How does Australia rank globally on sustainability?

We Australians are fiercely competitive. So how do we rank for sustainability against the world's leading cities? Find out when our Sustainable Cities Index, the world's most comprehensive indicative sustainability index, is released Monday 12 September.

Pedestrians in Sydney

"Understanding sustainability is essential if we are do the thinking, planning and hard work needed to maintain and improve our cities."

Australians – we are fiercely competitive, be it backyard cricket or international sport. We love to know where we stand in the rankings. But how do we know how well our cities are functioning relative to one another – and, perhaps even more importantly, how they are performing on the global stage? In fact, there are a number of global ranking tools. The Economist’s recently released Liveability Index, for example, put Melbourne in the top spot – while just this week PwC released an index considering the financial performance of cities.

These studies are all interesting, and each has a perspective on what makes some cities better than others. However, it is most certainly a balance of many things, and I believe that sustainable performance is key to our cities’ attractiveness – and therefore to their success on the global stage. 

But, what makes a city truly sustainable and how do we measure sustainability? In fact, there is no one, simple answer.

Cities are under pressure from many angles, some of which can be forecast, such as population growth and mobility needs. Other stressors are more difficult to predict, such as flooding and political uncertainty. What is clear, however, is that understanding sustainability is essential if we are do the thinking, planning and hard work needed to maintain and improve our cities.

One key challenge is putting people at the heart of a city’s sustainability.

To help us better understand city sustainability, as well as how to build and safeguard it, Arcadis has partnered with the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr), a leading, fully-independent economics consultancy, to develop the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index (SCI). Together with Cebr, we looked at 100 of the world’s cites, comparing their performance across three critical pillars of sustainability – people, planet and profit. 

In order to make this comparison, we ranked the relative performance of each city across 32 key indicators. While this may sound simple in theory, accessing and assessing globally recognised data sets and ensuring that our data came from as many sources as possible was no small task. Yet we believe this hard work paid off, with the result being a series of objective relativity rankings that, when considered together, provide an overview of the relative sustainability of the cities that were evaluated, both across the three pillars and as a whole.

So, what do we do with this information? Clearly, no one city is effectively balancing all three areas – and though many do well in two, none performs equally well across all three.

There is geographical bias as well, with European cities achieving higher scores than emerging cities. In some cases, considering cites relative to their geographical peers offers a better comparison, while in others, expressing data on a per capita basis is helpful. One key challenge is putting people at the heart of a city’s sustainability, with the “people” pillar itself providing a reference point for whether a city is an attractive place for people and therefore investment.

This year, the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index has expanded from 50 global cites to 100. It makes interesting reading and will be launched globally on Monday, 12th September and I’m looking forward to sharing the details with you. Stay tuned!

Stephen Taylor

Australian Cities Director +61 2 8907 9084 Ask me a question
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