7 Sustainable Cities and the Construction Industry Behind Them

31 January 2023Construction, Digital Transformation, Sustainability, Uncategorizedcarbon footprint, renewable energy



The news is full of examples of the ways advancements in sustainable construction materials and methods are being utilized in cities around the world. Following are 7 sustainable cities and the construction industry behind them.

  1. Oslo, Norway (2022 population 702,543) – As reported by City Monitor, hydroelectric power supplies 60% of the city’s energy needs. It has met the World Health Organization’s target air pollution levels since 2019. Construction projects in Norway are pioneering zero-energy buildings that consume no more energy than they generate. Some buildings produce more energy than they use and can push it back to the energy grid. New modular homes are being designed to require about half the energy of a standard home and reduce emissions. Planners are also using artificial intelligence to design smart urban areas, including the best uses of infrastructure.
water pouring from pipe draining pond
  1. Reykjavik, Iceland (2022 population 135,688) – The city has hydroelectric and natural geothermal energy resources and can be completely powered by renewable energy. Electricity is produced by hydroelectric dams built on glacial rivers, and geysers, hot springs and other natural heat sources provide heat for buildings. Emissions from construction are minimized through use of low-carbon materials like locally produced Icelandic stone wool, as well as cross-laminated timber and exterior wood cladding. In 2022, urbanNext reported an impressive 95% of the city’s waste is diverted from landfills. The Green Building Council Iceland is helping the construction industry take an active role in achieving a sustainable future.
steam generation plant in Iceland
  1. Zurich, Switzerland (2022 population 1,420,000) – According to The Sustainable Living Guide, over 80% of the city’s electricity is generated by renewable energy sources, and nearly half of the city’s waste is recycled. Smart initiatives have resulted in more than 70% of the hotels in the city being certified as sustainable. In construction, new housing and public buildings have strict sustainability requirements. The Renewable Energy Institute explains the Swiss building standards and codes established in 1998 focus on energy efficiency. The Sustainable Construction Network Switzerland uses 44 criteria to assess building sustainability, including natural resources, embodied carbon, construction methods, urban planning, location, and mobility, among others. One private initiative comes from the Alternative Bank of Switzerland, which offers low interest loans for green building projects.  

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  1. Copenhagen, Denmark (2022 population 645,000) – According to City Monitor, by decreasing fossil fuel transportation by one-third since 2019, the city has reduced carbon dioxide emissions 80% over the past fourteen years. In addition, newly constructed buildings are required to have roof gardens that can be self-sufficient by utilizing natural rainfall. According to Buro Happold, beginning in 2023, Denmark’s strategy for sustainable construction involves mandatory regulations phased into the building code. They involve a strict maximum value for carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for new buildings. Denmark is the first country to do so. The regulations cover the entire lifecycle of buildings.
  1. Stockholm, Sweden (2022 population 1,679,000) – Trains and buses in the city have been powered completely by renewable energy since 2017. Stockholm has ranked alongside Oslo in air quality. About half of Sweden’s energy supply comes from renewable sources, including biofuels and the reuse of industry heat surpluses. Sweden enacted a carbon tax in the 1990s and is known for its impressive mass timber buildings. Contractors have reported better working conditions with mass timber construction, as well as the benefits of load bearing capacity, insulating qualities, natural finish, and customer enjoyment.
  2. Paris, France (2022 population 2,140,000) – City initiatives are phasing out fossil fuel transportation and phasing in sustainable. They are also working toward 75% renewable energy sources of residential energy service. Between 2004 and 2014, unwanted emissions reportedly decreased in Paris by 9%. In mid-2022, a new law set ambitious decarbonization deadlines on France’s building sector, while seeking to make new buildings more resilient in cases of temperature extremes. Included will be mapping of embodied carbon, with a focus on environmentally sustainable materials and manufacturing. As reported by Kone Online, targets are efficiency, circularity, adaptability, modularity, and resilience.
Photo of Paris and River Seine, background pink skies at sunset
  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands (2022 population 883,000)– Amsterdam ranked number one in the 2021 Shroders European Sustainable Cities index, which considered public transportation, renewable energy, plastics, air quality, cleaner fuels, and waste policies. The Netherlands is home to the largest floating solar energy park in Europe and one of the largest offshore wind farms. Plant scientists in Amsterdam are using artificial intelligence to help develop agricultural crops resilient to heat, drought, pest, and diseases without the need for pesticides. As described by Invest in Holland, the country is ranked first worldwide for material reuse rate and waste management. New criteria for construction went into effect in 2021 that require all buildings to be nearly energy neutral.

With advancements in sustainable construction materials and methods over the past decades plus continuing research, the construction industry is making steady progress in enabling cities to reduce their carbon footprint.



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