10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Become More Eco-Friendly

Abby Chung

Today, 55% of people live in urban areas, and this number is expected to grow to 68% by 2050. The unfortunate reality about these incredibly important areas is that they are seldom constructed thoughtfully — cities account for 78% of global energy usage and produce over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam have done phenomenal jobs turning their cities into vessels for eco-friendly change. In this article, we’ll be looking into how cities can adapt to the current issue of sustainability and climate change to help create a safer planet.

The 10 Ways We Can Reduce Urban Pollution (Plus a Bonus Method)

Here is a brief list of the various methods we can incorporate to reduce pollution and energy consumption in urban areas:

  1. Bike Infrastructure
    2. Green Roofs
    3. LED Lights
    4. Heat Pumps
    5. Smart Windows
    6. Smart Thermostats
    7. District Heating
    8. Landfill Methane
    9. Insulation
    10. Water Distribution
    11. Building Automation (Bonus)

Bike Infrastructure

Tomi Vadász

Bike infrastructure has been getting lots of attention in recent years, and for a good reason. Rob Penn, a British columnist, wrote the following about bikes:

“The bicycle can be ridden, on a reasonable surface, at four or five times the pace of walking, with the same amount of effort — making it the most efficient, self-powered means of transportation ever invented.”

Nearly 30% of total pollution comes from automobiles, but this number can be greatly reduced by creating improved bike infrastructure.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 2.31 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $400.5 Billion in Net Savings

Green Roofs


Green roofs are not only beautiful to look at but are incredibly beneficial for the environment. Green roofs allow carbon emissions in the area to be absorbed by the plant life, improving air quality and curbing climate change.

An additional benefit of green roofs is that the soil and vegetation used for green roofs also act as insulation to help regulate the temperature of a building, reducing energy costs in the process.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 0.77 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $988.5 Billion in Net Savings

LED Lighting


LED (light-emitting diode) lights have become a popular choice because they are longer-lasting and 80% more energy efficient than standard fluorescent and incandescent lights.

An additional benefit is that the maintenance costs of LED lights are lower than standard lighting, making it especially common in urban areas where the majority of lights are located.

Project Drawdown Estimate By 2050:
- 7.81 Gigatons (Household) and 5.04 (Commercial) of CO² Reduced
- $1.73 (Household) and $1.09 (Commercial) Trillion in Net Savings

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are a device that transfers thermal energy between spaces. These devices have become more popular due to them requiring just 33% of the energy that a typical electric heater would use.

If heat pumps could be powered by renewable resources such as solar or hydropower, the technology would produce virtually all emissions. This technology is currently a bit more expensive but is sure to become a more familiar sight in the coming years.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 5.2 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $1.55 Trillion in Net Savings

Smart Glass


Smart glass is an innovative glass that allows lights in or tints glass based on the amount of light outside. By tinting the sun during the day, heat cannot make its way into the building, reducing air-conditioning costs. Conversely, the light will be allowed into the building at night when light is minimal.

This addition can reduce air-conditioning costs by as much as 30% on hot days. The only barrier to entry for this technology is that the initial cost of an installment is higher than many are willing to pay.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 2.19 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $325.1 Billion in Net Savings

Smart Thermostats


The European Commission found that maintenance of buildings accounts for half of the European Union’s energy use. Smart thermostats, internet-based thermostats that give users control through phones and computers, can help with this issue.

Smart thermostats allow users to adjust their temperatures for certain times of the day, and the thermostat will make adjustments as needed, such as cooling the house at night when it gets colder. These changes result in a 10–12% decrease in heating costs and a 15% decrease in air-conditioning costs.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 2.62 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $640.1 Billion in Net Savings

District Heating


District heating is a system where thermal energy is provided to numerous buildings from a central energy plant. District heating is especially practical in urban areas where buildings are pressed against each other with thousands of people inside at any given moment.

This system creates fewer but larger energy plants that are better for adapting to changes over time. Despite the potentially higher initial costs, this could be especially beneficial for renewable energy sources.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 9.38 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $3.54 Trillion in Net Savings

Landfill Methane

Science News

Methane, a natural gas much more potent than carbon dioxide, can be found in landfills. In fact, landfills account for 12% of the world’s methane emissions. The unfortunate reality is that lots of the garbage in landfills can be reused for energy.

The good news about methane is that it can be captured and used as a relatively clean energy resource. Instead of wasting away in a landfill to actively harm the planet, we can use it for something positive.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
2.5 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $67.5 Billion in Net Savings


The weather throughout the world can vary dramatically, with highs of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the United Arab Emirates and lows such as -20 degrees Fahrenheit in Canada and the northern United States.

Despite these extreme temperatures, we’re all accustomed to living in homes heated somewhere between 67 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and this need for mild temperatures has resulted in the U.S. Green Building Council finding that air infiltration accounts for 25–60% of the energy used to heat and cool a home.

Insulation traps thermal heat, helping to regulate a home’s temperature, and is a cheap addition to add to a home. The benefit of this is significantly reducing energy spending on heating and cooling.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 8.27 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $2.51 Trillion in Net Savings

Water Distribution


Transporting water all over the place takes enormous amounts of energy, and there is no guarantee that all water will make it to the tap. An average of a sixth of water is lost, and as high as half of the water is lost when the water distributions systems are significantly outdated.

This often happens due to the high pressure in the water pipes that can cause leaks to form. This matter of lost water can be easily reduced through better regulation and management of these pipes.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 0.87 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $903.1 Billion in Net Savings

Building Automation

Ryunosuke Kikuno

A building automation system (BAS) acts as the brain for a building, giving it the proper sensors and controls to efficiently scan its environment and reduce energy consumption where it is not needed.

Building automation has the potential to eliminate 10–20% of energy consumption per building. This technology can be built into modern constructions and retrofitted into older ones.

Project Drawdown Estimate by 2050:
- 4.62 Gigatons of CO² Reduced
- $880.6 Billion in Net Savings


While entry costs to some of these technologies may be higher than the standard technologies used around the world, the long-term cost of high energy consumption easily outweighs any entry cost, financially and morally.

Cities have a duty to look for better solutions to current problems because the fate of tomorrow lies in their hands.

This article was brought to you by The Earth Store, an eCommerce business that sells bamboo toothbrushes and donates a portion of profits toward environmental organizations to help create a safer world for tomorrow. Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to receive more content on climate change and the environment.

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