Urbanization increases the need for jobs. Circular economies and innovation hubs create new opportunities in cities.
It is no coincidence that the four largest cities in the Netherlands, a country with little space available for new development, are also smart cities dedicated to their diminishing environmental impact and finding ways to minimize costs while improving quality of life. The Netherlands is in a very unique position as half of the country is under sea level. The realities of climate change bring much more urgency to developing sustainable solutions. For some cities, this means meeting the goal of operating on 100 percent renewable energy within the next 30 years.
On this trip I was fascinated by how smart cities use data collection, transportation infrastructure, innovation and environmentally planning behavior to improve and increase the efficiency of public goods and services for the growing population. Envisioning how these factors increase efficiency and capacity while also minimizing the collective cost is a difficult idea for someone who is thinking from a short-term, American mindset. Smart cities excel due to the cooperation between the public and private sectors and a commitment to working with experts all over the world for the benefit of the international community. TNO is an excellent example of an independent research organization with the goal of connecting leaders in innovation as well as knowledge partners. TNO uses applied science to see where economic opportunities intersect with sustainable solutions.
With a rather rapidly growing population, the entire world will experience a shift toward urbanization. With urbanization comes a need for more resources as well as creating employment opportunities for its people. In the cities that we visited in Germany and the Netherlands, we saw how there was a much better understanding of how small businesses and startups create economic possibilities. Cities like The Hague, Eindhoven and Amsterdam provide funding for ideas that will increase sustainability, making them more attractive to new, talented entrepreneurs and others looking for work. In order to reduce the impact on the environment, it is necessary for a smart city to promote circular economies. It was really interesting to learn that Amsterdam is positioned to be the one of the first fully circular cities. On the Smart City Amsterdam website, “implementation of material re-use strategies has the potential to create a value of €85 million per year.”
Circular economies decrease the amount of energy used in the supply chain by lowering the demand for raw materials, which must be extracted. A transition to using organic material substitutes as decreases waste. This results in some job loss in the beginning level of the supply chain, however these losses can be offset by the creation of jobs in repair and remanufacturing industries. The need for the repair and reproduction creates new demands and opportunities for industries in smart cities throughout the Netherlands as it requires standardization within industries. Small and large business in addition to universities, have the role of making intelligent designs for products. From visiting a standardization-focused organization and a number of applied science organizations and startups, we saw how it takes an entire system of public and industry partners in order to nurture innovation and increase efficiency. These forces can be at odds with one another but ultimately come up with the best outcomes.
When thinking about how smart living can be applied in the United States, it is difficult to imagine how everyday people will take the lead in order to live sustainably. There will need to be help from the public sector to make incentivize recycling of resources. Business owners and consumers will have to understand that there is an enormous amount of waste that comes with our current behavior and the benefits that come when these wastes are circumvented. I hope that in the United States lawmakers will soon see the promise of investing in efforts to turn waste back in to raw materials and how these practices can benefit the supply chain and stimulate job creation. Decreasing the demand for raw materials would also decrease the American economy’s heavy reliance on foreign imports.