07 June 2017

Let's do it!

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[ en français : ICI ]

The journey is over, we are back home!
We are happy and proud of the 17 articles we wrote in total. We were received in Ministries, in avant-garde companies, in incredible labs, in progressive Town Halls! We covered the 5 pillars we wanted to talk about: construction, transportation, industry, energy and collective organization. We are glad we could show you solutions which are quite unknown: buses retrofitted to electric, autonomous shuttles, organic solar energy, home electricity storage, urban geothermal energy, in-situ building water recycling, saving architecture!

What’s the conclusion of all that? The one we imagined: the solutions exist. We can already shape the sustainable city, the low-carbon city. The environmental transition has started already in a lot of places around the world. Slowly, since it has a cost. Most of the time, the green solutions require a higher initial investment. Funding support is needed. Governments must take their responsibility. The good news is that lots of cities decide the change by themselves. Accompanied by companies, development agencies, universities, NGOs, associations, among others.

Cities have a key role to play; they directly impact the lives of many. The vast majority of people will be living in cities in the future. As we speak, new cities are being built integrating green solutions we presented. The Paris Agreement will help funding but also transferring technologies to the developing countries. Another conclusion is about innovation. On the one hand, we will need to reduce our consumption, but on the other hand, we will definitely need innovation and non-polluting technologies to ensure a fair level of comfort to everyone.

The awareness is bigger and bigger, and so is the enthusiasm. We had the chance to meet fantastic people, whose motivation and willpower nourish our optimism. We are going to make it! All together. Everyone can participate in its own way: growing cherry tomatoes or basil in our own homes, avoiding the unnecessary purchase, taking the time to compare between two products to see which one is more sustainable, properly recycling our waste, sharing our stuff with others, thinking that every purchase is a vote, buying local food, when possible preferring goods manufactured nearby, participating in online petitions such as the ones from Avaaz, voting wisely at elections, visiting nature during our holidays, remembering that our planet is our home and we must take care of it.

Finally, we want to thank those who supported the project through the crowdfunding: without you some meetings would not have been possible, we would not have written some of the articles.
This century will be the century of the environmental transition of our society. We are so lucky to live it! Let’s participate, as far as we can, to this immense transformation...

"The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway"
Henry Boye


31 May 2017

Mobility as a Service

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki Singapore
Helsinki, Finland
We all know someone who lives in a big city and has access to several transportation options but who still uses his own car to move. Why can’t he get rid of this personal car? Maybe public transportation stations are a little far from home. And this bus or this tramway does not always run early in the morning. What about a shared bike? Why not, but not for a long distance? Well, he could use a taxi or an Uber. Yes, however they are usually more expensive than public transportation. And what about the 2 hours week-end trip outside of the city? Well, he could get a rental car… All this looks a little bit complicated to him. It takes time to compare and the options are accessed through different services, different accounts, different payment methods… Wait! This is about to change! Follow us and learn about a transport revolution…

One app to rule them all

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, wants to make car ownership pointless by 2025. The foreseen mobility-on-demand system will be cheaper than owning a car, but just as convenient. Imagine. Order your trip on a smartphone application. A trip to your work or a trip to your holiday place. The application guides you. You may jump on a bus, an Uber, a rental car, a bike or something else. Your smartphone is your ticket. For that you have paid a monthly fee. For unlimited trips… This is Mobility as a Service!

“Today the means of transport are scattered, there is nothing global,” Sampo says. “I thought: there has to be a way of consolidating them all.” Sampo Hietanen is the CEO of MaaS Global, the world’s first Mobility as a Service company, which he founded in 2015. Finland is the birthplace of the concept. He says: “The original idea was to combine all the transportation options into one package together with the ticketing and payment, which is key in terms of convenience.”

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki Singapore
Sampo was the first person to introduce the concept of Mobility as a Service, several years ago.
Do we really need to own a car which we use so little? “Let’s follow the money!” Sampo says. “In Finland, people spend every month around 30€ in telecommunication, and around ten times more, 300€, for transport. For people owning a car, 80% of the transport budget goes directly to it. On average, this car is used… 4% of the time. 4%! There is a huge potential in terms of productivity.”

The application is both the journey planner and the universal ticketing/payment platform. You can ask for the fastest trip, the greenest trip (lower greenhouse gas emissions) or public transportation only. Sampo says: “The app learns from your experience and preferences. And will show your preferred options first.”

A monthly package for unlimited transportation

Sampo adds that “on the other hand, the service must stand in comparison with the promise of a personal car: freedom of mobility. You usually use your car to go to work, but what about the few times when you go further or elsewhere? To reach the freedom of mobility, Mobility as a Service must gather as many options as possible, including taxis and rental cars. By design, our smartphone application Whim is ready to integrate more and more choices. Today in the app, we have public transportation, taxis, and rental cars for Helsinki. Tomorrow we could add shared bikes, shared cars, ferries, etc., as soon as an operator appears and wants to be part of it.”

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki Singapore
Here is your ticket! A member of the Team gave us an exciting demonstration of the smartphone application Whim.

“There are 2 payment options available,” Sampo says. “One is a pay-as-you-go payment: one payment for one trip. The other option is a monthly package. The monthly fee depends on the use and the distances.” The CEO adds: “Today in Helsinki we have a few hundred test persons using the application. We built statistics to compare the transportation solutions they used before and after using Whim. It turns out that in the end public transportation is now used more often. It went from 48% of the trips to 74% of the trips. Helsinki is going live this June and next is Birmingham in the UK and Amsterdam.” Sampo concludes: “One important thing is Finnish legislation is moving in the right direction...”

A government which clears the path

One and a half year ago, within the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Transport policy department merged with the Communications policy department. “It is hard to separate them anymore, they are so intertwined,” Krista says. Krista Huhtala-Jenks works at the Ministry as a Senior Officer for Digital Services and Mobility as a Service. She explains: “Data is at the heart of transport. For few years, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has been in the core of the Ministry policy. People think that Uber or autonomous vehicles are the big disruptions, but they are just new technologies. I think MaaS is the real disruption, it is about behavioral change.”

Krista says: “MaaS is the future. It deals with smart traffic, smart payment systems. And flexibility. You promote public transportation but allow the user to take a taxi or a rental car from time to time. It combines public and private transport. We live in a world where assets must be shared. With MaaS being flexible, reliable and cost effective, we will meet the needs.” About Sampo’s company, she explains that “it is one of the mobility companies which already exist in Finland. But MaaS is not only a solution for big cities: another Finnish company wants to operate in rural and semi-rural areas, where the service level should be higher.”

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki Singapore
We met Krista at the Ministry.

Driverless vehicles are already legal in Finland

“The Ministry focuses on the people, the users and their experience,” Krista says. “Of course the business models and the operation have to be fair. As soon as we judge that a new service will help us reach our targets, we try to get rid of the possible barriers. Actually we want to anticipate the changes as much as possible and facilitate the positive transitions. In the end we have in mind the climate issue and our ambitious targets in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Krista adds: “Autonomous vehicles are one of the major transitions we have started to work on. Finland wants to be a world leader. For a few years already, the law allows for there to be driverless vehicles. Tests have been ongoing on our roads, they are quite positive.” She concludes: “Driverless cars and shuttles will help a lot in our rural areas.”

The autonomous vehicles will reshape the cities

Autonomous vehicles have started to pop up in the cities all around the world. Singapore (again!) is one of these places. The country sees the autonomous vehicles as a public transportation solution. Their citizens should be transported by shared autonomous (electric) vehicles instead of personal cars. The shared vehicles would transport on demand. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains that these vehicles can potentially decrease passenger vehicles to a third, from 900,000 to 300,000 vehicles. Of course, these new vehicles will not pollute, they will be electric. Singapore goes even further. The city hopes to be reshaped around walking and cycling, with the autonomous vehicles transiting in an underground network… Do you remember the movie Minority Report by Steven Spielberg?!

The avant-garde company nuTonomy
and the French constructor Peugeot
will start soon to test autonomous cars
right in the middle of Singapore’s traffic.
Luis Belalcazar, who we met in Colombia, told us few words about autonomous vehicles. “I had the chance to go to Marrakech and participate to the COP22. There was a very interesting talk by someone from Mercedes Benz, the German constructor. The person was explaining that for sure autonomous vehicles will change the automotive landscape. The industry will transform totally. And Mercedes Benz really wants to be part of the game! They mention the case of Kodak: the former camera worldwide leader which in few years bankrupted because they could not anticipate the boom of digital cameras. Their talk even included what could be done with all the existing parking lots which would not be necessary anymore once the autonomous vehicles arrive... In the future, people will not want to own a car anymore. Imagine it. You just request a vehicle on your smartphone, it arrives few minutes later! The connected vehicle will drive safely, it will use the fastest itinerary, maybe someone else will jump on it during part of the trip. And when you leave the car, well you do not need to think about it anymore. The vehicle will probably start another trip one minute later…”

Less traffic jams. Less accidents. Less...

Studies show that autonomous cars will prevent traffic jams. They also show that the number of traffic accidents will fall. In Texas, distracted drivers (mainly texting while driving) are the origin of one in five accidents, resulting in 463 deaths in 2015. In France, traffic accidents cost 23 billion euros in 2015. They cost 324 billion euros in the USA that year. A recent study by Expert Market/Global Positioning Specialists shows that these figures could fall by 90% thanks to autonomous vehicles!

The final goal is clear: transport as many people as possible with shared vehicles. Less and less individuals should own a car. Like Helsinki, Oslo, Paris and Madrid for instance have their plans to chase personal cars out of their city center. The citizens will be the big winners. Mobility will be ensured and we will win in the sense that there will be less (polluting) vehicles in our cities. Less health issues. Less emission of greenhouse gases…

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki SingaporeOne Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki SingaporeOne Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung mobility as a service maas whim app finland ministry hietanen autonomous driverless Helsinki Singapore
Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences (last day of the trip!) - 
We could discover an autonomous shuttle which operates already in few Finnish cities. The Easymile shuttle can transport up to 12 passengers. We could also meet Tesla people who were showing two Tesla cars. We learned that all the manufactured Tesla cars already have the cameras and sensors to switch to autonomy.

We liked these words from the Nordic think tank Demos Helsinki, about the “as a Service” revolution. It is a revolution! And it has started. It is good not to own things…

”What is so revolutionary about the “as a service” model then? Why is it good not to own things? There are two main reasons and these are related: First, ownership makes us lazy. Second, the planet cannot survive with us consuming so much stuff.
When we buy things we easily get bored with them and forget they exist, or, alternatively, use them only because we own them. On-demand is about using things when we actually need them. It leads to the more effective use of resources. […]
It takes a large amount of natural resources to manufacture a car, house, or smartphone in the first place. We are now running out of those resources. That’s why digital “as a service” platforms show great promise. In the future the “as a service” model will revolutionise some areas of our lives that are completely unsustainable right now such as housing, mobility and communications.”


19 May 2017

Accompanying the cities through adaptation

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung New York 100RC Resilient Cities Adaptation Bogota Colombia Mocoa Medellin
The offices of the Rockefeller
Foundation are located
on the 5th Avenue in
Since the beginning of our trip, in several places, we heard about the 100 Resilient Cities program. In Sydney and in Hawaii for instance. We were told that the network was pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, based in New York City. Spending some days in the Big Apple, on our way back to Europe, we wanted to have a talk with someone from the head office. We had the chance to meet Isabel!

100RC and the Rockefeller Foundation

A quick reminder may be necessary. We previously talked about resilience in our article Hawaii in search of resilience. What is resilience? It is the capacity of a city to face stresses or shocks, and retrieve from them. In particular climatic events… “The 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) organization allows cities to think and drive their transformation towards resilience,” Isabel says. Isabel Beltran is an Associate Director of 100RC, City and Practice Management. She is in charge of the relation between 100RC head office and 6 of the 13 Latin American cities: Cali and Medellin (Colombia), Quito (Equador), Panama City (Panama), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Santiago de los Caballeros (Dominican Republic). She supports these cities in their adaptation to climate change, among other stresses.
One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung New York 100RC Resilient Cities Adaptation Bogota Colombia Mocoa Medellin
Here is Isabel!
100RC network counts 100 member cities today. Isabel explains: “Before the creation of the program in 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation had been working for 20 years on the concept of resilience and adaptation, especially with Arup, a consulting firm. With 100RC, we are more visible and have a greater impact.” 100RC has offices in New York, Singapore and London. Since 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation aims at “improving the well-being of humanity around the world”.

“Cities are definitely at the front of climate change fight”

Isabel adds: “The main actions of the program are the following. First we fund the creation of a new innovative position in the city government for 2 years: a Chief Resilience Officer, who will lead the resilience moves. Then we provide the cities technical assistance for understanding the concepts and developing the transformation strategy. For that, an external company provides local assistance. We call this company the strategy partner. It can be an engineering company like AECOM or Arup.”

The program also consists of “developing partnerships with NGOs, the private sector or Think Tanks for instance,” Isabel explains. “Partners provide occasional and specific services to a city, pro-bono. Finally 100RC allows their members to be part of a network through which cities exchange.” Via an online platform, the cities are encouraged to communicate, sharing guidance, technical solutions, reports and data. The platform is a “great place for chatting, asking questions, creating relationships,” Isabel says.

She concludes: “We want to focus on these 100 cities which were selected and make sure of their success. Their solutions will inspire other cities. The Rockefeller Foundation wants to promote the resilience revolution. Cities are definitely at the front of climate change fight.”

AECOM, one of the super partners
One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung New York 100RC Resilient Cities Adaptation Bogota Colombia Mocoa Medellin
We met T. Luke in AECOM's
offices of Bogota.

Previously in Bogota, Colombia, we had the opportunity to meet T. Luke Young. T. Luke is a Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation Leader, working for AECOM. The firm is one of the strategy partners, which provide local technical support to the 100RC cities. “We work with 30 of the 100RC cities, 9 in South America, which makes us the most common partner,” T. Luke explains. “AECOM Colombia is recognized as a center of excellence for resilience and climate change adaptation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

We help build adaptation solutions, draft plans, model solutions, diagnose risks, and establish monitoring and evaluation indicators. We also drive change in the field; we train experts and communities.” When we ask T. Luke what are the factors of success, he says: “One of the primary reasons Medellin in Colombia is successful is the continuance of resilience principles across city administrations. The implementation of solutions is a long term prospect.

Cable cars of Medellin. ©City of Medellin
For instance, implementing a new public transportation solution takes time. In Medellin the cable car system has generated very positive changes in terms of mobility but also social cohesion. In particular, it connected communities and brought increased access to education and employment,” T. Luke says.

“We have to learn to live with climate change”

T. Luke adds: “AECOM offers support not only to the 100RC cities. For instance, AECOM recently offered pro-bono support to the government of Colombia after the recent tragedy in Mocoa.” On the 1st of April, while we were in Colombia, a flash flood and landslides killed more than 300 people. It happened when heavy rains started in the region. Before the massive landslide, it rained 130mm in 3 hours, whereas the monthly average (for March) is 350mm. In our very first article, in 2011, we explained that in Colombia climate change will result in a global decrease of precipitations, but when it rains, rainfalls will bring more water than usual. This first article also explained the role of the Paramo ecosystem which serves as a natural water regulator. In that sense, the uncontrolled deforestation in the region of Mocoa is clearly exposed after the catastrophe.

Paramo of Chingaza National Park, not far from Bogota.
“The surrounding ecosystems must be rebalanced; water must be embraced,” T. Luke explains. “In 2010, there was a similar landslide in Gramalote, Norte de Santander region. AECOM helped the city to design a resilient urban plan and to adapt the new settlement. Today we are in a position to support Mocoa rethink its future. What will be done in Mocoa can serve as a model for the rest of the country.” He concludes: “The Dutch live with water! Here in Colombia, we have to learn to live with climate change and heavy rains.”

Cartagena and the ecosystemic services

In Bogota we also had the chance to meet with Felipe Gomez Villota. Again! Felipe is actually one of the first persons we met in the frame of the project One Climate One Challenge. In our first article of 2012 (Paramo mi agua), we talked about him and his previous missions at the Ministry of Environment. We met him again, 5 years later! Now he works for GIZ, a major German development agency, founded in 2011. GIZ is another organization supporting cities in adapting to climate change…

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung New York 100RC Resilient Cities Adaptation Bogota Colombia Mocoa Medellin
Meeting with Felipe!
Felipe explains that “GIZ works together with the Colombian government in order to drive projects, in multiple fields. The environmental policy and adaptation to climate change is one of the fields. Every year, the parties jointly select projects, according to the priorities of the Colombian government. Other countries provide the same kind of support via similar organizations: Norway and UK work on forests mainly, France on sustainable urbanism, Japan on technologies like satellites.”

Mangroves of Ciénaga de la Virgen, Cartagena-Colombia. ©Felipe Gómez Villota

“The ecosystems were damaged,” Felipe says. “And a city like Cartagena really needs the ecosystemic services. For instance too much of the mangroves was removed. They are natural barriers in regards to flooding in particular. We want to restore them in several places, like we want to restore vegetation in the city. The green points serve as natural water capture and storage; they also allow reloading of the aquifers. Our canals will be revitalized in order to better guide the water flows, and also reduce water speed. The City draining plan will integrate several of our recent recommendations.” Felipe concludes: “We closely work with the communities. They must be in the heart of the plan if we want to succeed.”

Cities are at the front of climate change fight, the challenge is immense, but fortunately there are plenty of motivated organizations accompanying them through adaptation!


21 April 2017

Move together

What do Beijing, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Mexico City and Islamabad have in common? One of the correct answers is: fantastic food! Another one is: a specific bus system, called BRT, for Bus Rapid Transit!

Physically dedicated road lanes, high-capacity buses

“A BRT includes road lanes which are dedicated to the buses”, Carlos says. “The system also includes boarding stations, high-capacity vehicles and automated fare collection.” Carlos Mojica is an expert in public transportation who works for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). He knows the Transmilenio system very well. Transmilenio is the BRT system of the city of Bogota, the capital of Colombia. He explains: “The IDB finances projects and provides technical support to governments of Latin American and the Caribbean to improve health, education and infrastructure including transportation.”

This is Transmilenio, the Bogota BRT! Most of the time the BRT roadways have physical separation which means cars cannot access the lines at all. On one same line, the bus number 1 may not stop at the same stations than the bus number 2.

Carlos says: “BRT systems mimic the experience of fixed guided systems such as metros. Indeed the bus system combines the large capacity and high speed of a metro. Transmilenio started in 2000; it ensures today 2.2 million trips every day!” As of end of 2016, about 34 million people use BRT worldwide every day. Latin America has the most cities with BRT systems (69 cities). 

"Public transportation also contributes to solve other issues like road safety and public health"

Carlos explains that “a city gets disconnected when local authorities do not develop public transportation. Communities get separated by the car highways and the distances. This is the case of US large cities for instance. Accident rate is high on these highways. In the US, 40 thousand people die every year on the roads. We believe cities should invest in efficient public transportation. More people using public transportation will not only improve mobility but will also contribute to solve other issues like road safety and public health.”

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Bogota BRT Bus Rapid Transit Transmilenio Emissions Transport Transportation Bus Car Tram Tramway Metro Kg CO2 eq passenger kilometer km
Here is Carlos! Yes, Frédéric has a model of
Transmilenio bus in his hands!
In several emerging countries, cities cannot afford building a metro. It is too expensive. BRT system is a very good option. Carlos says: “It provides lower cost and flexibility. And it is quicker to implement. Transmilenio is successful. An indicator of this success is that the system was replicated all around the world, in more than 100 cities! Bogota was a pioneer. It was the first large city in the world to switch to a full BRT. Today China, Indonesia, Vietnam and many others are implementing BRT systems.

The Transmilenio system has allowed decreasing the total number of buses in the streets of Bogota from 21 thousand buses to around 12 thousand. This achievement has greatly reduced pollution in the city. On the other side, Transmilenio faces a problem of over-occupancy at certain periods of the day.

The city has started to introduce hybrid buses. Bogota has the biggest fleet of hybrid buses in Latin America, with 300 buses!” Carlos concludes: “You know, low-emission engine technology is a good thing however it is also important to optimize the network in order to ensure the buses are occupied. Occupancy is key!”

Public better than electric

Engine technology, vehicle occupancy. We wanted to learn more. This is why we met with Luis! Luis Belalcazar is a researcher in “Transport and air quality”. He works for the National University (Universidad Nacional), in Bogota.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Bogota BRT Bus Rapid Transit Transmilenio Emissions Transport Transportation Bus Car Tram Tramway Metro Kg CO2 eq passenger kilometer km
We met Luis at the Universidad Nacional
of Bogota.
He says, “In Bogota, 80% of the air pollution comes from transportation. The rest of the emissions come from the industry. In March my team released a study which took us 5 years of work. In particular, it compares the transportation options in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. It takes into account the life cycle assessment of the transport: operation but also the fuel sourcing and production. Well to wheels data. We performed the study within the Colombian context: the electricity here is quite low-carbon electricity since 70% of it comes from hydro dams.

One conclusion of the study is the following: 1 person alone in an electric car emits more than 1 person in a fully-occupied diesel bus! Globally speaking, the study shows that the bus option is preferable, even if the bus is diesel-powered.” Better to use a public bus than an electric car! “Tramway systems and metro systems also emit less,” Luis says. “In an update of the study, the impact of the vehicle manufacturing will be integrated. It will further promote public transportation.”

He adds: “Our bus occupancy must improve. It is very important a bus does not go empty. Also a next step for Bogota Transmilenio would be to get more hybrid or gas buses. Gas is much better than standard gasoline or diesel. Its combustion releases less carbon, and it releases much less particles which are dangerous for the health.” Better for the health, better for the climate, let’s take this bus or this tramway!

Range of emissions per Kilometer, per passenger. Extract from Luis’s study. ©Cuellar et al.
The data does not include the construction of the vehicles. The buses are considered fully occupied (right side of the bar) or with 25% over-occupancy (left side). The cars are considered to go with the driver only, which is common in a daily use (right side of the bar), or full occupancy (left side).
Luis says: “Electric buses are a very good option. The figures for metro and tramway systems should be lower than diesel bus.”
A study, by Carbone 4 and Alstom, says that a tramway system emits about 50 percent less than a diesel BRT system (whole lifecycle including construction and operation).


31 March 2017

Techs and the city

In lots of regions around the world, the city of the future will be dense and vertical. The city of Houston, Texas, is the opposite of this vision. Like several of the big cities in the US, Houston is a widely spread city. It will take time for the Texan city to transform, if it ever transforms. There, the American Dream is still to own a big house and a big car. And spending two hours a day in the big car does not seem to be a major concern for the Texans.


However “if a house has to be built, I want it to be a very high quality house which will last for decades,” Scott says. Scott Frankel is the Co-President of Frankel Building Group, a design and build construction company founded by his father. The company is the leading green home builder in Houston.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
Every year the US National Association of Home Builders gives away a BIG award, a Best In Green Young Professional of the Year. It recognizes the work of a young professional who make the building industry more green and sustainable. Scott won the award last year in 2016. We had the chance to meet him in his office, in western Houston. The office is full of the awards the construction company won in the past.

Scott explains: “To me, green first means durable. This is what the company thinks: it is wrong to build a house which will fall into ruin after only 15 years. It is wrong for the environment and it is wrong for the image of the company! And you know, the weather here is tropical; it can be very hot and very humid during summer. The constructions are having a hard time! They face extreme conditions, the degradation is fast.

There are hundreds of different materials which you can use to build. One needs to choose those materials correctly and the construction can last much longer, and save energy every day. This is what we do. We are continuously surveilling technological innovation. We are constantly learning. I regularly spend time in class!” Scott adds: “Furthermore we want to limit as much as possible our impact during construction, through environmentally-friendly methods. Also our construction mistake indicator is low; we almost never redo.”


“Since 2009, we have worked closely with our suppliers to choose the right elements and raise the quality,” Scott says. “An example is our insulation technologies. Firstly, efficient insulation will protect the structure and the inside of the house from humidity, preventing degradation. It also makes the inside air healthiest. Secondly, good insulation saves lots of energy!” Scoot took us to one of his houses under construction. He showed us the insulation technology which was used, the Zip System sheathing. The layered sheathing is composed of engineered wood on the outside and foam on the inside. The wood comes from local sustainable forestry. “The system goes with a 30-year warranty,” Scott says. Durable! Globally speaking, wood is a very good option for the structure of not-so-large buildings. Wood is biodegradable, it has good longevity and it insulates better than concrete.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
The Zip System, by Huber. ©Huber

Heating or cooling a building can represent up to 60% of its energy consumption. Efficient insulation can dramatically reduce this consumption. In France for instance, estimations say 20 million homes are not well insulated. These last years, the country has put into place incentives in order to accelerate thermal renovation works. It is expected that these renovation works of old buildings and houses can divide by 4 the energy consumption related to heating. This is probably the France's biggest challenge in regards to their transition to a low-carbon society.

Glass (or glass wool) insulation material is a sustainable natural material. In particular it can be made from recycled glass. It is thermally efficient and it can be chemical free. Brands are for instance: EcoBatt, Foamglas and Isover. In Paris, the recently built Louis Vuitton Foundation is insulated with Foamglas technology. ©EcoBatt/Foamglas

“Another example is the high quality windows and doors which we install,” Scott adds. “Our double-paned windows are filled with argon gas, which improves insulation. They are very resistant and mechanically robust: we won’t need to change them before a very long time!” The Manager concludes: “We continuously have around 40 houses under construction. Thanks to large volumes, we manage to offer houses with similar prices than our competitors, but with higher quality and durability. We industrialize, we standardize.” The existing technologies may not be environmentally perfect but they show the path to sustainable construction.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
Despite the humid local weather, the structure of the house we visited is made of wood. Wood is an environmentally friendly material. Excellent insulation ensures its protection.

Why will the city of the future be denser and more vertical? Because it will mean less greenhouse gases emissions. More vertical city means residential buildings instead of individual houses. Some researchers even declare that the city of the future must be made only of massive skyscrapers. A truly vertical city. The key purpose is to get the homes, the offices, the schools, the shops closer together. Dense and vertical cities reduce transportation distances, thus emissions. People can walk more, or use their bike. The concept of Central Business District (CBD) should disappear: a large city should have several business districts. People can live closer to their workplace.

A concept of vertical city, in Singapore, by WOHA. ©WOHA

In addition a dense and vertical city reduces the need for roads and decrease air pollution. It gives space to parks and preserves arable land around the city; food can be more local. It also makes the inhabitants of a district feel part of a community. This is complicated sometimes in a spread out city like Houston. A dense city facilitates sharing economy. And lots of studies show that sharing economy must grow in the future in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry. We can share cars, bikes, washing machines or electric drills. We do not necessarily need to own one. There is one Earth only; we must learn to share.

©Vertical City

Taking off from Houston!


17 March 2017

Hawaii in search of resilience

Hawaii Sea Level Rise Resilience Adaptation Flood Sydney One Climate One Challenge Meza GheungResilience. It looks like the title of a science-fiction movie! It could be one day. For sure it is today a term which is used more and more when talking about the city of the future. What does resilience mean? In biology, the resilience is the capability of an ecosystem or specie to confront a shock and to return to normal after it. As for cities, the definition is quite the same; the shocks being social, economic or… climatic. 


“Beaches are a great public resource here,” Samuel says. Samuel Lemmo is the Administrator of the Hawaiian Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. “One of my key missions deals with coastal ecosystems, communities, and all issues related to our coastlines. Lots of people live in coastal areas in Hawaii. Erosion is already a massive problem. We also experience large-scale flooding in the low‐lying areas of the State. Climate changes and sea level rise are one of our main concerns.”

Hawaii Sea Level Rise Resilience Adaptation Flood Sydney One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung
Samuel’s Office is part of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“In 2014, when by law a Hawaii Climate Adaptation Initiative was launched, it was decided that the lead agency would be my office,” Samuel explains. “Quickly I suggested starting a major job: prepare and release a report about sea level rise and Hawaii. We must make our home more resilient! Hawaii is the only island State of the US. Since the beginning of 20th century, the sea level has risen by more than 17cm. The report is a vulnerability and adaptation report. It aims at preparing us for future sea level rise and presenting recommendations to reduce our exposure to the hazards like erosion and flooding.

The Report will include the economic impact on structures, properties or natural resources. Displacing of the communities or relocation of roads will also be assessed. We want to use case studies to better explain the scenarios; we want the recommendations to be presented creatively and tactfully so that people do read them and understand them.”


“Around ten people work on the preparation of the special report, not only from Conservation and Coastal Lands Office but also from the University of Hawaii School of Ocean Earth and Technology,” Samuel says. “Our local research aims to enhancing our assessments of how Hawaii will be impacted in regards to sea level rise. Our models should be a nice scientific contribution! Indeed they go further than what is usually performed. Traditionally modeling sea level rise has consisted only in projecting to the land the elevation of the sea. We go further. We add three additional parameters: erosion of the coast, passive inundation and annual high wave flooding. In regards to erosion, for instance, we input soil maps and geological data to model erosion effects.” Water spreads differently in contact with sand, volcanic porous rock or hard rock.

On the right, an illustration of passive inundation. Water can come from the ground! Especially if the ground is porous. Florida experiences the phenomenon, they call it sunny day flooding. ©Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands

“We have coral reefs here. They serve as a physical barrier. Well, if the level goes up, energy of the waves will not be stopped anymore, which means we will receive more powerful waves. They will go further landward.” Globally speaking, concerning changes in water-masses and air-masses, it is very complex for scientists to imagine all the induced consequences. Samuel concludes: “With the information, decision makers will be able to better prepare and better response. The report should be available end of this year.”


When we were in Sydney, Australia, we had the chance to meet with Kristin Gabriel who is the Manager of the Resilient Sydney project, for the City of Sydney. She could explain us that “Sydney joined the 100 Resilient Cities initiative in 2015.” The initiative, started by the Rockefeller Foundation, helps cities around the world becoming more resilient. “We identify two categories of disruption. First, chronic stresses refer to constant issues. It can be social cohesion or housing prices for instance. In Sydney, public transportation is an example of permanent concern. Some people are geographically disconnected from the city center because public transportation is not satisfactory there. This deficiency also affects the social cohesion and equality.

Hawaii Sea Level Rise Resilience Adaptation Flood Sydney One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung
Kristin and Carolina.
Secondly we distinguish the acute shocks which refer to sudden events that threaten a city such as fires, floods or disease outbreaks. In the case of Sydney, extreme heat waves are the number one cause of deaths. Also we consider other climate extremes like storms and floods.” Sydney and Honolulu, Hawaii, are member cities in the 100 Resilient Cities network. We visited or will visit several others during our 2016/2017 trip: Singapore, Melbourne, Wellington, Christchurch and New York City.

A pumping station of Miami Beach. ©City of Miami Beach, Greg Allen/NP

During the last decade, Florida had to deal with more and more floods and storms. Miami has started to adapt: the city builds higher streets, advanced drainage systems and water pumping stations. The city solutions inspire others, not only in order to face sea level rise, but also to face heavy rainfalls which will be more frequent in lots of regions around the world. In New York City, the Dryline, or BIG U, project consists in constructing a high-water barrier, protecting Manhattan from the rising waters. Year after year, the Big Apple experiences both stronger hurricanes and stronger snow storms. As we said in our previous article, in few decades the climate will have changed. In lots of cities around the world, the adaptation transformation has begun.

Hawaii Sea Level Rise Resilience Adaptation Flood Sydney One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung
An elevated house, in Houston, Texas.
A nice chart presenting adaptation technologies for coastal areas, according to the Asian Development Bank. ©Asian Development Bank, 2014
Hawaii Sea Level Rise Resilience Adaptation Flood Sydney One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung
Getting prepared for our meeting with Kristin, at City of Sydney Town Hall!