something that really comes through when you look at the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And while many of these goals are focused on things like preserving the environment or reducing inequality, the program clearly recognizes that you can’t build a sustainable future without also supporting economic growth. For instance, goal number nine is focused on building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. 

Stephen W. Maye

So how can communities encourage economic development that won’t harm critical natural resources like clean air and water? It’s a very difficult question, but our next guest has some smart answers to share with us. 

Suresh Kotla is the director of sustainable manufacturing for the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Mumbai. And he says responsible progress is possible, as long as stakeholders across communities work together to set clear, measurable goals. 

Tegan Jones

And that’s so important, because, you know, any plan can look good on paper. But you really need to create that accountability if you want to deliver the desired results. So, let’s hear how he does it. 

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Stephen W. Maye

Suresh, in your experience, what are some of the most significant challenges facing large-scale, sustainable development?

Suresh Kotla 

Sustainable development is a phrase that is used so often to describe an ideal scenario where the mankind has got rid of all the problems it faces today and also to describe solutions that allow man to keep growing and progressing indefinitely in the future without causing damage to the environment and without depleting natural resources. It almost sounds like an abstract concept until we break it down into measurable goals. Now if you talk about the broader challenges that we are facing in meeting the sustainable development goals, be it poverty, be it inequality, food crisis, unemployment, environmental pollution, depleting natural resources or rapidly increasing carbon emissions, and the looming threat of climate change—all these challenges are interconnected. And to address them, we have to find integrated solutions that will have lasting social, economic and environmental benefits. 

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah. So tell me, how can communities better balance the need for environmental and social sustainability but also the need for jobs and economic growth? 

Suresh Kotla 

So, I think one of the ways that the communities can balance the need for environmental and social sustainability or the need for jobs is, that there is a need for a shift in the way cities consume resources or receive services. India, for example, with the initiative called the Smart Cities Mission, the government of India is planning to make 100 cities smarter in the way they provide services to its citizens. And this would mean that we use technology to ensure that the services are administered efficiently. At the same time, we reduce waste of energy, resources. We manage waste, the municipal solid waste in a way that is more sustainable. We manage transportation in a way that’s more smarter, more efficient, and so many other gamut of services that citizens can receive. And similarly, you know we cannot look at industries in separation from the communities because industries depend on the communities for the business they have and that they operate in. 

Stephen W. Maye

You of course, work in the sustainable manufacturing area of the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Tell me a little more about how the institute helps strike the balance that you’re describing.

Suresh Kotla 

We help the communities and the industries strike this balance by strengthening the local institutions and the leaders by demonstrating innovative and cleaner technologies that are feasible by creating awareness, sharing best practices, and promoting peer learning and public-private partnerships. ISC matches local knowledge with international best practices and expertise to accelerate adoption of sustainable development solutions. And our goal is that even after ISC is gone, our partners have the capacity to tackle new challenges and advance sustainable development solutions. The other aspect is demonstrating what works and what doesn’t work. In our experience, adoption of a model, a technology or a solution is slow because of lack of evidence of its viability. What works in China or the U.S. may not work in India. Solutions remain theoretical for some of them. And ISC works with local stakeholders who demonstrate the technical and market feasibility of these solutions.

Stephen W. Maye

So Suresh, we’ve talked about the role that ISC plays and the service that it’s providing, but tell me a bit more about your role as the director of sustainable manufacturing. How does your work help drive sustainable development?

Suresh Kotla 

In my capacity as the director for sustainable manufacturing, I lead the strategic vision of the Institute for Sustainable Communities for advancing sustainable manufacturing practice. And I manage a portfolio of projects that focus on, number one, accelerating adoption of clean energy and energy efficiency by the industries; number two, market transformation for energy efficient technologies; and, number three, building capacities of supply chain factories to implement best practices in environment, health and safety aspects. My work involves demonstrating to factories that energy efficiency, clean energy, environment, health and safety improvements can go hand in hand with improved competitiveness and profitability. It involves enabling them in coordination with the global and local brands that they supply to, to adopt climate smart and socially compliant technologies, and practices that result in greener and safer production. It also involves connecting factories with their surrounding communities, which helps tackle resources issues of common concern, like water management. These aspects strengthen the partnerships that lead to greater community and supply chain resilience. So, this ultimately drives sustainable development in the manufacturing sector as well as the surrounding communities.

Stephen W. Maye

Tell me a little bit about a recent project or program that you led in this role. What were you trying to achieve or accomplish? And what were the kinds of obstacles that your team had to overcome?

Suresh Kotla 

In our work with small and medium enterprise sector, we are working with India’s biggest energy service company to demonstrate the benefits of replacing an old technology with a more efficient one. And the challenge is that even though it has been demonstrated that there are energy efficiency gains and results in energy savings and monetary savings, the SMEs are not investing in the new technology. And this happens due to access to finance challenges and nonavailability of a local ecosystem of service providers. ISC is working with its partner energy service company to design a project to address these very challenges. And the project proposes to demonstrate and scale a model that will drive the adoption of energy efficiency by industry. And at the same time, the project features working with a layer of secondary players, which includes smaller energy service companies, which will go to the industries and aggregate the demand from the industries. It involves technology manufacturers, who would offer better discounts by use of economies of scale models, development finance institutions, who would be able to provide access to finance and introduce new financial instruments so that industries are able to invest in these technology replacement projects. At the same time industry associations, who help us in creating awareness and building capacities of the local industries.

Stephen W. Maye

What have you learned about building buy-in across such a significant group of stakeholders?

Suresh Kotla 

So, to build up buy-in and ensure that the project not only addresses the problem but ultimately meets the needs of the stakeholders, we co-designed the projects right from researching to framing and analyzing the problem, to developing a solution using logical framework approach. What should be the project goal and its expected outcomes in short, medium and long term? What the target should be? Every aspect of the project is discussed with our stakeholders, and that’s how we ensure that there is a buy-in from our stakeholders. In fact, we go to the extent of discussing roles and responsibilities, scope of work, how the work plan will look like, what should be the timeline for the project, what kind of agencies and vendors that we will work with. All of this is done in collaboration of the stakeholders to ensure that there is a buy-in, and at the same time the expectations are met.

Stephen W. Maye

Certainly. Suresh, what is your single best piece of advice for a young person wanting to enter this space?

Suresh Kotla 

My advice to the youngsters who would like to enter the sustainable development space would be to start with a degree in sustainable development. Then, start working with an organization that would allow them to be on the field for about three to four years where they get hands-on experience of working on the field with the stakeholders, with the communities, and then identify the kind of challenges they face and learn from their experience on the field. And then build on that experience by going deep into the aspects, such as climate change mitigation or adaptation or climate resilience. 

Stephen W. Maye

So, get a relevant education, get three to four years meaningful field experience, then specialize and build depth. And with that, Suresh Kotla, director, sustainable manufacturing at the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Mumbai, India, has the last word. Suresh, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Suresh Kotla 

Same here, Stephen. Thank you so much.

Narrator

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