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The Importance of Public/Private Partnerships in Driving Sustainable Communities

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are integrated, transparent, and universal, and that are fundamentally about making the world—and its resources—work better for all people.

In discussing these goals I’m going to focus primarily on sustainable cities. Cities are the battleground for the future of a more sustainable world—and this world hinges on better management of resources, which comes into play most clearly in our cities.

We need to redefine what business and government success means.

Our planet and its people need to evolve past the take-make-waste model of resource use that has accompanied economic activity since industrialization, and accelerate our transition towards a more sustainable and equitable management of the finite resources that power human productivity and society.

Businesses need to be cognizant of, and address, their impact on society and the environment as a whole—and I believe that public/private partnerships, when working well, are unmatched in their ability to help us drive sustainable communities that do well and do good for those who live and work within them, and the world at large.

Let’s look at the importance of public/private partnerships in driving sustainable communities from the point of view of three pivotal SDGs.

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Building resilient infrastructure and developing quality, reliable, and sustainable roads for a city’s future should be a top priority for any mayor or city official.

Creating more equitable communities in urban and rural environments is at the core of SDG 9, and public infrastructure is at the center of what it means to be a sustainable community, and this starts with the roads on which we drive on a daily basis.

Do a search for ‘mayor potholes’ online and you will find headline after headline that showcase mayors “declaring war” on the ubiquitous pothole.

Fixing potholes is something we can all get behind, and while no city should be blamed for the formation of cracks in their road surfaces, instances of potholes can be significantly reduced when cracks are detected early-on, and the coordinates of these cracks are logged so city employees send out a team to fix them.

Roads are essential to achieving a more sustainable future, and to achieving SDG 9 specifically, as the building of more sustainable infrastructure and the fostering of greater innovation cannot happen without a means in which to get there.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Cities today are required to do more with less. Mayors want to do right by the environment, but there is only so much that they can afford to do at once.

SDG 11.6 speaks of the importance of reducing the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to municipal and other waste management by 2030.

For cities to evolve while simultaneously reducing their environmental impact, they must utilize technology to maximize their existing government resources. In this way, private businesses can help governments become proactive, not reactive, to the day-to-day quality of life challenges that plague urban communities.

When a city deploys non-intrusive smart city technology in their fleet vehicles, they can quickly discover that “less” may actually be “more” when it comes to tackling their city’s most vexing quality of life issues. Maximizing existing city resources under the “less is more” approach ensures that extra vehicles are not being added to our already-crowded city streets, which is a win for the environment and a win for city budgets.

Existing government fleet vehicles—garbage trucks in particular—follow fixed routes every week. They travel to both high-income areas and developing neighborhoods, and they provide service to the central business districts and the outermost reaches of every city. They do not discriminate—no single zip code is given preferential treatment over another—and as such when smart city technology is applied to fleets, cities are able to start making real progress toward building even more equitable communities.

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

One in seven Americans struggles to have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Yet America produces nearly 40 million tons of food waste each year, according to the latest EPA estimate. If we could divert some of that food waste, that would make a huge difference in reducing overall waste and landfill use.

SDG 12.3 speaks of the importance of halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.

Food waste reduction and recycling includes a wide variety of food waste solutions, such as:

  • Food Donation: According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, more than 4.7 million tons of food waste is salvageable and could be donated to feed the hungry.
  • Animal Feed: While the animal feed market is largely saturated, there is an opportunity for more food waste to go toward animal feed.
  • Anaerobic Digestion: Organic matter, including food waste, is broken down to produce biogas and digestate.
  • Home, Community, and Commercial Composting: This includes everything from full-scale commercial composting facilities, to urban farms, community gardens, and at-home composting piles.

Of course, responsible consumption and production doesn’t amount to just the food we waste. As we often say at Rubicon, our mission is to end waste in all its forms, which includes wasted time, wasted money, and wasted resources.

Cities that are willing to take a chance to pilot, to co-innovate, to help the private sector and the public sector work together, these are the communities that will win over the long term.

Improving waste management and recycling is a part of that, as are the SDGs. Let’s work together to deliver the results that our cities, our society, and our planet so clearly need.


Michael Allegretti is Chief Strategy Officer at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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