Circular economy of textiles – Easy, and yet so difficult

The apparel industry has experienced radical transformations throughout the years. Thirty years ago trends and consumer demand were forecast long before consumers purchased the garments, and the production was planned and sized accordingly [1]. In the late 1980s, the industry developed a global infrastructure that emphasized quick response to consumer demand through reduced lead times and low costs. Fast fashion was born.

During the last 20 years, the price of clothing has fallen and the number of imported pieces of clothing has increased. In the US, apparel prices were on average 10% lower in 2005 than in 1998 [4]. Globally since the year 2000, the amount of clothing sold has doubled, and the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36% [5]. From 1975, the global production of textile fibers has increased by a staggering 280%. This is a 4-fold increase. The raw materials, such as cotton, are becoming scarce or unsustainable to produce.

We live in an era of ‘excessive accumulation’ of clothing [4]. As the closet space is finite, some of that excess has to be discarded. In Finland, people and organizations discard approximately 72 million kilograms of textile waste annually. This is 13 kg per citizen [2].

There is a problem to be solved. The solution is a circular economy of textiles.

graafi_tekstile

Circular economy model of textiles [2].

In the Relooping Fashion project, a model was conceptualized based on the operations that a circular business ecosystem for textiles would include. The inner circle is about reviving old apparel maintenance skills and practices: repairing and reusing clothes and textiles. However, it is unclear if this truly decreases the consumption of virgin clothing and textiles.

If reuse of clothing is not possible, its material can be reused

The outer circles of the model include all the industrial processes and logistics required to recycle textile materials, either chemically or mechanically, to textile yarn, fabric and again to clothes. The overall goal is to maintain the value of materials as high as possible, with minimum environmental impact. VTT has innovated new processes through which textiles can be produced from wood or discarded cotton clothing.

As the circular textile economy model suggests, the way forward is, in theory, relatively straight. We know what the elements are. We have to create value from waste, emphasize functionality over ownership, and create sufficiency-based resource use [2].

Are these shifts already happening? Yes they are.

VTT is coordinating the Telaketju project, which aims to create a comprehensive collection, sorting and refining system for end-of-life textiles in Finland. There is considerable drive and enthusiasm in the group. Similar circular economy initiatives are being set up in most countries.

Is the shift happening fast and profoundly enough?

Is it possible to create a circular economy within the current linear economy? These are much more complicated questions.

The world has streamlined its linear production systems for decades. These processes rely on virgin raw materials. This is why it is important to intensively develop technologies to utilize recycled materials. However, technologies as such are not enough. Reorganization should happen at mental, structural and economic levels.

One of the main challenges is that value is not evenly divided in the current value chains, as discussed in [2]. Farmers and manufacturers bear the environmental and social costs in the form of toxic chemicals, inhuman working conditions, and lack of water, while the brand owners and consumers reap the profits and cheap garments.

Consumer demand is the momentum for change

The current idea is that consumers should start demanding that fashion brands take responsibility, and of course they should. Alongside consumer demand, there is also a large number of political and legislative tools, such as raising recycling targets, stringent waste legislation, labeling schemes on products, rules for public procurement and so on, which can be used to turn the ship.

However, all the above are partial solutions emerging from the current state of affairs. I believe that there should be a mechanism throughout the economy that would favor circularity over linear throughput. This in-bedded mechanism would drive the circular economy in the right direction. This is the place where we need profound innovation, as there are no working solutions yet.

Nonetheless, we have a firm intention, which is the first step of any transformation. The actions will follow.

 

paunonen
Sara Paunonen
Senior Scientist
sara.paunonen(a)vtt.fi

 

Literature:
[1] Bhardwaj, V. & Fairhurst, A., 2010, Fast fashion: response to changes in the fashion industry. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 20(1).
[2] Fontell and Heikkilä, 2017, Model for Circular Business Ecosystem for Textiles, VTT Technology 313.
[3] Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/263154/worldwide-production-volume-of-textile-fibers-since-1975/
[4] Schor, J.B, 2005, Prices and quantities: Unsustainable consumption and the global economy, Ecological Economics, 55(3), 309-320.
[5] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, pp, 150.

Tekstiilien kiertotalous – Helppoa vai vaikeaa?

Tekstiiliteollisuus muuttunut paljon vuosikymmenien varrella. Kolmekymmentä vuotta sitten tuotannonsuunnittelu ja mitoitus perustui trendeihin ja kulutuskysyntään, jotka ennakoitiin kauan ennen kuin kuluttajat lopulta ostivat vaatteita [1]. 1980-luvun lopulla teollisuus kehitti maailmanlaajuisen infrastruktuurin, jolla tavoiteltiin nopeaa reagointia kuluttajien kysyntään lyhyiden toimitusaikojen ja alhaisten kustannusten kautta. Pikamuoti (fast fashion) syntyi.

Viimeisten 20 vuoden aikana vaatteiden hinta on laskenut ja tuontivaatteiden määrä lisääntynyt. Yhdysvalloissa vaatteiden hinnat olivat vuonna 2005 keskimäärin 10 prosenttia pienemmät kuin vuonna 1998 [4]. Maailmanlaajuisesti vuodesta 2000 lähtien myytyjen vaatteiden määrä on kaksinkertaistunut, ja vaatteen käyttökertojen määrä on vähentynyt 36 prosenttia [5]. Vuodesta 1975 tekstiilikuitujen maailmanlaajuinen tuotanto on kasvanut huikealla 280 prosentilla. Lisäys on nelinkertainen. Samalla luonnonkuitujen, kuten puuvillan, tuotanto ei enää riitä täyttämään kysyntää.

Elämme vaatteiden “liiallisen kertymisen” aikakautta [4]. Kun kerran kaappitila on äärellinen, osa ylimäärästä on hävitettävä. Suomessa ihmiset ja organisaatiot tuottavat noin 72 miljoonaa kiloa poistotekstiiliä vuosittain. Tämä on 13 kiloa jokaista suomalaista kohden [2].

Käsissämme on ongelma, joka pitää ratkaista. Tämä ratkaisu on tekstiilien kiertotalous.
graafi_tekstile

 

Tekstiilien kiertotalous -projektissa luotiin malli siitä, mitä toimintoja ja vaiheita toimiva tekstiilien kiertotalous kattaisi. Sisäkehällä on kyse vanhojen kunnon vaatehuoltotaitojen elvyttämisestä, eli vaatteiden ja tekstiilien korjauksesta ja uudelleenkäytöstä. On kuitenkin epävarmaa, vähentääkö tämä todella tekstiilituotteiden kulutusta.

Jos vaatteiden uudelleenkäyttö ei ole mahdollista, niiden materiaali voidaan käyttää uudelleen

Mallin ulkokehä sisältää kaikki ne teolliset prosessit ja logistiikan, jolla tekstiiliaines kierrätetään joko kemiallisesti tai mekaanisesti tekstiililangaksi, kankaaksi ja jälleen vaatteeksi. Tavoitteena on ylläpitää materiaalien arvo niin korkealla kuin mahdollista ja ympäristövaikutukset niin pieninä kuin mahdollista. VTT on kehittänyt teknologioita, joilla tekstiiliä voidaan tuottaa puusta tai käytöstä poistetuista puuvillatekstiileistä.

Tekstiilien kiertotalousmalli viitoittaa suunnan, joka on teoriassa suhteellisen selvä. Tiedämme, mitä elementtejä tarvitaan. Meidän on luotava arvoa jätteestä, korostettava omistamisen sijaan käyttöarvoa ja tavoiteltava tehokkuuden sijaan käyttöä, joka takaa resurssien riittävyyden [2].

Ovatko nämä muutokset jo tapahtumassa? Kyllä ne ovat.

VTT koordinoi Telaketju-hanketta, jonka tavoitteena on edistää poistotekstiilien keräys-, lajittelu- ja jalostusverkoston kehittymistä Suomessa. Ryhmässä on huomattavan innostunut ilmapiiri. Useimmissa maissa on meneillään vastaavanlaisia kiertotaloushankkeita.

Onko siirtyminen tapahtumassa riittävän nopeasti?

Onko mahdollista siirtyä kiertotalouteen nykyisen lineaarisen talouden lähtökohdista? Nämä ovat paljon monimutkaisempia kysymyksiä.

Lineaarisia tuotantojärjestelmiä on hiottu vuosikymmenien ajan. Nämä prosessit perustuvat neitseellisten raaka-aineiden hyödyntämiseen. Tämän vuoksi on varsin tärkeää kehittää teknologioita nimenomaan kierrätettyjen materiaalien hyödyntämiseen raaka-aineena. Teknologiat eivät kuitenkaan sellaisinaan riitä. Muutosta tulee tapahtua niin henkisellä, rakenteellisella kuin taloudellisellakin tasolla.

Yksi isoimmista haasteista on se, että kustannukset ja hyödyt eivät ole tasaisesti jakautuneet nykyisissä arvoketjuissa ja -verkostoissa [2]. Viljelijät ja valmistajat kärsivät myrkyllisten kemikaalien, epäinhimillisten työolojen ja veden puutteen aiheuttamista haitoista, kun taas brändin omistajat ja kuluttajat hyötyvät voitoista ja halvoista vaatteista.

Kuluttajat vauhdittavat muutosta

Vallalla olevan ajattelun mukaan kuluttajien on vaadittava yrityksiltä ja tuotteilta vastuullisuutta, ja ohjattava markkinoita valinnoillaan. Ja näin tietysti on. Kuluttajien kysynnän lisäksi on olemassa lukuisia poliittisia ja lainsäädännöllisiä välineitä tilanteen muuttamiseksi, kuten kierrätystavoitteiden nostaminen, jätehuollon vaatimukset, tuotteiden merkintäjärjestelmät, julkisten hankintojen säädökset ja niin edelleen.

Kaikki edellä mainitut ovat kuitenkin osittaisia, nykytilasta käsin luotuja ratkaisuja. Uskon, että koko taloudessa pitäisi olla mekanismi, joka suosisi kiertotaloutta lineaarisen tuotannon ja talouden kustannuksella. Tämä sisään valettu mekanismi ajaisi kiertotaloutta moottorin tavoin oikeaan suuntaan, esimerkiksi arvon tasaisempaan jakautumiseen ja resurssien riittävyyteen. Tässä kohdin tarvitsemme innovaatiota, koska toimivaa moottoria ei vielä ole.

Olemme kuitenkin päättäneet ryhtyä toimeen, mikä on kaikkien muutosten ensimmäinen vaihe. Tarkoituksenmukaiset toimenpiteet kyllä seuraavat.

paunonen
Sara Paunonen
Senior Scientist
sara.paunonen(a)vtt.fi

 

Viitteet:
[1] Bhardwaj, V. & Fairhurst, A., 2010, Fast fashion: response to changes in the fashion industry. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 20(1).
[2] Fontell and Heikkilä, 2017, Model for Circular Business Ecosystem for Textiles, VTT Technology 313.
[3] Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/263154/worldwide-production-volume-of-textile-fibers-since-1975/
[4] Schor, J.B, 2005, Prices and quantities: Unsustainable consumption and the global economy, Ecological Economics, 55(3), 309-320.
[5] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, pp, 150.

What is your handprint? Spread a positive message about environmental impacts

 

Environmental impacts play a key role in business nowadays, both in product design and communications on business activities. These are traditionally measured using quantities, such as emissions and resource consumption, which companies try to minimise. However, our activities can also have a positive impact on the environment.

Aiming for a smaller customer footprint

The calculation of footprints and their use in product design, B2B and B2C communications, and in support of strategic decision-making, are now established in industry. This is a good thing. An approach based on life cycle thinking is important to avoiding sub-optimisation and seeing the wider, overall impact of solutions. The inclusion of impact assessments in the product development phase, in particular, has markedly increased the market share of products that are more environmentally friendly than their predecessors. Decisive choices are made during the product design phase, on issues such as raw materials, production processes and recyclability. Each phase consumes energy and resources and either directly or indirectly generates various types of emissions and waste resulting an environmental footprint.

Many companies are already seeking to reduce their own footprint. At the same time, more and more companies are developing products or processes aimed at reducing the footprint of the customer’s product or service. In such cases, their activities also have a positive environmental impact.

Let’s take an example: Company X develops a more energy-efficient solution than its competitors and launches it on the market. A carbon handprint is created when another actor applies this solution and thereby reduces its own footprint. However, measuring – and communicating on – the related impact has so far been difficult, and companies have been in sore need of a solution.

Environmental handprint can now be calculated

VTT has accepted the challenge: it is developing a carbon handprint calculation method, as well as guidelines on positive environmental impact assessment and communications, alongside Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT).

A carbon handprint can be created in many ways, such as through lower material and energy consumption, reduced emissions and waste, or improved product performance and lifetimes. To ensure that the method takes account of the range of various handprint-forming , methodological development is conducted in cooperation with a group of companies.

Case studies include AM Finland, Biolan, Innofive, KONE, Neste, Nokia and Paptic. We also cooperate with the international organisations involved in developing the handprint concept. These include the CSCP in Germany (which operates in association with the Wuppertal) and Harvard University in the USA.

However, VTT and LUT are working at a more tangible level; we intend to publish the first practical handprint guidebook next summer. Companies can use this to evaluate and communicate on the positive environmental impacts of their products.

”When you go to work for a company, you want to work in a company that is making the world better place”
Al Gore at SLUSH2017.

For more information: http://www.vtt.fi/sites/handprint

tiina_pajula_
Tiina Pajula
Principal Scientist, VTT
tiina.pajula(a)vtt.fi

 

 

saija_vatanen


Saija Vatanen

Senior Scientist, VTT
saija.vatanen(a)vtt.fi

Sustainability assessment requires cooperation along the life cycle – Knowledge exchange benefits all actors

Sustainability assessment addresses the interlinkages between economic, environmental, and social dimensions. These questions can be challenging but we have to try our best, as there is an urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce material and energy consumption, and to promote a more even distribution of well-being globally. In order to make it happen, it is also necessary to consider the economic impacts.

Sustainability assessment tackles concrete questions related to measuring the impacts of products and services

Sustainability assessment is a topical and sometimes tricky question for multinational companies. Within the European process industries, life cycle-based sustainability assessment methods are commonly used to tackle internal and external questions related to the environmental impacts of products and technologies, and for the purposes of product development.

Although a lot of information about the manufacturing processes is collected on a regular basis, gathering and tailoring this information for the purposes of a carbon footprint or a water footprint might require a lot of manual work, sometimes even detective skills.

Life cycle assessment is a well-established method for sustainability assessment

Life cycle assessment evaluates the environmental impacts of a product covering the whole life cycle, from raw material acquisition to recycling or disposal. The aim of this comprehensive approach is to avoid shifting environmental impacts from one life cycle stage to another. Currently, the use of life cycle assessment is emphasized within European Environmental Policy. Life cycle thinking is also at the core of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan.

Current practices and future development needs related to use of life cycle-based sustainability assessment methods in process industries were studied within the SAMT project.[1] The findings of the project reveal that life cycle-based assessment methods are considered useful and important for addressing different kinds of questions related to the sustainability of products and services. There is also a growing need for and interest in integrating the principles of sustainability assessment and life cycle thinking within daily decision-making processes.

SAMT vision 2030

Figure 1. SAMT vision for future sustainability assessment was created in an open project workshop as cooperation between researchers and industrial experts.[2]

Assessment methods and tools need to be adapted to the evolving needs of users

The forerunner companies have already made a lot of efforts to integrate environmental goals within all their activities. Yet in order to make it more practical and widespread, there is room for further development of the methods and supporting tools. One of the bottlenecks currently hindering the wider use of these methods is the availability of high-quality data. Most companies can, with some effort, acquire information about their own processes, but a common challenge is handling the processes taking place either upstream or downstream of their own activities.

New data-needs arise every time a new topic enters the sustainability agenda: While dedicated databases for addressing environmental aspects are already available, there is a growing need for social and economic data.

Cooperation is required for data acquisition – and for dealing with technical challenges

Including the preceding and subsequent life cycle stages and processes is usually of crucial importance in making a reliable assessment. In practice, this requires receiving more or less detailed input–output data from suppliers and customers. Available life cycle databases may provide some help here, but not all the required data is necessarily found from the databases.

Additionally, compiling data acquired from different sources usually requires a lot of manual work and modifications, which is slow and increases costs and the risk of errors. Challenges may also occur due to the technical incompatibility of different data formats and software versions. Thus, expertise in sustainability might not be enough – extra support from technical experts might be needed.

Sharing creates learning

Improved understanding of the product life cycle is useful to all actors: increasing material or energy consumption may sometimes be reasonable at the beginning of the life cycle if these choices enable lighter processes in the subsequent life cycle stages.

The experience gained in the SAMT project pointed out that discussion and sharing of experiences and learning between actors who deal with similar questions is inspiring and may help solve some of the challenges faced. While there are differences between the needs of individual sectors and companies, many of the practical bottlenecks are common to all actors. Discussions with suppliers and other members of the value chain was one of the good practices recommended for data collection.[3]

Different technical solutions may also be found for sharing confidential data either directly or in an aggregated form. However, there is also a clear need for new tools or technical solutions for collecting, handling, and sharing data.

Why bother?

The SAMT project reveals that although no perfect method or tool for sustainability assessment currently exists, existing methods are already capable of addressing many aspects of sustainability, and providing useful information to support decision-making in different contexts. Sustainability assessment is a process that is never completely finished, but along the way it provides us with important information to guide our actions.[4]

Sustainability researchers and method developers are encouraged to consider user perspectives and the practical issues faced when implementing the methods and tools in practice. These include the need to operate with limited data and resources. Industrialists are encouraged to be active in testing available methods and tools, in sharing their experiences, and discussing with stakeholders so as to increase knowledge of relevant sustainability aspects within and across value chains.

  • See more details and proposals for concrete actions from our summary report.
  • European Sustainable Development Week (ESDW) takes place every year from May 30 until 5 June. ESDW is a European-wide initiative to stimulate and make visible activities, projects, and events that promote sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Hanna Pihkola VTT

Hanna Pihkola
Research Scientist

[1] SAMT project received funding from the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, under grant agreement no. 636727. The work was supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) under contract number 15.006.

[2] See: https://www.spire2030.eu/sites/default/files/users/user355/SAMT_D3.3_final.pdf

[3] Read more from our project deliverable.

[4] For more information, see our project deliverables D2.1 & D2.2.

Beware of greenwash! Reliable indicators exist for sustainable innovations

Now, at the beginning of Sustainable Development Week, is the ideal time to recount how we can best ensure the sustainability of innovations and projects. Companies can unintentionally slide into greenwashing which, in today’s business environment, can jeopardise an entire innovation breakthrough. Scientifically approved methods of assessing sustainability help firms to communicate transparently on environmental impacts.

The rise in temperatures is forecast to accelerate most in the northern hemisphere’s land areas during winter. According to some estimates, current emission trends will lead to warming by up to six degrees in Helsinki. Few Finns are enthused by a vision which sees us ‘enjoying’ temperatures hovering around zero from October to May. Only the light levels will distinguish April from December. And this is the most minor of issues compared to the effects of global warming on world food production, water sufficiency, the distribution of insects and plants, health-related problems and other issues related to extreme phenomena.

The challenge is huge but action is being taken

The mitigation of greenhouse gases and taking other action promoting sustainable development are now among the key strategic objectives of more and more states and companies. A total of 17 international objectives are listed in the UN’s sustainable development action plan for Agenda 2030. These goals include global themes such as clean water and sustainable production. The aim is to limit the global average temperature rise to a maximum of two degrees, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.

During European Sustainable Development Week, we will explore the theme of the aforementioned Agenda 2030. Finland is implementing the programme in a number of ways. You can make your own commitment to take action via the Prime Minister’s Office, and challenge others to do so.

Companies still ahead of governments in taking practical actions

Innovation and risk-taking are more effective than regulation. Change is accelerating via the circular economy, cleantech and the bio economy, in which VTT is playing a major role as a developer of solutions. However, it is easy to be misled, since not all businesses that increase recycling or use biomaterials are sustainable. The processing of side and waste streams for reuse or the manufacture of biomaterials can require complex and energy-consuming processes, energy-intensive or harmful chemicals, or long transportations, and the availability of raw materials is not always guaranteed. A growing group of stakeholders, including national leaders, financiers and corporate customers are becoming more interested in environmental and social impacts alongside economic issues.

How is sustainability measured?

Science-based indicators are needed when assessing and communicating on the real impact of products and business models. These indicators include life cycle and system-based methods of measuring environmental impacts, such as LCA (life cycle assessment), which examines the overall effects. This approach ensures that sub optimisation does not lead to the shifting of problems from one part of the value chain to another, or exchanging them for others. It also enables us to communicate transparently on the impacts and avoid greenwashing.

LCA is already widely required in product development and communications. The next Horizon PPP-SPIRE call demands the transparent sustainability assessment for all projects, based on life cycle thinking and the most standardised methods possible. The European Commission is preparing an LCA-based guide for calculating product environmental footprints, or PEFs, in order to create an internal market for green products. The Commission recommends the future use of the footprint when measuring the environmental impact of products and in corporate communications.

Companies using LCA in product development will benefit at the customer interface, where responsibility has become a key issue and knowledge of the entire supply chain is important. For example, such companies find it easier to participate in the newest way of demonstrating corporate responsibility, the Science Based Target (SBT) initiative, and to define emission reductions in their operations accordingly. Targets under the SBT initiative are based on the emission reductions set by the Paris Convention on Climate Change and require consideration of the entire value chain. Almost 300 companies are committed.

Handprint as well as footprint

A range of indicators are needed for different situations and industries, to ensure that account is taken of the key aspects of sustainability. For over 20 years, VTT’s experts have been pioneers in developing LCA-based assessment methods and indicators. These methods are being developed further as information and the need for it increases. For example, we are launching a so-called handprint alongside various kinds of footprint. Due to their manufacturing processes, all products have an impact on the environment, i.e., a footprint, which should be minimised. In addition, many products can be used to reduce the environmental load elsewhere (e.g., water treatment chemicals), in which case the product also has a positive environmental impact. To enable the measurement and communication of such impacts, VTT has begun a Tekes development project to define an environmental handprint.

We are applying sustainability assessment methods to evaluating solutions at the product development stage, as well as finished products and their development potential. We will be delighted to help you if you are seeking the right indicators and intend to refine them for a clearer view of sustainable development.

Further reading:

Tiina Pajula VTT

Tiina Pajula
Principal Scientist

Energy efficiency is the key component of sustainable development in cities

miimu_airaksinen

The UN Habitat New Urban Agenda was released a few weeks in Quito, Equador. The task to write a new urban agenda has not been easy, given that pre-conditions and interests are different in different UN countries. At the same time, there is an urgent need to act in favour of sustainable development in cities.

The striking fact is that urban settlements covers roughly 2.7% of the surface area of the globe, but consume 70% of resources and hence produces 75% of CO2 emissions. Moreover, we face many challenges if we are to transform our cities into healthy, safe and comfortable living and working areas.

Starting from these pre-conditions, the New Urban Agenda for the first time highlights the importance of energy. As is well-known, energy production is the main source of CO2 emissions and air quality problems in cities. Energy is needed in cities for transport, heating, cooling, lighting as well as for water and sanitary systems. We also need energy to run equipment and appliances. To transform ourselves into low carbon society, we need to de-carbonise our energy production, but also, very importantly, we need to use energy more efficiently. Energy that does not need to be produced is the most environmental friendly. Energy efficiency is not only beneficial in preventing pollution but is also a key component for resilient cities. Energy efficiency entails reducing overall demand and more importantly reducing peak demand. In combination with smart technologies, demand can be controlled based on self-learning and adaptive algorithms to reduce and shift the demand even more efficiently without compromising users’ well-being, but rather in ways that can also further enhance well-being.

Smart cities and efficient resources

In addition to energy, the concept of smart cities was for the first time raised onto the agenda. The concept of smart cities is quite unique, since it is applicable both to industrialised cities/districts and to developing economies. The benefit of smart cities is that by using easy-to-install and adaptable sensors and self-learning control algorithms, existing infrastructure can be made more efficient. Moreover, new methods allow for generating urban services more efficiently in developing countries, without heavy and costly infrastructure requirements. Good examples for this are the implementation of renewable energy sources for cities and communities. In addition, smart communications enable citizen engagement and ownership within their own living areas, which evidently improves the perceived living quality and attractiveness of the area.

Smart systems enable us to use our resources more efficiently. This can be done by using and combining data from different sources. Currently, in modern buildings, there are typically over 20 000 data points, and hence in cities there exists an unimaginable amount of data; it is evident that no-one has the capacity to process all the data. We need, therefore, smart self-learning and predictive systems to make the most of the data available. One of the leading principles in smart cities is to enrich data to create meaningful information that supports our decision-making and helps in making our everyday lives run smoothly and that helps us to achieve environmental sustainability. More importantly, this saves time for the most important things in our lives.

Miimu Airaksinen
Research Professor
UN Habitat Policy Unit 9

Miimu Airaksinen was nominated in 2015 as an expert for the United Nations Policy Unit 9 on Urban Services and Technology to prepare the UN urbanization strategy.

Twitter: @MiimuAiraksinen