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Tomorrow's City Today: Prospects for Standardising Sustainable Urban Development

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This research report provides a conceptual and empirical overview of the emerging field of eco-city frameworks. It conceptualises the rise of indicators, standards and frameworks for sustainable urban development from the twin perspective of innovation and governance. The empirical research encompasses over 40 frameworks used globally. The report concludes with a series of policy, practice and research learnings. The volume is based on a three-year international research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
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Tomorrow’s CiTy Today
prospects for standardising
sustainable urban development
universiTy of wesTminsTer
Simon Joss
Robert Cowley
Martin de Jong
Bernhard Müller
Buhm Soon Park
William Rees
Mark Roseland
Yvonne Rydin
Tomorrow’s CiTy Today
prospects for standardising
sustainable urban development
This report presents the findings of a three-
year (2012-2015) programme of research
conducted as part of the international research
network Tomorrow’s City Today: An International
Comparison of Eco-City Frameworks. This
involved systematic comparative analyses
of emerging urban sustainability indicators,
standards and certification schemes, in
response to the recent growth of this field
internationally. The network consists of a team
of leading experts who bring complementary
research and policy expertise, as well as a
multi-regional perspective, to the research
theme. Further details of the network partners
and programme of research activities are
provided in the Appendix.
The main purposes of this report are to provide
an empirical and conceptual overview of the
current emerging field of eco-city frameworks,
and to outline a series of policy, practice and
research implications for its future development.
These implications are drawn out in the latter
part of the report, following a discussion of key
conceptual considerations, a global overview
analysis of currently active eco-city frameworks
around the world, and an examination of
the varied experiences and challenges of
implementing these on the ground.
We would like to thank all the people who
participated in the research and the series
of workshops and conferences held as part
of this network; their contributions have
been invaluable in enriching and informing
our deliberations throughout as well as the
writing on the current report.
We are grateful to Daniel Tomozeiu, who
worked as Network Facilitator for the first
two phases of the research programme,
and contributed significantly to the empirical
research. Invaluable research input was also
provided by Yeongsil Kang, Stefanie Rößler
Youjung Shin, Maria Spiliotopoulou,
Lewis Sullivan and Catalina Turcu.
We would also like to acknowledge the
funding support received from the Leverhulme
Trust through research grant IN-2012-102.
This report is accompanied by a series of:
research papers
local workshop synthesis reports
partner video contributions
To view these, please visit our web pages:
ISBN: 978-0-9570527-5-8
The report should be referenced as follows:
Joss, S.; Cowley, R.; de Jong, M.; Müller, B.;
Park, B-S.; Rees, W.; Roseland, M. and Rydin, Y. (2015).
Tomorrow’s City Today: Prospects for
Standardising Sustainable Urban Development.
London: University of Westminster.
Copyright © University of Westminster
(International Eco-Cities Initiative), 2015.
This publication may be reproduced and disseminated in
whole or in part for educational and non-profit purposes
without special permission from the copyright holder,
provided acknowledgement of the source is made.
No use of this report may be made for resale or any
commercial purpose whatsoever without prior written
permission from the University of Westminster.
A catalogue record for this publication is available
from the British Library.
The One Planet Living principles (Figure 4.1) are
reproduced here with permission of Bioregional.
Design by Ruth Deary, Digital Production and
Publishing Manager, University of Westminster.
4 5
1. Introduction: Demarcating an Emergent Field 6
2. Conceptualising Eco-City Frameworks 12
3. The Global Picture 20
4. The Varied Experience on the Ground 34
5. Policy and Practice Implications 42
6. Looking Forwards 48
References 50
Appendix: Project Information 52
Throughout this report, frequent reference is made to the terms below, which should be
understood as follows for the purpose of analysis (see also Joss, 2012; Joss, 2015):
‘eco-city’: an umbrella term encapsulating
a variety of concepts, models and practices
which aim to further urban sustainability
at neighbourhood, city or city-regional
levels. These may be given various
closely-related labels such as ‘sustainable
city’, ‘low-carbon city’, ‘resilient city’ and
‘smart city’, among others.
‘framework’: a set of principles and
guidelines for the implementation of
‘eco-city’ initiatives. The term here is used as
an analytical category; not all the examples
included in the research are explicitly
labelled as ‘frameworks’ by their promoters.
This report focuses on frameworks which
represent an attempt to interconnect
multiple urban sustainability dimensions
and are also intended to be replicable
(i.e. applicable across various settings).
Additionally, all the frameworks
included here are promoted nationally
or internationally, rather than only at the
local or regional level.
‘indicators’ vs. ‘standards’: indicators are
widely used within frameworks as tools
for (1) specifying urban sustainability,
(2) defining related targets in measurable
(quantifiable) ways, and (3) monitoring
performance. They typically have a
temporal dimension, with reference to
past/present base values and targets
for specified future periods. Individual
indicators necessarily involve the
reduction of complex information to
singular dimensions. Standards are
commonly agreed norms, based on the
aggregate assessment and integration
of various indicator measures. Designed
to be applicable across initiatives and
sites, standards in particular fields are
typically negotiated through formal
consensus processes.
What is more, while sustainable urban
development arguably always needs to be
understood as locally contextualised and
conditioned, the ‘sustainable city’ as concept,
policy and practice has become increasingly
globalised and ubiquitous: not only in that it
responds to global challenges (climate change
in particular) alongside local ones, but also in
that it spurs on knowledge and policy transfer
and shared practices involving growing
networks of actors and various public-private
partnerships across organisational, national
and cultural borders (e.g. McCann, 2010;
Chang & Shepard, 2013; Rapoport, 2015).
It is not uncommon to see similar groups of
actors involved in several initiatives spread out
in different corners of the world, with resulting
conceptual and practical similarities despite
vastly different contexts.
In the urban age – as many now label the
twenty-first century – the quest for sustainable
urban development moves centre stage.
This can be seen reflected in high-level policy
endorsements of the ‘eco-city’, ‘sustainable city’,
‘smart city’ and related sister terms. The United
Nations’ assertion, in its report 21 Issues for
the 21st Century, that ‘the key to sustainability
lies in the concept of “green cities” or
“eco-cities”’ (UNEP, 2012: vi) is emblematic of
the increasingly prominent position afforded to
urban sustainability, and echoed by competing
policy commitments on the part of municipal
authorities, national governments, and non-
governmental organisations across countries
and global regions.
Beyond policy, a mushrooming of diverse
practical initiatives – from entire cities built
from scratch to numerous neighbourhood
retrofit projects, and from city networks to
grassroots movements – attests to the transition
from theoretical concern to widespread
practical experimentation and implementation.
Although exact numbers are hard to pin
down – not least due to the conceptual
looseness of the ‘eco-city’ or ‘sustainable city’,
and methodological difficulties of capturing
and analysing practical initiatives – there is
nevertheless clear evidence of an exponential
rise in urban sustainability initiatives of one
kind or another since the early 2000s (Joss,
2011; Joss et al, 2013); a trend which is also
clearly reflected in the marked rise of related
academic outputs (de Jong et al, 2015).
demarCaTing an
emergenT field
specific nature of urban development. For
example, reducing carbon emissions by
50% by 2025, rising to 80% by 2050, may
be an attainable goal for European cities,
given their urban growth projections and
advanced socio-economic and technological
development status; whereas in the case of
fast growing urban centres in Africa and Asia
with fewer technological advantages, such a
goal could well prove unattainable and even
unjust. In addition, proponents of this line
of argument contend that what holds back
progress towards greater urban sustainability
is often a lack of governance capacity. Hence
what is most needed to accelerate and scale
up innovation – particularly in the context
of rapid urbanisation in developing global
regions – is a process focus, prompting
the need for generic, replicable protocols
and tools for supporting the design,
implementation and assessment of urban
sustainability initiatives.
Viewed positively, this debate highlights
that attempting to standardise sustainable
urban development in itself prompts ongoing
conceptualising and learning. This, however,
also suggests that at present at least what
is to be standardised cannot be taken as a
settled question and merits critical evaluation.
The design of eco-city frameworks involves
definitional work based on active choices;
rather than being (more or less successful)
catalysts of a pre-given set of outcomes, they
each ‘encode’ sustainability in particular
ways. Continuous attention is, therefore,
required on how individual frameworks are
conceptually – and socially – constructed,
and what balance they strike between
process and content components as well as
between global and local dimensions, among
other considerations. Consequently, even
if the focus in recent years has somewhat
shifted towards the practical application
of eco-city frameworks, they should not be
treated as black boxes in need of no further
elaboration and critical interrogation.
Practice interface
The recent arrival of a host of eco-city
frameworks, as surveyed in this report,
opens up an additional, different set of
relevant questions, concerning the practice
interface: here, the spotlight moves onto
the processes involved in applying eco-city
frameworks within particular urban settings,
and the sustainable urban development
outcomes thus produced. This suggests that
the process of standardisation is not just to
be found and interrogated within eco-city
frameworks themselves, but may or may not
also relate to the ways they are ‘decoded’
in particular, context-specific uses. This is
a main area of interest of this study. The
innovation focus, therefore, shifts onto the
interactive learning processes among different
actors occurring in practice, and the degree
to which eco-city frameworks successfully
manage to facilitate these processes and
generate discernible outcomes. This, then,
brings into focus essential questions about
governance: how do eco-city frameworks
intervene in particular urban policy- and
decision-making processes?; what dynamics
(positive and negative) arise from the hybrid
networks facilitated by eco-city frameworks?;
who is accountable for implementing
processes and warranting outcomes?; and
what tangible results and improved practice
are achieved? Importantly, furthermore, what
are the implications from the close, dynamic
interactions between eco-city frameworks
and their particular areas of application for
wider comparability and replicability across
contexts? Does this perhaps diminish the
scope for standardisation, or at least prompt
us to view standardisation as a process that
by necessity is moderated and constrained by
the local contingencies inherent in sustainable
urban development?
The fact that eco-city frameworks, and in
particular their practice application, are
a relatively recent phenomenon may put
some limitations on empirical analyses, thus
providing only partial answers to the above
and other, related questions. Yet it seems
important to start to generate detailed,
probing knowledge, however fragmentary
this may remain at this stage, not least
since this should be useful in contributing
to the emergent conceptual and practical
discourses. In doing so, it would also seem
Standardising urban sustainability
Not surprisingly, this overall mainstreaming
of urban sustainability has brought about calls
for standardisation, or at least some form
of common framework that would provide
conceptual as well as practical guidance
for engaging in ‘eco-city’, ‘sustainable city’,
‘green city’ or ‘smart city’ initiatives (Joss,
2012; Joss et al, 2012). As it turns out, there
is already a rapidly growing number of such
frameworks being developed and offered up,
each seeking to define the field and to take a
share of the sizeable market. This report aims
to engage with these variously fashioned eco-
city frameworks by providing a comparative
perspective on how they differently engage
in sustainable urban development in both
concept and practice. In doing so, the report
reflects on the prospects for standardising
the sustainable city, whether this is indeed
desirable, and what challenges can be
expected along the way.
Broadly, a key argument in favour of
standardisation is that it potentially helps drive
innovation (for an overview, see Castellacci
et al, 2004): first, by creating a common
language enabling shared learning relating
to both the contents of urban sustainability
– what its substantive dimensions are
understood to be – and its processes – how
it can be designed, implemented, assessed
and validated; and second, by providing the
mechanisms and tools to facilitate transferable
practice and replicable application at various
scales and across contexts. Standardisation,
then, has the potential to lift what would
otherwise remain an essentially individual
and locally embedded practice – defined
by tacit knowledge and enshrined customs
and processes – and render it more broadly
accessible and transferable into other contexts,
based on a body of codified knowledge and
replicable techniques and processes. This
should provide a number of benefits including:
supporting ‘design communities’ with a set
of common principles and tools to develop
sustainable urban practice solutions; enabling
municipal authorities to develop and audit
their strategic plans and assess performance
against established indicators; allowing cities
to benchmark themselves against each other;
giving private developers certification tools
for marketing their urban products; furnishing
national and international organisations with
comparative data to measure innovation;
and, more generally, facilitating public
communication and accountability with
the help of a generic vocabulary for
sustainable urbanism. Of course, all of
this assumes that standardisation would
actually make significant contributions toward
socially relevant and scientifically valid
sustainability goals.
If standardisation and related eco-city
frameworks of one kind or another entail
several potential benefits, they should,
however, not be viewed as unproblematic
and a panacea for achieving sustainable
urban development. A closer look at both
the concept and practice of standardisation
processes prompts a number of rather
fundamental, though as yet not fully
answered, questions. For a start, what exactly
should and can be standardised remains
contested: one line of argument suggests
that the focus of standardisation should be
on substantive environmental, economic and
social sustainability dimensions, leaving
aside process-related dimensions to be locally
determined. Following this line, the question
arises whether substantive dimensions
should be defined through so-called
‘input indicators’ which specify particular
sustainable development performance
areas and related targets for planning and
development processes (such as, for example,
the per capita consumption of water, the
number of bus journeys, or the proportion
of health workers relative to the population);
or conversely, whether this should rather
be done through ‘output indicators’ which
are concerned less with the means than the
ends, thus specifying particular planning
and development outcomes (here, following
the above examples: the preservation of
drinking water, air quality improvement, and
population health).
If some focus on standardising substantive
sustainable development dimensions,
others follow an opposite line of argument,
suggesting that it is more productive to
standardise processes. According to this
view, it may prove unrealistic to arrive at
common indicators and related targets for
particular sustainability dimensions, given
the considerable differences across cities
and countries and the inherently context-
10 11
important – beyond the need to address
various detailed technical aspects relating to
eco-city frameworks – to engage with wider,
normative questions raised by the trend
towards standardising sustainable urban
development. For example, if standardisation
is occasionally presented as an inevitable
development one should ask in whose
interests it is being promoted and advanced;
in turn, this prompts us to consider what
motivations are driving this process; whether
these are altogether desirable; and what, if
any, alternatives might suggest themselves.
Likewise, it would seem important to ask
openly whether, beyond the promotional
discourse, standardisation does indeed
help accelerate innovation and diffusion to
achieve significant improved sustainable
urban development (a ‘race to the top’), or
whether it instead perhaps carries the risk of
normalising urban sustainability to the extent
that it perpetuates business-as-usual (a ‘race
to the bottom’).
12 13
applying that framework within a particular
urban governance context, and the resulting
practices and outcomes.
Designing an eco-city framework entails
essential definitional work around what
we understand by ‘urban sustainability’:
its different elements, the relative weight
attached to each element, and the varied
interaction between them. One of the reasons
for the current plurality of eco-city frameworks
is that this definitional engagement often
leads to different contents, depending on
what exactly the relationship between various
sustainability dimensions is understood to be
and what aspects are prioritised. If the design
of one framework is guided by, say, carbon-
neutral or carbon-positive urban development,
whereas another framework subscribes to a
broader principle of, say, ecological carrying
capacity, then the resulting contents can be
expected to differ in terms of the elements of
sustainable development and corresponding
indicators selected. Similarly, whether a
framework is tailored towards application at,
say, the neighbourhood level, or alternatively
towards city-wide or even city-regional use,
is likely to result in significant differences of
content focus.
That overall this definitional engagement
should produce a variety of eco-city
frameworks should not surprise, given
how persistently difficult it is to agree on
and encapsulate what sustainable urban
development means; and it should arguably
be welcomed as an ongoing, pluralistic
process of generating relevant knowledge.
There are nevertheless two challenges that
need to be recognised: the first relates to
through co-operative governance and
networking involving a plurality of actors.
It is apt, therefore, to mobilise innovation as
conceptual perspective here to interrogate the
emergent phenomenon of eco-city frameworks
and their contribution to standardising
sustainable urban development. The
innovation perspective in particular invites
us to consider three interrelated dimensions:
(1) the role of knowledge, including the
way in which knowledge is constructed and
how it is used to design, implement and
validate sustainable urban development; (2)
the processes of interactive learning among
various actors, and especially the contribution
of ‘design communities’, or ‘communities
of practice’; and (3) the significance
of governance, including processes of
networking, co-ordination and integration,
and related issues of accountability, agency
and conflict. These dimensions can be
expected to come into play variously in the
application of eco-city frameworks, and
analysing them in tandem should therefore
provide useful insight into frameworks’
potential contribution to (standardising)
sustainable urban development.
Knowledge ‘encoding’ and
‘decoding’ processes
In conceptualising eco-city frameworks and
their innovation dynamics, it is useful to
consider two key aspects, as illustrated in
Figure 2.1 (see overleaf): on one hand, the
‘encoding’ processes involved in defining and
designing a given eco-city framework as a
set of principles, indicators and techniques of
sustainable urban development; and on the
other, the ‘decoding’ processes involved in
‘Accelerating urban innovations’ was
the slogan used during the launch of the
EcoDistricts initiative in 2010 in Portland,
USA (PoSI, 2010). While long admired by
many observers across the US and overseas
as something of a frontier city concerning
sustainable urban policies and practice, by
the city authorities’ own reckoning a fresh
approach was needed to foster innovation
through a new way of coordinating strategic
planning and building partnership networks.
EcoDistricts was to provide the conceptual
foundation and practical tools to realise this
ambition, based upon promoting ‘whole
system integration’, ‘faster investment cycles’,
‘policy breakthroughs’, and ‘monitoring,
documentation and engagement’, the latter
aimed at creating ‘robust learning networks’
(ibid). While initially designed specifically
for Portland itself – and trialled there through
pilot projects in five neighbourhoods,
with mixed results to show to date (Joss,
2015: Ch5) – EcoDistricts has since been
remodelled into a replicable framework
that can potentially be applied to any
urban district. So far, eight cities across the
USA and Canada have formally adopted
the framework and are working towards
Innovation is a leitmotif running through
many of the eco-city frameworks captured
in this study. It is frequently deployed as
a narrative to signal a more systematic
and concerted approach to foster learning
about and practising sustainable urban
development; one which emphasises
integration across different sustainability
dimensions, across urban scales, and across
organisational and institutional boundaries,
14 15
is effectively limited to defining process
aspects – a series of procedural tools and
techniques to guide framework users – while
leaving the more substantive sustainability
dimensions for definition at the stage when
the framework is applied in practice within
a particular local context.
If the definitional work underpinning eco-city
frameworks is in itself a complex generative
process with its own unique challenges, then
the application of eco-city frameworks in
specific urban settings and practice contexts
is set to produce yet further innovation
dynamics. For a start, the application
process involves having to transcribe the
generic knowledge contents of an eco-city
framework into situation-specific knowledge
and, subsequently, translating it into local
practices. This ‘decoding’ process may not
be quite so straightforward, however: the
gap between, on one hand, what can be
defined and prescribed generically within an
eco-city framework and, on the other, what is
produced through local application may be
considerable. This, in turn, can be expected
to involve an intricate knowledge discourse of
its own, requiring special skills and expertise.
Consequently, the scope for shared practice
(learning) between individual applications
– as eco-city frameworks typically imply
and seek to promote – is likely to be
limited by the particularities of individual
applications within local contexts. This then
also highlights the pivotal role of design and
practice communities in translating eco-city
frameworks into applied practice. Rather than
assuming their pre-existence, efforts will be
required to put in place, nurture and sustain
such communities of practice. This moves
the attention onto questions of governance,
including: how networking among diverse
actors can be mobilised, co-ordinated and
made effective; how resulting processes and
outcomes can be integrated in, and related
to, wider policy- and decision-making; and
how they can be rendered accountable and
open to public engagement and contestation.
Some of the challenges surrounding the
‘decoding’ process are explored further in
Chapter 4.
Governance matters
In pursuing and stimulating innovative
practices, the application of eco-city
frameworks in particular contexts constitutes a
deliberate, targeted intervention in governance
processes. This prompts attention to what
the purpose of such intervention is, and who
is implicated in the process. Table 2.1 lists
four main functional categories commonly
associated with eco-city frameworks, and five
actor groups variously involved. This points
to multiple, partially overlapping governance
functions, with the participation of a plurality
of actors both as promoters and users.
The different governance functions reflect
the varying impetus for innovation. A focus
on ‘assessment’ highlights the importance of
auditing, measurement and benchmarking
as a means of capturing, verifying and, thus,
improving sustainability performance. This
function relates to assessment both internally
within a municipal governance setting, and
externally between cities for the purpose of
comparison and competitive benchmarking.
Assessment may also take place specifically
for the purposes of certification. Certification
mechanisms are to the fore in several eco-
city frameworks promoted by professional
and commercial organisation, but can also
be found in some frameworks offered by
governmental and not-for-profit organisations,
and are closely tied to goals of marketing
Table 2.1: Categories of governance
functions and actors involved in
eco-city frameworks
NGOs/social enterprises
professional bodies
private sector firms
the codification of contents in the process
of defining an eco-city framework. (Broadly,
codification in innovation processes refers
to the explication of knowledge through
formalisation and classification, as opposed
to difficult-to-translate tacit knowledge; see
e.g. Castellacci et al, 2004.) In stipulating
areas and elements of sustainable urban
development and specifying corresponding
indicators, particular assumptions and
choices are made and certain information
and knowledge are mobilised and selected.
This inevitably has to be done within a
context where agreed norms may be
elusive and existing knowledge partial and
contested. In other words, the contents of
a given eco-city framework, in the form
of principles and indicators, may give the
appearance of objectivity, exactness and
absoluteness, when upon closer inspection
they frequently reveal considerable
normativity and uncertainty at work. What is
more, the contents and knowledge codified
within an eco-city framework potentially
becomes dated as the discourse on urban
sustainability evolves over time. Altogether,
this suggests the need for awareness about
the inherently contingent nature of knowledge
underpinning eco-city frameworks and,
consequently, the need for caution about
treating their contents as necessarily objective
and absolute and the concurrent need for
verifying associated claims made.
The second challenge relates to who is, and
should be, involved in defining the contents of
eco-city frameworks, based on the recognition
that this process is a socially constructed one.
Decisions or assumptions about where the
responsibility for this definitional work lies
are themselves encoded into frameworks.
Traditionally, the definition of sustainability
indicators may be seen as a task for experts;
and this is reflected in several of eco-city
frameworks captured in this study, whose
contents are presented as the outcome of
relatively closed expert processes. In contrast,
other eco-city frameworks subscribe to a more
open process, emphasising the importance of
involving a wider range of actors upfront at
the definitional stage. Two such examples –
one from a non-governmental environmental
organisation, the other from an international
governmental body – are the Sustainable
Communities framework (Audubon
International) and the Eco2 Cities framework
(World Bank). The former prompts community
groups wishing to embark on a sustainable
urban development initiative to define the
contents themselves, by inviting them to
choose from a range of possible indicators
offered up as part of the framework; the
latter similarly engages decision-makers by
taking them through a process of assessing
needs followed by selecting and defining
context-specific indicators. In both cases, the
definitional work underpinning the framework
Figure 2.1: Encoding urban sustainability into frameworks and decoding on the ground
of urban
of social
Process of
16 17
possible motivations into a single framework
is far from straightforward; and, even if
this is achieved, considerable work may be
required to come up with innovative design
solutions on the ground which satisfy all the
involved parties’ needs.
Governance issues of these types, then, are
critical areas for consideration and in need of
detailed analysis, given the emergent practice
of eco-city frameworks of one kind or another.
Limitations to standardisation and replicability
If innovation is a common strand running
through the conceptualisation of contemporary
eco-city frameworks, another closely related
strand is the ‘whole-system’ approach to
sustainable urban development. Taking its
cue partly from environmental studies (the city
e.g. as metabolic flow system), engineering
sciences (the city as closed-loop adaptive
system), and organisational and governance
theory (the city as hybrid governance
network), this approach emphasises the
self-similar, self-organising nature of urban
systems (Joss, 2015: 44-74). This is illustrated,
for example, by the Eco2 Cities framework,
whose title not only refers to ‘ecological
cities as economic cities’, but also to ‘second-
generation’ eco-cities (Moffatt et al, 2012):
whereas first-generation eco-cities focused
on innovation in relation to separate urban
sectors, Eco2 Cities claim to pursue a ‘one-
system’ approach by bringing together various
sectors and co-ordinating actions of key
stakeholders within the ‘whole urban system’.
Eco-city frameworks (attempt to) embody
this ‘whole-system’ approach in three main
ways: bringing environmental, economic and
social sustainability dimensions into close,
mutual relationship; applying these to the
urban context – that is, at urban scale and
across related policy domains; and mobilising
governance processes, including coordinative
action and inclusive engagement across actor
networks. In doing so, they seek to overcome
the compartmentalised ‘silo’ approach
frequently bemoaned of traditional planning
and decision-making. Viewed positively, a
main strength of eco-city frameworks may,
therefore, lie in their ability to prompt actors to
contemplate a more integrated and joined-up
approach to designing, implementing and
evaluating sustainable urban development
than they would otherwise practice in their
daily routines. As such, the value of these
frameworks may consist as much in facilitating
an essential dialogue across organisational,
institutional and policy boundaries and
effecting a different way of thinking,
as necessarily immediately producing
sustainable development outcomes.
Viewed more critically, the ‘whole-system’
approach may underline some of the
limitations of eco-city frameworks and
their practical applications. For one thing,
conceptually, this approach arguably risks
downplaying and neglecting substantive local
characteristics and parameters of sustainable
urban development. Unless one keeps
‘whole-system’ thinking at a generic, abstract
level, any engagement with particular local
settings prompts the realisation that one is
dealing with widely varying ‘systems’ and
that such systems might be more complex and
contingent than a more schematic abstraction
suggests. Furthermore, the application of a
‘whole-system’ approach in local practice
can be expected to run up quickly against
multiple boundary problems of institutional,
jurisdictional, spatial and temporal kinds.
For example, the reality of local governance
structures and processes may soon test the
limits of a ‘whole-system’ approach to, say,
sustainable food or water management.
There is, therefore, perhaps inevitably
an inherent tension at work between the
concept of eco-city framework, informed by
‘whole-system’ thinking, and its practical
application: on one hand, eco-city framework
dimensions need to be defined sufficiently
generically, in order to be standardising and
standardisable, to the point where they may
risk becoming devoid of tangible, substantive
meaning; on the other, in their practical
application, they can be expected to have
to be adapted and developed significantly
to make them suitable for local use, to
the extent that they may end up bearing
little resemblance with their standardised
versions. This may be the case as much for
process-related dimensions – concerning,
say, the integration of policy domains, or the
participatory engagement of stakeholders –
as for substantive (environmental, economic,
social) sustainability dimensions. Where the
or place promotion. An emphasis on the
design and/or planning process underlines
the relevance of applying the principles
of urban sustainability to policy, planning
and development practice, based on new
approaches, techniques and forms of
collaboration and interactive learning.
Cutting across all these functions, and
encoded to varying degrees, is the
communicative role of frameworks. This
in part relates to the marketing and place-
promotional uses made of assessment and
certification tools in particular, but also to the
provision of information in response to the
needs of accountability. Frameworks typically
need to ‘speak’ to different audiences
simultaneously, as well as open up spaces
of communication between different types
of actors. In cases where frameworks are
implicated in national policy initiatives, they
will need to be discursively aligned with these
policies, and will serve to translate these
policies into localised practice. Their success
may also depend on how well they are able
to secure participation among local actors
working in collaboration; inclusive community
engagement is emphasised by many eco-
city frameworks as an integral part of co-
producing sustainable urban development.
Some eco-city frameworks may pursue a
more singular functionality – for example,
with focus on providing indicators and tools for
performance assessment – whereas others may
subscribe to a more comprehensive approach
by combining complementary functions.
While the former may result in a more
punctual limited intervention in the governance
process – for example, providing a ‘snapshot’
technical appraisal of existing sustainability
performance as input into planning – the latter
may involve a more substantial sequential
and temporal process; this may, for example,
entail an initial assessment of the status quo
involving various community groups, followed
by a design process to plan and implement
a sustainable urban development initiative,
and eventually culminating in certification
and formal recognition under a given eco-city
framework scheme.
Research has shown that the use of common
sustainable development indicators in
local contexts has the potential to shape
governance discourses and steer governance
processes significantly, although with
consequences which may not always be
intended (e.g. Rydin, 2007; Holmann,
2009). For example, the gap between
what is generically captured (in the form of
common indicators) and locally constructed
may be too wide to bridge, effectively
leading to local variation in place of intended
standardisation; and rather than enabling
self-governance, the use of indicators as
governance tools may be perceived as
an imposition and result in community
disengagement or resistance (Rydin, 2007).
The more ‘holistic’ approaches underpinning
some of the recent eco-city frameworks,
which seek to integrate the use of indicators
and performance tools in design processes
with the involvement of various actor groups
in a co-producing fashion, may be able
to better manage if not prevent some of
these unintended consequences. However,
this largely hinges on the extent to which
participation by different actor groups can
be realised and made effective. If, for
example, the application of an eco-city
framework in a particular setting ends up
privileging certain actors and imposing a
technical discourse at odds with the local
one, then this could undermine the goal
of adopting a given eco-city framework.
It further hinges on how effectively the
governance process – and related outputs –
generated by the application of an eco-city
framework corresponds with, and can be
integrated into, wider policy- and decision-
making processes.
Different types of actors’ motivations for
participation may overlap or diverge to
differing extents. For example – and at the
risk of caricaturing each actor type – local
authorities’ enthusiasm will be framed by
strategic policy considerations; NGOs
may be more intrinsically motivated by
social or environmental agendas; specialist
practitioners may have a vested interest in
particular technologies rather than others;
private developers will be constrained by the
need to make profits; and many residents will
be concerned with their own quality of life.
Since development processes do typically
involve a plurality of actors, ignoring the
motivations of some groups may undermine
viability. However, encoding these different
18 19
Further reading
Boyko, C. et al (2012). Benchmarking sustainability in cities: the role of indicators
and future scenarios. Global Environmental Change, 22: 245-254.
Elgert, L.& Krueger, R. (2012). Modernising sustainable development?
Standaridsation, evidence and experts in local indicators. Local Environment, 17(5): 561-571.
Hezri, A.A. & Dovers, S.R. (2006). Sustainability indicators, policy and governance:
issues for ecological economics. Ecological Economics, 60: 86-99.
Holman, N. (2009). Incorporating local sustainability indicators into structures of local
governance: a review of the literature. Local Environment, 14(4): 365-375.
Joss, S. (2015). The rise of the urban sustainability framework. Sustainable Cities:
Governing for Urban Innovation. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 202-237.
Joss, S. (ed.) (2012). Tomorrow’s City Today: Eco-city indicators, standards & frameworks.
Bellagio Conference Report. London: University of Westminster.
Joss, S. et al (2012). Eco-city indicators: governance challenges. WIT Transactions on
Ecology and the Environment, 155: 109-120.
Keirstead, J. & Leach, M. (2008). Bridging the Gaps Between Theory and Practice:
a Service Niche Approach to Urban Sustainability Indicators. Sustainable Development,
16(5): 329-40.
Lehtonen, M. (2015). Introduction: indicators as governance tools. In: The Tools of
Policy Formulation: Actors, Capacities, Venues and Effects In Jordan, A.J. & Turnpenny,
J.R. (eds.) The Tools of Policy Formulation: Actors, Capacities, Venues and Effects.
Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Miller, C.A. (2005). New civic epistemologies of quantification: making sense of
indicators of local and global sustainability. Science, Technology & Human Values,
30(3): 294-305.
Rydin, Y. (2007). Indicators as a governmental technology? The lessons of community-
based sustainability indicator projects. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space,
25: 610–24.
Rydin, Y. (2010). Governing for Sustainable Urban Development. London: Earthscan.
Zhou, N. & Williams, C. (2013). An International Review of Eco-City Theory, Indicators,
and Case Studies. Berkeley, CA: Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
right balance is between standardising and
local applicability is a critical consideration;
one that may be a key determining factor of
how useful and effective individual eco-city
frameworks turn out to be in practice.
A corollary of the limitation to standardisation
is the limitation to replicability. One of the
defining features of eco-city frameworks, as
captured here, is their advocated replicability.
A key argument made – again couched in
the language of innovation – is that, against
the background of rampant urbanisation and
the need for rapid progress towards urban
sustainability, replicable approaches are
needed to achieve swift scaling-up and broad
diffusion of sustainable development (Suzuki
et al, 2010). Eco-city frameworks are, thus,
promoted as blueprints that can be applied
across different contexts. By incorporating
governance dimensions (design principles,
methodologies and techniques) alongside
substantive sustainability dimensions, they
are intended to be readily deployable both
in settings with limited governance capacity
(e.g. emergent urban centres in developing
countries), and in more advanced governance
contexts where they could achieve a short-
circuiting of governance process, thus
speeding up innovation. However since,
as noted, sustainable urban development
through eco-city frameworks is closely related
to, and conditioned by, local context, then
replicability may be limited: the framework
itself may be replicable, but the sustainable
urban development envisaged through it may
be less so. In turn, this may undermine the
ability of a framework to produce comparable
benchmarking data across differing contexts.
Transition pathways
Significantly, the innovation perspective also
encourages us to look beyond the processes
and dynamics internal to individual eco-
city frameworks; it draws attention to the
co-evolutionary pathways charted by the
collectivity of eco-city frameworks at the wider
macro-level. From this perspective, there is
potential for complementary interactions
between eco-city frameworks – as both
concept and practice application – to effect
technological and institutional system change
across time, and thereby facilitate a transition
to more sustainable urban development.
Collective learning and development, therefore,
should not only be expected to take place
within, and be evaluated in relation to, a given
framework and its context-specific application,
but also across individual framework practices.
If such mutual interaction among frameworks
is possible and, moreover, if it gains sufficient
momentum, then this may lead to change
beyond the micro-level and bring about
more widespread and long-term systemic
transformation. This, however, is dependent
on a degree of openness and flexibility on
the part of eco-city frameworks (and those
applying them), to allow for the exchange
and mutual reinforcement of information,
knowledge and practice experience. (Here,
the nurturing of various knowledge and
practice transfer networks, an accompanying
feature of some frameworks, may be
particularly significant.) And it is further
dependent on the effective linkage of
frameworks to policy and development
processes, in order to achieve diffusion of the
innovative learning and practice which takes
place within the eco-city ‘niche’ into society
more generally.
The processes through which eco-city
frameworks produce (or fail to produce)
sustainability innovations are, then, far
from self-evident. And yet, the recent
widespread growth of the field, discussed
in the next chapter, has begun to open up
opportunities for detailed empirical analysis
of the factors which lead to different types of
outcomes. Looking forwards, the conceptual
considerations which have been outlined in
this chapter should provide a useful set of
analytical criteria for assessing practices, as
the basis for a more nuanced understanding
of the potential role of eco-city frameworks.
20 21
Table 3.1: Replicable urban sustainability frameworks: global overview 2013
Framework Organisation Description Year
Model Cities ASEAN
Cities (ESC)
Regional cooperation framework designed
as ‘reporting & networking platform’, with
involvement of 14 cities in 8 countries to
date. Incorporates ‘ASEAN ESC Indicators’.
Eco-City UNESCO Framework adaptable across contexts, with
focus on city–region interaction. Evaluation
criteria: design, energy, habitat, health, food,
natural capital, recreation, space, transport,
waste control.
City Biodiversity
on Biological
(UNEP) /
Indicator framework relating to UN
Convention on Biological Diversity. Set of
23 indicators addressing native biodiversity
(10 indicators), ecosystem services (4), and
governance and management (9). Initiated
by government of Singapore, and part of
action plan endorsed by UNEP.
Eco2 Cities World Bank Open-access framework that provides
practical and scalable support for cities.
The analytical and operational framework
incorporates process-oriented indicators,
with content-related indicator targets
set locally.
Commission Framework of 10 common indicators to
assist local authorities with monitoring
and comparing urban sustainability. The
collective data is used by the European
Environment Agency.
The recent proliferation of eco-city
frameworks can usefully be illustrated through
a global survey of current examples around
the world. As part of this research project,
a comprehensive international effort was
undertaken to identify currently active formal
attempts to guide the design, assessment
and implementation of sustainable urban
development across different locations,
as discussed in the previous chapter. The
focus of analysis here was on replicable
frameworks – that is, ones designed to be
applied across multiple urban settings and
planning and policy contexts. While it was
beyond the scope of this study to scan (sub)
national sources systematically, the 43 eco-
city frameworks listed in Table 3.1 were
identified as visible on the international radar.
For the purpose of making more detailed
cross-comparisons, further documentary
analysis was conducted to categorise the
dataset using the following variables:
launch date
type of organisation backing the framework
relative emphasis on the environmental,
socio-economic and institutional
dimensions of sustainability
key governance functions.
The global overview in Table 3.1 is followed
by a discussion of each of these characteristics
in turn, illustrated with reference to specific
frameworks. (For further details, see Joss &
Tomozeiu, 2013.)
The global
22 23
Framework Organisation Description Year
Communities USA—
Open access ‘assistance kit’ to guide
community-led sustainability action plans.
Multi-stage process, including guidance on
selection, use and reporting of sustainable
development indicators.
Charter of Eco
Mayors (Les
Eco Maires)
The Eco Maires
community Charter focusing on neighbourhood action
and monitoring. The Charter takes the form
of a checklist for city officials, incorporating
essential and recommended indicators,
although without specific targets.
Eco-City and
Ministry of
Protection (MEP)
Framework of 22 indicators to assess cities’
performance against standards set by
MEP. The indicators and standards are
divided into three categories: environment,
economy, society.
EcoDistricts EcoDistricts
Assessment framework for neighbourhood-level
developments (new build or retrofit), developed
in Portland (OR); now applied US-wide.
31 indicators across 8 performance areas:
equitable development; health & wellbeing;
community identity; access & mobility; energy;
water; habitat & ecosystems; materials.
National Eco-
Garden City China—
Ministry of
Housing and
National framework, building on earlier
‘garden city’ scheme, which comprises
19 indicators divided into three categories:
natural environment, living environment,
and infrastructure. Cities have to apply for
renewal of ‘National Eco-Garden City’
status every 3 years.
Green Climate
Cities ICLEI Framework for climate change mitigation
for local governments, including assessment,
monitoring and evaluation tools based on
global reporting protocols.
Selo Casa Azul
Caixa Brazil—Caixa
Federal (Federal
Savings Bank)
and Green
Building Council
Certification scheme with several achievement
levels aimed at improving sustainability in
Brazilian slums using 6 sets of indicators.
Originally designed for buildings, now also
including neighbourhood developments.
Applied in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Framework Organisation Description Year
Global Urban
Indicators UN HABITAT Indicator framework with focus on 5
dimensions, based on earlier initiative on
shelter and city slums. Combines 42 (mostly
quantitative) indicators relating to shelter
(12 indicators), social development and
poverty eradication (9), environmental
management (11), economic development
(3) and governance (6). Final indicator
linked to Millennium Development Goal 7 on
environmental sustainability.
Green Cities
Programme OECD Assessment programme with focus on
‘green growth’ and sustainability policies
for metropolitan areas. Based on multi-city
analysis, the scheme aims to advise city
leaders on policy ‘best practice’.
RFSC European Union The Reference Framework for European
Sustainable Cities provides an online toolkit
to assist European cities in developing and
assessing urban sustainability strategies and
action across planning and policy cycles.
Cities Japan—
Committee of
Eco-Model Cities
With an overall focus on low-carbon
development, 13 cities have to date been
awarded ECM status. Initial selection and
annual performance are assessed against
5 main indicators.
ÉcoQuartier France—
Ministry of
and Energy
National scheme that supports, through
financial contributions, the ecotransformation
of neighbourhoods. The submissions are
judged against 4 dimensions and 20
“ambitions” (positively expressed indicators).
Scheme developed in parallel to national
ÉcoCité programme.
Estidama Pearl
Rating System
Emirate of UAE
—Abu Dhabi
Planning Council
Promoted as ‘the Arab World’s first
sustainability rating mechanism’, the
Estidama Pearl Community Rating System
applies to urban projects of 1,000-30,000
people. Performance assessment covers 7
sustainability categories and relates to design,
construction and operation.
24 25
Framework Organisation Description Year
Global City
of Toronto /
Government of
Membership-based, standardized method
for comparing ‘city performance’, including
sustainability dimensions. Includes 115
indicators relating to ‘city services’ and
‘quality of life’ categories.
IEFS Ecocity Builders International Ecocity Framework and
Standards acts as a methodology/certification
platform based on the urban environment as
a wider bioregional system. Designed to be
used with other rating systems.
Living Building
Challenge International
Living Future
Urban sustainability design framework
and certification programme focused on
buildings and neighbourhoods. Includes 7
performance areas: beauty, energy, equity,
health, materials, site, water.
One Planet
Communities BioRegional Multi-stage certification scheme based
on ecological footprint analysis and 10
corresponding principles. Action plans
produced through benchmarking measurement
and stakeholder workshops.
SlimCity World Economic
Forum Annual survey-based assessment of ‘eco-
efficiency’ (energy, mobility, resources etc.)
measures, with recommended use of World
Bank city indicators and metrics.
Star Community
Rating System Consortium of
4 US founding
(incl. ICLEI-USA
Developed as a voluntary ‘national standard’
for sustainable communities. 81 goals and 10
guiding principles serve as resource tool for
sustainability assessments and plans.
Cities Index Australian
Australian scheme (15 indicators) to rank
20 largest cities, adapted from Forum for
the Future’s 2007-2010 initiative in Britain.
Communities Audubon
International Multi-stage certification scheme based
on Audubon International Principles
for sustainable resource management.
Specific performance indicators defined
by community, with annual re-certification.
Set of indicators, arranged under 12 themes,
informed by Aalborg Charter on urban
development. Collaborative approach
to sustainability that aims to engage
citizens, social organizations, businesses
and local governments.
Framework Organisation Description Year
Tianjin Binhai
Ecocity Singapore
and Chinese
26 tailor-made Key Performance Indicators
with focus on resource efficiency. Incorporates
Sino-Singaporean national standards and
builds on earlier national frameworks.
FSA Foundation for
Replicable assessment method for global use,
to measure and compare urban developments.
The methodology integrates aspects of BREEAM
Communities, LEED ND and ESTIDAMA sets
of indicators; 10 projects are included in the
initial phase.
Green City
Index Siemens Technical tool for assessing urban sustainability
based on global data from ≥120 large
cities. Includes approx. 30 indicators in 9
categories (e.g. buildings, CO2 emissions,
energy, transport, waste, water).
CityGrid Natural
Defense Council
Online ranking scheme designed to provide
a broad overview of the sustainability of US
cities. The nine indicators used are designed
mainly for comparisons between cities rather
than tracking a city’s own development.
Capital Tool Simon Fraser
and Tilburg
Conceptualises community capital in terms
of six mutually reinforcing forms with specific
indicators attached to each. Two versions: a
‘balance sheet’(with formalised measurement
process); and more simple ‘community scan’
(based on more qualitative assessment).
Smarter Cities
Challenge IBM ‘Smarter cities assessment’ tool for customised
key performance indicator (KPI) measurements
and city benchmarking (against peer cities)
based on global data. Offers ‘intelligent
operations centre’ solutions.
Climate Positive Clinton Climate
Initiative Multi-stage accreditation scheme, centred
upon carbon neutral/positive developments.
Focus on energy, transport and waste.
Partners, Inc.
Not-for-profit certification programme to
support sustainability initiatives for affordable
(low income) neighbourhoods. Free online
planning/indicator tool includes mandatory
and optional criteria.
26 27
Figure 3.1: Framework launch dates
Launch year (n.)
Base: 43 eco-city frameworks
20 11-13
Launch dates
The growth of international interest in
practical attempts to standardise and
replicate sustainable urban development is a
recent phenomenon. The vast majority of the
43 frameworks, as summarised in Figure 3.1,
have been launched since the millennium.
Only three date back to the 1990s, while as
many as 34 (almost four in five) have come
about since 2008. This no doubt reflects the
broader proliferation of eco-city initiatives
during the same period, and especially since
the mid-2000s (Joss et al, 2013).
Framework promoter organisations
Some of the diversity among these
frameworks is evident when the range of
organisations involved in their promotion
is considered. For analytical purposes,
these organisations were grouped into six
types, as shown in Figure 3.2. Within this
diversity, it is striking that international or
national government agencies – which
might be expected to be to the fore, playing
a coordinatory role through policies and
practical guidance – only account for
a minority of framework promoters. In
contrast, more than half the frameworks
are characterised by the involvement of
professional bodies and non-governmental
The nature of different frameworks is
significantly shaped by the involvement of
one type of organisation rather than another.
Those promoted by professional bodies have
in many cases evolved out of specifications
and standards designed for individual
(green) buildings, and tend therefore to have
a relatively technical character. We might
expect NGO-led frameworks, on the other
hand, to be framed more obviously by the
organisation’s particular agenda (whether this
relates to environmental, social, or to related
‘community’ issues). While professional
frameworks may tend to be prescriptive and
primarily geared towards assessment against
fixed, pre-given criteria, NGOs may be
more likely to see their role as co-producers
of knowledge and practices, working
alongside local, national or international
agencies or private developers. Those
associated with international governmental
organisations are often primarily concerned
Figure 3.2: Types of organisations
promoting frameworks
Organisational type (n.)
Base: 43 eco-city frameworks
International (govt.)
/ networks
/ NGOs
Technology /
Source: Joss & Tomozeiu (2013)
Framework Organisation Description Year
Green Star
Communities Green Building
Council of
Rating tool providing best practice
benchmarking and certification for community-
level developments. Indicator areas include:
design, economic prosperity, environment,
governance, innovation, liveability.
Building Council
Certification system for new neighbourhoods,
including 50 indicators across 6 quality
dimensions (environmental, economic,
process, socio-cultural, site, technical).
Allows for flexibility across contexts.
IGBC Green
Rating System
Indian Green
Building Council Three-stage rating/certification scheme for
large-scale developments (incl. residential
areas). 4 indicator categories: community
development, environmental and land use
planning, resource management.
Building Council Multi-stage certification scheme operating
at neighbourhood level. Focus on green
buildings, smart growth and urbanism,
including green infrastructure, integrated
transport and liveable community.
REAP for Local
Authorities Stockholm
Framework with focus on overall resource
consumption at local/regional level, and
corresponding environmental impacts.
Consumption impact is related across lifecycle
to enable calculation of ecological/carbon/
GHG footprints per consumption sector and
local area.
Index System
Chinese Society
for Urban
Proposed national indicator framework,
with 28 indicators across 5 categories.
Specific targets for majority of indicators,
with 8 indicators defined more flexibly in
terms of ‘innovative approaches’ and
building on earlier national frameworks.
for Urban
Development /
Assessment system for ‘built environment
efficiency’ (incl. districts/cities) focusing on
economic, environmental, and social criteria.
In association with Japan Sustainable
Building Consortium.
city version
Communities BRE UK/Global Multi-stage assessment and certification
scheme designed for urban master planning.
Covers 6 urban sustainability areas:
energy; governance; innovation; land use;
socioeconomic development; transport.
28 29
Governance functions
The analysis of the current database suggests
that the intended governance functions of eco-
city frameworks fall into five broad categories:
certification, accreditation or endorsement;
performance assessment; enabling community
engagement; acting as a ‘planning toolkit’;
and furthering broader – typically national –
innovation policies. (It should be noted that
frameworks intended for use in one city or
region only have been excluded from the
present study, given the focus on replicability.
In such cases, a further governance function
might be identified: that of helping define
municipal or regional strategies.)
We created a profile of each framework was
created by giving each of these functions a
score based on its relative prominence, with
‘3’ indicating the main or dominant function,
‘2’ an integral (but not main) function, ‘1’
a function with relatively minor significance,
and ‘0’ meaning that an intended governance
function is not explicitly evident in the
available documentation. Based on these
profiles, three broad clusters of framework can
be observed: those largely concerned with
performance assessment; those with a primary
orientation towards certification; and those
intended to function mainly as a ‘planning
toolkit’. The three types are described and
illustrated overleaf.
‘Performance assessment’ frameworks
‘Performance assessment’ here refers to
the measurement of the sustainability of
particular places and developments using
particular criteria, so as to compare them with
other cases, or to track progress over time.
The prominence of this type of framework,
which accounts for 16 of the 43, is perhaps
unsurprising, since the conventional view of
indicators has traditionally been understood as
that of defining, and quantifying, sustainability.
Such assessments often serve the purpose
of allowing cities to benchmark themselves
competitively against others (and to measure
progress over time), often providing a
knowledge base for policy-making.
Figure 3.3: City Biodiversity Index,
typifying governance functions of
‘performance assessment’ cluster
of frameworks
City Biodiversity Index
3 = dominant/main function
2 = integral but not main
1 = minor
0 = absent
The City Biodiversity Index (aka the ‘Singapore
Index’), initiated by the government of
Singapore and endorsed by the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP),
provides a typical example of the governance
functions of this type of framework (see Figure
3.3). This is a tool designed for cities to
monitor progress on biodiversity conservation
over time. As of 2012, it had been used
by 70 cities around the world. It stipulates
a methodology for each participating city
to assess itself on 23 detailed criteria, with
scores reported alongside a contextual
‘city profile’ including information such as
the city’s size, population, natural features,
average temperatures, annual rainfall, and
biodiversity. Applications to date include
shaping the guidelines for Lisbon’s biodiversity
strategy, informing the masterplanning of new
districts in Singapore, and contributing to the
scoring criteria for the European Capitals of
Biodiversity award scheme.
Overall, as might be expected, environmental
criteria are most prominent: in approximately
a half of all cases (21 frameworks), the
environment is clearly the main focus
of the indicator set; for a further nine,
environmental and socio-economic factors
have equal weight. Rather smaller numbers
give prominence to socio-economic criteria
(5) or institutional ones (3). In five cases, all
three dimensions are equally present. No
clear correlation was observed between
these relative emphases and the type of
organisation promoting each initiative.
Examples of frameworks with a narrower
definitional scope include the Climate Positive
programme, managed by the C40 Cities
Climate Leadership Group, which accredits
schemes on the basis of net carbon emissions;
and the ‘Resources and Energy Analysis
Programme’ REAP for Local Authorities,
developed by the Stockholm Environment
Institute, which measures the planetary
environmental impact of overall resource
consumption at local or regional level.
Examples from the other end of the spectrum,
which specify a deliberately broader range
of criteria, include the Star Community Rating
System (jointly developed by ICLEI and the
US Green Building Council), which covers the
built environment, climate change, energy,
natural resources, the local economy and jobs,
education, health, equity and the arts; and
the French ÉcoQuartier national certification
scheme, designed to encompass land
use planning, climate change adaptation
and resource preservation, quality of life,
and governance.
It is unsurprising that institutional sustainability
considerations are only rarely the main
focus of frameworks, and yet these do play
some explicit role in the definition of urban
sustainability for most of the cases examined
here (30 of the 43). Their common inclusion
points to a conscious awareness among their
backers that questions of governance are
closely connected to urban sustainability.
with collaborative steering processes and
high-level goals, rather than with development
meeting pre-given targets. National schemes,
on the other hand, typically take the
shape of competitions, or are tied in with
broader policy-making related to economic
competitiveness. Since, as will be discussed
in the following Chapter, tensions exist
between the various governance functions of
frameworks, it may be reasonable to describe
the current tendency towards standardisation
as having multiple directions; clusters of
frameworks associated with particular
intended governance functions have
emerged, and different types of organisation
are more likely to be involved with some of
these than others (see section further below).
Definitions of urban sustainability
The nature of the definitional work done by
indicator sets varies considerably, both in
terms of the scope of their concerns, and
the relative emphasis given to the different
dimensions of sustainability. A spectrum can
be observed, ranging from frameworks with
a clearly demarcated set of concerns, to
those deliberately employing a wide range
of indicators to encompass explicitly the
different dimensions of sustainability.
The precise indicators and criteria specified
in each framework were analysed to identify
the relative emphasis of each framework
on the environmental, socio-economic, or
governance dimensions of urban sustainability.
(Social and economic indicators were grouped
together since in many cases it made little
sense to separate them – as in the case of,
for example, local employment.) The analysis
was conducted by coding the sustainability
dimension to which each individual indicator
most obviously related; in cases where broad
principles rather than concrete indicators
are prescribed, the principles were coded
instead. For each framework, the total for each
category was then tallied and compared.
30 31
Figure 3.4 summarises the governance
functions of a typical framework in this
category, LEED ND (‘Neighbourhood
Development’), which is managed by the
US Green Building Council. Along with
BREEAM Communities, LEED ND represents
a prominent example of the evolution of
indicator frameworks over time, from a
concern with individual buildings to more
integrated assessments of urban districts as
a whole. It is used to certify developments
at different stages, with a focus on green
buildings, smart growth and urbanism,
including green infrastructure, integrated
transport and liveable community. In its multi-
stage approach, it is intended to have a strong
shaping influence on urban development from
the early planning phase onwards.
Figure 3.4: LEED ND, typifying
governance functions of ‘certification’
cluster of frameworks
3 = dominant/main function
2 = integral but not main
1 = minor
0 = absent
The Climate Positive programme, mentioned
earlier, also exemplifies this cluster well.
This is also a multi-stage accreditation
scheme, but with a more singular focus
on net carbon emissions (focusing in
particular on energy, transport and waste).
The use of this high-level ‘output’ indicator,
rather than a complex set of prescriptive
ones, allows the means of implementation
to be determined locally (and this also
potentially allows it to be used alongside
other more detailed frameworks – as is the
case in, for example, the Menlyn Maine
new-build development in Pretoria, South
Africa). The Climate Positive programme is
currently being applied in cooperation with
development partners across six continents,
on 17 separate projects.
Box 3.2: ‘Certification’ frameworks
Most typical examples
BREEAM Communities
Climate Positive
Enterprise Green Communities
Green Star Communities
IGBC Green Townships Rating System
Living Building Challenge
Star Community Rating System
One Planet Communities
Sustainable Communities
Integral or dominant community
engagement function
Estidama Pearl Community Rating System
National Eco-County, Eco-City
and Eco-Province
National Eco-Garden City
Selo Casa Azul Caisa
Framed by national policy agenda
‘Certification’ frameworks
This second group also typically has a
strong element of performance assessment,
but is geared more fundamentally towards
certification or endorsement. Certification
schemes normally involve a membership-
based multi-stage accreditation process,
typically against some fee payment. They
appeal to developers and utility companies
since the formal accreditation process may
assist both in securing third-party investment
and in marketing the development with a
sustainability ‘kitemark’. In this sense, they
respond to the needs of actors seeking to
promote urban developments or cities through
external communications, as noted in the
previous chapter. Like the ‘performance
assessment’ cluster, the certification cluster
accounts for 16 of the 43 cases. International
government agencies, local authorities, and
technology/engineering firms are not involved
as primary promoters: six are run by social
enterprises or NGOs; five by professional
bodies; and two by national agencies.
The Green City Index, managed by
engineering and technology company
Siemens, is an example of a performance
assessment framework aiming to facilitate
cross-city comparisons. The indicator set
varies for each global region, to reflect
differing conditions and data availability, but
typically includes approximately 30 variables
across 8-9 categories (CO2 emissions,
energy, buildings, land use, transport, water
and sanitation, waste management, air
quality, and environmental governance –
appearing in different combinations). Around
half the indicators are quantitative; the others
require qualitative assessments of policies. So
far, the initiative has captured data for over
120 large cities in Europe, North America,
Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Building on
the Green City Index, Siemens has recently
developed the City Performance Tool, which
allows cities to simulate and model the likely
environmental and economic impacts of
introducing new technologies.
The 16 ‘performance assessment’ frameworks
are listed in Box 3.1. Eleven of the schemes
precisely match the governance function
profile of the City Biodiversity Index; these,
characteristically, often explicitly contain
the words ‘index’ or ‘indicators’ in their
name. The five others have a very similar
profile, but with minor variations. For
example, the IEFS and FSA frameworks,
managed by NGOs, both also have a clear
intended governance function of promoting
community engagement. The OECD-led
Green Cities Programme aims to support
national policy-making, and the Tianjin-
Binhai Ecocity indicator forms part of a
national policy initiative. The management
of performance assessment frameworks is
not obviously associated with any particular
types of organisational actor, though no
national agencies are involved, and both the
frameworks managed by private technology/
engineering firms (Simens’ Green City Index
and IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge) appear
in this cluster.
Box 3.1: ‘Performance assessment’
Typical examples
Minor variations
CASBEE for Urban Development/Cities
City Biodiversity Index (‘Singapore Index’)
Eco-City Development Index System
European Common Indicators
Global City Indicators Facility
Global Urban Indicators
Green City Index
REAP for Local Authorities
Sustainable Cities Index
Green Cities Programme
Smarter Cities Challenge
Tianjin Binhai Ecocity
32 33
framework deliberately moves away from
prescribing specific indicators or types of
activity, on the basis that every city has a
unique set of pre-existing economic, social,
cultural, institutional, and environmental
challenges and opportunities. Its key aim
instead is to facilitate a process whereby
local stakeholders themselves decide and act
on priority issues (while also recommending
that participant cities adopt a recognised
framework of more prescriptive indicators
alongside this process, depending on their
specific requirements).
The ‘planning toolkit’ is less common than the
other types, accounting for 11 of the total of
43 (as listed in Box 3.3). Most are managed
by governmental or quasi-governmental
actors: four are promoted by international
organisations; three were established by
local authorities (though this includes the
EcoDistricts scheme, whose coordinating
body has now gained charitable status, and
now also includes a tailor-made certification
protocol); and two are managed by non-
governmental organisations. No frameworks
of this type are managed by professional
bodies or engineering/technology firms.
Box 3.3: ‘Planning Toolkit’ frameworks
Community engagement function
integral or dominant
Community engagement function
minor or absent
ASEAN ESC Model Cities
Biosphere Eco-City
Community Capital Tool
Eco2 Cities
Green Communities
Urban Sustainability Indicators
Charter of Eco Mayors (Les Eco Maires)
Eco-Model Cities
Green Climate Cities
The field of eco-city frameworks remains
open and varied, both in terms of the
types of actors involved in devising and
promoting frameworks, thematic content,
and intended governance functions. While
there is no strong evidence of marketplace
consolidation in any one direction, a multiple
process of potential standardisation appears
to be occurring, whereby frameworks are
competing for attention with regard to
particular governance functions. It is possible
in future that particular schemes will come
to dominate different specialist niches:
various types of ‘gold standard’ may emerge
which each respond to a particular type
of sustainability-related goal. Alternatively,
those frameworks which have more holistic
ambitions may be better placed to lead the
way forwards. The direction of any such
consolidation, however, is likely to depend
not so much on the intentions of framework
promoters and adopters, as on the proven
ability of particular schemes to deliver
practical innovations, benefits to adopters,
and tangible sustainability outcomes on the
ground. The following chapter therefore
looks more closely at the varied experience
of implementing frameworks in different
contexts, so as to identify some of the key
challenges which have become visible as
frameworks have been put into practice
around the world.
The EcoDistricts framework typifies this
cluster as a whole (see Figure 3.5). This
was originally piloted in Portland, Oregon
(USA) and now being applied more
widely. It guides local communities through
a multi-stage process in which key local
stakeholders and community members work
together to define an overall ‘vision’ for their
neighbourhood as well as a governance
structure and finance mechanisms. A ‘district
assessment’ is then carried out, taking into
account eight predefined performance areas,
and specific projects are identified. Ongoing
monitoring of the district is then conducted
to understand the extent to which the chosen
projects have had a broader impact on
different dimensions of sustainability.
There is a tendency for such frameworks to
prescribe broad principles for sustainability
assessment rather than mandate detailed,
concrete targets. UNESCO’s Biosphere Eco-
City, for example, sets only broad parameters
for the types of indicators which participants
might consider including. The Eco2 Cities
The 16 frameworks in this category are listed
in Box 3.2 (see previous page). In a few
cases, the goal of certification is accompanied
by a particular focus on enabling community
engagement. This is most clearly the case
for two NGO-led schemes: Bioregional’s
One Planet Communities; and Audubon
International’s Sustainable Communities. In
order to facilitate social learning, both of these
schemes are relatively prescriptive in terms
of the process of certification, but flexible in
the precise indicators used. For others, the
certification process is framed by a national
policy agenda aiming explicitly to encourage
innovation: France’s EcoQuartier and Brazil’s
Selo Casa Azul Caixa initiative, the UAE’s
Estidama Pearl Community Rating System,
and the Chinese National Eco-Garden City
and National Eco-County, Eco-City and Eco-
Province frameworks fall into this sub-category.
‘Planning toolkit’ frameworks
The common feature of this third group is a
primary emphasis on guiding the processes of
sustainability planning; in other words, their
governance orientation is towards supporting
the establishment of, and collaborative
decision-making processes within, ‘design
communities’ of different types. Typically,
they also have a clear component of
performance assessment, while many place
strong or primary emphasis on community
engagement. Notable examples of the latter
are the US Environmental Protection Agency’s
Green Communities framework, UNESCO’s
Biosphere Eco-City Programme; and the
Community Capital Tool, jointly devised
by Simon Fraser University in Canada and
Tilburg University, Netherlands.
Figure 3.5: EcoDistricts, typifying
governance functions of ‘planning toolkit’
cluster of frameworks
3 = dominant/main function
2 = integral but not main
1 = minor
0 = absent
34 35
has been achieved), with adopters including
private-sector developers, local authorities,
manufacturers and retailers. The discussion here
focuses specifically on its recent application
in three urban settings in the UK: the city-wide
Brighton & Hove One Planet Region initiative
(partnering with the city council); North-West
Bicester One Planet Communities (an urban
expansion led by private developers), and the
Sutton One Planet Living Plan (a borough-wide
initiative backed by the local council).
The OPL concept is motivated by the results
of ‘ecological footprint analysis’ (Rees, 1992;
Wackernagel & Rees, 1996; Rees, 2013) and
conceptualised around ten principles (see Figure
4.1). It guides partner projects or organisations
through a process of benchmarking and
stakeholder workshops, leading to a tailored
‘One Planet Action Plan’ specifying strategies,
targets, and ongoing measurements. It is currently
operational in initiatives at different scales in 51
countries (in 12 of which formal accreditation
Figure 4.1: The ten principles of One Planet Living
Source: Bioregional (undated)
Local and sustainable food
Supporting sustainable and humane
farming, promoting access to healthy,
low impact, seasonal and organic diets
and reducing food waste
Sustainable materials
Using sustainable and healthy products,
such as those with low embodied energy,
sourced locally, made from renewable
or waste resources
Sustainable transport
Reducing the need to travel, and
encouraging low and zero carbon modes
of transport to reduce emissions
Zero waste
Reducing waste, reusing where
possible and ultimately sending
zero waste to landfill
Health and hapiness
Encouraging active, sociable,
meaningful lives to promote good
health and well being
Equity and local economy
Creating bioregional economies that
support equity and diverse local
employment and international fair trade
Culture and community
Respecting and reviving local identity, wisdom
and culture; encouraging the involvement
of people in shaping their community and
creating a new culture of sustainability
Land use and wildlife
Protecting and restoring biodiversity
and creating new natural habitats through
good land use and integration into the
built environment
Sustainable water
Using water efficiently in buildings,
farming and manufacturing. Designing
to avoid local issues such as flooding,
drought and water course pollution
Zero carbon
Making buildings energy efficient
and delivering all energy with
renewable technologies
The 43 frameworks identified in the previous
chapter each represent a different attempt
to ‘encode’ urban sustainability into a set
of processes and/or outcomes designed to
be applicable across multiple contexts. This
encodement describes a process of abstraction
involving particular choices about what is
to be replicated. Given the complexity and
heterogeneity of the real urban contexts to
which they will be applied, however, it should
not be assumed that precise implementational
outcomes can be directly read off frameworks
themselves. Instead, it may be more useful to
conceptualise the process of implementation as
one of ‘decoding’, involving various processes
of negotiation as local actors work to translate
a framework into context-specific actions and
ways of managing these actions. (See Figure
2.1 on page 14.)
This chapter considers some key dimensions
of this work of decoding, based on a series
of local workshop discussions in Canada,
China, Germany, South Korea and the UK
exploring the experience of implementing
frameworks on the ground (see Appendix
for details). While these considerations have
generic potential relevance to replicable
frameworks around the world, some particular
regional differences are highlighted. The
discussion also draws on a specific case
study of the One Planet Living (henceforth
‘OPL’) accreditation framework, to illustrate
how these tensions may play out variously in
practice (Joss, 2014). OPL, coordinated by
NGO Bioregional, is an instructive case study
since its holistic approach brings many of these
tensions to the fore; its widespread international
adoption since 2003, meanwhile, may indicate
a degree of success in their resolution.
The Varied
on The ground
36 37
The difficulties inherent in communicating
simultaneously with professional actors and
the general public may be one reason for the
emergence of parallel clusters of frameworks
observed in the previous chapter; some
choose to emphasise technical requirements,
while others focus more on facilitating
inclusive collaborative social learning. There
was a perception in the workshops that the
former, especially those targeted primarily at
private sector actors, appear to be spreading
more widely, since their adopters have clear
financial motivations. Pre-existing community
interest in sustainability, conversely, may
vary considerably and cannot be taken for
granted – a problem potentially exacerbated
by frameworks which give relatively
little emphasis to the social and cultural
dimensions of sustainability.
The workshops highlighted some significant
differences in individual countries. In China,
for example, there is a less well embedded
tradition of public engagement, and urban
sustainability initiatives often rely heavily on
quantitative indicators and detailed technical
measurements. While western participants
criticised the resulting schedules and models
as technocratic, ‘quasi-scientific’, and open
to abuse due to their opacity, the Chinese
participants observed that little impact on
policy-making is possible if this approach
is not adopted. A Vancouver participant
highlighted the value of comparable ‘hard’
benchmarking data for North American cities
wishing to demonstrate lack of vulnerability
to law suits when seeking inward investment.
In Korea, rather differently, it was suggested
that one reason why generic international
standards have failed to take off is their
apparent disregard for local cultural and
social norms.
Given the non-technical wording of its
principles, their relatively strong emphasis
on social sustainability (as indicated by the
mentions of ‘happiness’, ‘equity’, ‘culture’
and ‘community’), and its inclusive process
methods, OPL potentially represents a best
practice example of intended community
engagement. Even for OPL, though,
interviewees across the three sites reported
that communication remains challenging.
In one case, this led the local adopter to
reduce the framework’s ten principles to five
simplified themes. Another case illustrates
the possibility that community engagement
may be seen as standing in conflict with
the political process: here, concerns were
raised that an overt association of OPL with
the governing party might have dissuaded
actors with different political inclinations
from participation. Its public dimension,
consequently, has been downplayed
and instead its policy-internal, technical
utility emphasised. In these examples,
then, compliance with a given framework
across different contexts does not imply a
standardisation of engagement practices.
Partnership facilitation
If frameworks structurally encode the needs
of particular key audiences and imply
certain relationships between them, they
cannot fully determine the nature and
qualities of these relationships. While the
framework itself has a privileged shaping
role, the very choice to adopt one framework
rather than another may have been made
to reflect existing conditions; in the London
and Vancouver workshops, it was observed
that local authorities’ participation in
particular schemes may depend on which
particular aspects of sustainability they
want to be accountable for. Frameworks,
in other words, neither sit neutrally outside
governance arrangements, nor determine
them, but work more dynamically as
co-producers of relatively unpredictable
partnerships between their promoters,
adopters, and other variously empowered
local actors. The nature of such partnerships
not only differs from case to case, but may
shift over time between the different phases
of a project (and depending on changes in
the political or commercial context).
Frameworks offering a ‘fixed’ template or
protocol may appear to promise greater
certainty by mandating particular relationships
– though this is no guarantee that such
relationships will be constructive ones. OPL
instead essentially entails an ongoing, evolving
relationship between Bioregional and the
local adopters. The nature of the emergent
partnerships in the three UK sites studied in
this research varies, and is characterised by
ongoing evolution across the planning and
implementation phases.
Boundary work
To be operational, frameworks must
necessarily define the intended scope of
their application. They variously delineate
the spatial extent of the urban area to be
assessed or transformed, demarcate or
recommend particular fields of activity, define
timeframes, and highlight the importance of
particular groups of actors and institutions
in implementation processes. In practice,
however, the spatial boundaries of a
framework’s application will be porous:
air quality, traffic conditions, or economic
success, for example, may depend primarily
on what happens elsewhere. Relatedly, the
operational scales and jurisdictional divisions
associated with the different infrastructural or
regulatory systems involved may vary, and
differ to the one envisaged in the framework.
Participating organisations may not all
work to similar timescales. Thematic or
procedural prescriptions may conflict with
existing regulatory structures at different
scales. Resolving such tensions may
necessitate various types of ongoing active
‘boundary work’, whereby collaborations
or divisions of labour are agreed upon,
compromises are reached, and innovative
design solutions achieved.
At the global level, some of these tensions
may have been obviated through a
fragmentation of the field: as discussed
in the previous chapter, frameworks vary
in the relative emphasis given to different
dimensions of sustainability, intended
governance functions, and target stakeholder
audiences. OPL, however, is characterised
by the comprehensiveness of its approach,
both thematically and in terms of procedural
engagement. It not only demonstrates breadth
through its ten core principles, but each
principle itself encapsulates an extensive
dimension of sustainable development. For
example, the principle ‘local and sustainable
food’ implies the systematic consideration of
food production, distribution and consumption
policies and processes. Such a comprehensive
approach requires the involvement of a broad
range of actors across jurisdictions, all of
whose interests and capacities need to be
aligned for viable decisions to be made.
Research participants in the three UK
locations, who had played various roles
in the adoption process, welcomed OPL’s
holistic ambitions and clearly valued it as a
tool for engagement. Nevertheless, concern
was expressed about it potentially extending
the reach of sustainability action beyond the
responsibility of organisations adopting it.
For example, ‘sustainable and local food’
may overstretch a local authority, given that
its sphere of influence relating to the food
chain is limited. Furthermore, even where an
action falls within the direct jurisdiction of
a local adopter, OPL principles and related
targets may be difficult to achieve due to
competing national policy and regulations.
Recognising this challenge, a number of
strategies have been deployed: for example,
in the case of Brighton & Hove, the city
published two separate policies; one,
concerning OPL-related action for the city
council itself; the other, for the city overall.
The former sets out commitments and related
targets concerning various actions for which
the city council has direct responsibility;
the latter defines OPL targets in a more
open-ended way, to be achieved in active
co-operation with various stakeholders
(business, voluntary groups, community
etc.). The boundary problem has therefore
been resolved in this instance by decoding
the framework into two parallel, mutually
reinforcing sets of prescriptions.
Community engagement
Given the wide range of actors involved in
sustainable urban development, a framework
may need to speak several ‘languages’.
Those adopting the more technical discourse
of policy-makers, planners, urban designers,
architects, or property developers may fail
to engage local communities. This may be
problematic given the general agreement that
initiatives which do not take account of local
community needs and aspirations will have
less chance of succeeding (even if private
developers looking to export replicable
innovations may be wary of enabling overly
context-specific solutions). The alternative
approach, however, of following principles of
simple language and conceptual accessibility,
may fail to motivate private sector actors
or local authorities seeking to promote
developments or cities based on recognised
rigorous certification.
38 39
OPL is designed both to facilitate planning
and community engagement and to be
a tool of assessment: it entails an explicit
performance assessment component, while
also optionally acting as formal endorsement
process (and all three initiatives studied here
have received OPL accreditation). Although
this demonstrates that both ‘process’ and
‘measurement’ can coexist within a widely
adopted framework, the two nevertheless
sit together uneasily. While interviewees
respected the assessment and endorsement
processes of OPL, some were uncertain
about what these processes entail. The
interviews did not fully reveal how the
process of developing and approving the
action plan works, or clarify what calculation
methods and assessment processes should
be used to translate OPL principles and
related international targets into the local
context. This may be partly due to the rather
opaque relationship between the framework
champion and local adopters: the action
plan may be the result of evolving discussions
and informal negotiations, rather than based
on some agreed, open methodology. Once
again, this may not need to be problematic
per se – it may indeed be seen as an
essential aspect of the innovation process
– but it does raise some questions about
the transparency and replicability of the
framework as a governance innovation tool.
Comparability across urban forms
and eco-city types
Eco-city initiatives may take the form of
newly built developments, or programmes
of ‘retro-fitting’. But the idea that a single
framework could satisfactorily cover both was
challenging for some workshop participants.
While some frameworks – including OPL – are
designed with this dual purpose in mind, it is
arguable whether assessment or accreditation
has the same meaning in each case. A
Korean participant compared the newly built
developments of Songdo and Sejong with their
adjoining existing urban areas (Seoul and
Daejon respectively). At the level of process,
the collaborative relationships required to
build a new city, and to retrofit an existing
urban area, may be radically different; if the
goal is to measure sustainability performance,
meanwhile, a standard would not be
comparing like with like.
Again, from a global perspective, some
fragmentation of the field can be observed in
this respect, with many frameworks focusing
specifically either on new urban areas or
on retrofitting. There was a perception in
the UK and German workshops that well-
known frameworks tend to focus on new
development, and a call for more attention to
be paid to retrofitting in future – particularly
in countries such as the UK, where newly-built
developments only account for a negligible
proportion of the overall housing stock.
And yet the standardisation of retrofitting or
assessing existing urban areas may present
even more challenges than that of new
development. This is not merely a problem
of comparing, for example, global regions;
rather, radical differences of urban form
may be evident between cities in very close
proximity. One UK workshop participant
compared the city of Peterborough (where
OPL has been applied) with the nearby
historic city of Cambridge, questioning
whether any single assessment scheme
could produce comparable results. German
workshop participants observed that different
European cities currently have vastly different
rates of growth: some are stable or shrinking;
others are rapidly growing agglomerations.
Tremendous variety may, furthermore, be
observed within the same city: examples were
given of European cities which encompass
certain districts laid out in the Middle Ages,
others built in the 1890s, and others still
in the 1950s. At the micro-level, then,
fundamentally different set of challenges
and opportunities arise. In older districts, for
example, goals related to ecological renewal
may be in conflict with those of conservation;
there may be relatively few opportunities
for improving insulation, say, or introducing
renewable energy technologies (both may
face technical and legal obstacles). But
such areas may lend themselves well to the
provision of public transport or other services
which are unviable in newer, less compact
neighbourhoods. If a standardised assessment
process is applied across different areas, the
same apparently objective measures may
conceal significant variation in the nature and
difficulty of the process of implementation.
Viewed positively, the close partnerships
thus engendered can be seen as an
important component of the innovation
process, suggesting effective co-operation
and practice learning. In all three cases, the
partnership arose from smaller pilot projects,
which subsequently evolved into broader
engagement and the eventual adoption of the
OPL framework. Such an organic, growing
relationship can be considered a strength,
demonstrating enduring commitment to
long-term innovation. Viewed more critically,
however, it suggests some limitations to the
usefulness of OPL as a stand-alone framework
– that is, without concurrent involvement of
the framework champion. One participant
in a later workshop suggested that more
flexible frameworks may flounder where
strong governance structures are not already
institutionally established.
There is a further risk that fluid, organic
relationship-building of this type may
obfuscate the relationship between framework
champion and adopter, not least where the
framework champion – as is the case for
OPL – acts in a dual role of co-developer
and certifier. Some of the research
participants emphasised the relative lack
of clarity concerning the OPL partnership
relationship. This tension can be seen at
work, too, in other frameworks combining
a part-development and part-certification
function. In response, this suggests the need
for an explicit, transparent articulation of the
framework champion―adopter relationship,
and particularly the boundaries between
shared and separate responsibilities among
actors involved.
Robustness of assessment and endorsement
As already noted, framework implementation
typically involves alliances of different types
of actors, arranged more or less formally,
which may shift over time. This fluid hybridity
may lead to divergent negotiated outcomes,
depending on the motivations and relative
levels of power and resources available
to the actors involved at different stages
of the process. Although the negotiations
and problem solving involved may be
viewed in a positive light as fundamental
to goals of social learning and innovation,
they simultaneously raise questions about
transparency over decision-making,
and challenge the idea that like-for-like
comparisons, for the purposes of performance
assessment, certification and endorsement,
are being facilitated.
This challenge of marrying the facilitative
role of frameworks with the need for robust,
standardised assessment may be a further
reason why a clustering of frameworks,
rather than a unidirectional process of
standardisation, appears to be occurring
globally. The European Union-backed
Reference Framework for European
Sustainable Cities (an online toolkit to
assist European cities in developing and
assessing urban sustainability strategies
and action across planning and policy
cycles) was cited in the German workshops
as an example of a framework whose
simplicity and straightforwardness makes
it a valuable “tool to talk”, but which
produces questionably meaningful results.
Nevertheless, the challenge of ensuring
robust assessment is not automatically met
where frameworks prescribe fixed, technical
indicators and detailed methodologies for
assessment. One Vancouver participant
suggested that the types of rigorous
assessment possible for individual buildings
lack relevance at the city-wide scale, given
the complexity and diversity of non-technical
issues at play (and argued that frameworks
more effectively encourage innovation at
the neighbourhood ‘niche’ level, where
socio-economic considerations can be
more easily delineated and captured by
indicators). In China, participants observed
that monitoring may not be systematic, data
may be tampered with, and barriers put
up to measurement. Similarly, in the UK,
the question arose of “who assesses the
assessors?”. Korean participants accepted the
legitimising role of less negotiable indicator
sets, but were concerned that standardised
quantitative indicators may have “unintended
consequences” at global and local levels
precisely because they may encode
asymmetrical power relationships. Legitimacy,
in other words, is no guarantee of good
development occurring.
40 41
It is only now becoming possible to identify
and analyse the difficulties associated with
decoding eco-city frameworks, factors leading
to better practical sustainability outcomes,
and forms of standardisation more conducive
to future development going beyond ‘business
as usual’. At this early stage, reflecting on the
diversity of experiences on the ground may
at least help us avoid fetishising the goal of
standardisation unquestioningly; there are
good reasons instead to welcome the choice
of frameworks currently available, to the
extent that this encourages substantive locally
relevant innovation. The parallel challenges of
managing boundaries, engaging communities
while motivating public and private sector
actors, facilitating constructive relationships,
ensuring robust assessment procedures, and
meeting singular requirements in diverse
physical urban environments, even raise the
possibility that a universal standard would
in fact have very little value. In terms of
practices on the ground, universal compliance
to such a standard may mean little more
than the fact of compliance itself. On the
other hand, further fragmented growth of
the field may raise its own set of problems.
An unlimited ‘pick and mix’ approach
may imply a ‘race to the bottom’, with a
tendency for less demanding frameworks to
be adopted. As one Vancouver workshop
participant put it, we cannot be sure whether
“peak tool” has yet been reached; looking
forwards, however, the survival of individual
frameworks may depend increasingly on
their demonstrable ability to overcome the
challenges of translating abstracted principles
into effective transformative action.
Whether the field develops either in
the direction of consolidation or further
specialisation, this preliminary research
has identified some cross-cutting issues
which may need more attention in future.
These relate to questions of transparency
associated particularly with the hybrid
governance processes which emerge around
implementation processes, and are among
the themes explored more fully in the next
chapter, which looks to the future.
42 43
Clarity of purpose
Variety among eco-city frameworks is partly
due to differing thematic perspectives on urban
sustainability, but it is also in no small part
due to differences in their intended functions.
The findings of this research have various
implications for the three main categories of
governance functionality outlined in Chapter 2.
Although each of these are dealt with in turn
below, it is not suggested here that these must
be kept strictly apart – in reality, individual
eco-city frameworks may purposefully combine
some of these functions. The aim, rather, is
to assist both those in the business of designing
an eco-city framework and those adopting
them in practice to be clear about the intended
contributions to governance processes.
This should also help make explicit the
motivations of various actors in deploying
eco-city frameworks.
(Performance) assessment. Among the
eco-city frameworks surveyed, there is
a sizeable cluster of frameworks with
exclusive focus on providing assessment
tools. Here, the frameworks’ contribution to
governing sustainable urban development
is more limited in scope and of technical
nature, based on standardised methods
and techniques for measuring and
appraising particular urban sustainability
dimensions. In addition, this framework
category may entail tools for city-to-city
comparison and benchmarking. Due to
their more circumscribed, technical function,
frameworks within this category may be
readily integrated into a variety of policy
and governance contexts. However, as
noted, this does not mean that there is no
need for careful attention paid to questions
following two reasons: first, conceptually,
sustainable urban development is far from
a settled matter, with continuous differences
in thematic accentuations and priorities in
spite of decades of research and policy
efforts; and second, in practice, the multitude
of contexts in which sustainable urbanism
is applied suggests the persistence of
variability. There may, therefore, yet be
limitations to the scope for standardisation
of urban sustainability, at least when
understood rather narrowly as uniformity
of content and process.
The prospect of continuous diversity,
however, need not necessarily be viewed
as problematic. On the contrary, it can
be embraced positively as a process of
collective, experimental innovation and
learning. The processes of the conceptual
design and varied practice applications
of eco-city frameworks, coupled with the
possibility of dialogue across frameworks
and contexts, all contribute to the growing
body of knowledge about sustainable
urban development. And maintaining an
open, experimental approach should allow
for ongoing learning and adaptation – an
important requirement given the long-term,
evolving trajectories involved – while all
the time moving along the implementation
of sustainable urban development. From a
policy perspective, therefore, what at this
stage is arguably less needed is a push for
uniform standardisation, and instead more
of a stance which allows for a plurality of
approaches to be accommodated flexibly
in the interest of knowledge innovation and
social and policy learning.
The experience of eco-city frameworks, as
standardising processes for sustainable urban
development, has been varied to date, and
shown mixed results. Given the apparent
diversity of conceptual directions, and the
richness of the on-the-ground experience,
the task of distilling some general lessons for
policy and practice is not straightforward.
In nevertheless setting out some key points
below, this should therefore not be read as
suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach and
providing step-by-step guidance. Rather,
the following points are intended as broad
recommendations in support of further critical
work on how eco-city frameworks of one kind
or another can be conceptualised, designed
and applied in practice.
Benefits of variety
The empirical survey of recent eco-city
frameworks conducted as part of this
study paints a picture of an emergent,
rapidly evolving and diversifying field.
Within the last 5-7 years alone, a
considerable number of new eco-city
frameworks have cropped up, promoted
by a heterogeneous group of organisations,
and applied in diverse urban settings and
policy contexts. If the present situation is,
therefore, characterised by expanding
diversity then this invites speculation as to
the course of future development: will the
current proliferation continue, or perhaps
soon be replaced by consolidation with
the direction of standardisation becoming
clearer and the survival of but a few
dominant eco-city frameworks? Based on
the present analysis, it may be realistic to
expect ongoing variety, not least for the
and PraCTiCe
44 45
has been limited, given that it represents a
nascent field of practice with results still only
in the process of emerging. It seems essential,
therefore, to invest in evaluating these practice
processes, to be able to achieve learning
about the benefits and limitations of various
eco-city framework applications. From this
point alone, it might be premature to suggest
a consolidation of eco-city frameworks and
a push for more uniform standardisation of
urban sustainability any time soon.
The case study analyses carried out as part
of this project – and reflected by research
undertaken elsewhere – point to the complex,
multiple interactions arising from the
application of eco-city frameworks in specific
urban and policy settings. If one considers
the use of an eco-city framework as an
intervention in governance, then this focuses
attention to questions, among others, about:
the appropriate moment in the planning and
policy processes when the chosen framework
should be introduced; the mobilisation of
relevant existing networks of actors, or
the need for convening new networks; the
integration of the processes and outcomes
generated by the framework into wider
planning and policy-making; and the need for
oversight and accountability. In short, these
and related questions draw our attention to the
inevitable boundary work involved as part of
the process of applying eco-city frameworks
in urban governance contexts, and alert us
to issues of social and political agency and
power, some of the effects of which may well
be unintentional, and hence also the potential
for conflict. If using an eco-city framework is
to be more than a technocratic process, then
these governance issues should be considered
of central importance in application practice,
and they can be expected to co-determine
sustainable development outcomes.
Realistically, if the use of an eco-city
framework is to resonate with, and effectively
engage, in urban governance processes,
in order to produce substantive sustainable
development outcomes, then a ‘tick-box’
approach might be counter-productive. The
latter can sometimes be observed, when
an eco-city framework is used as a ‘quick-
and-ready’ means of raising a discourse on,
carrying out an appraisal of, or developing
designs for, an urban sustainability initiative.
While there may be some place for more
limited, punctual intervention, this approach
– especially if used as short-cut for more
substantive processes – risks losing traction,
suffering from legitimacy problems, and
producing ‘thin’ outcomes. If the true
value and significance of eco-city frameworks
lie in their context-specific practice
applications then serious engagement with
those context processes and dynamics are
inevitable and essential. Such engagement
prompts attention on how eco-city framework
applications can and should interlink with
other policy and regulatory tools, market
mechanisms and organisational structures, to
produce effective, lasting sustainable urban
development. Otherwise, there is a risk of
disjointed innovation and limited gains,
however noble the intention behind an eco-
city framework.
Commitment to openness
A commitment to openness seems to be
called for, given the nascent state of eco-city
framework theory and practice. In particular,
the fact that the attempt to standardise urban
sustainability raises a series of tricky issues
about what should and can be standardised
and how this is to be accomplished (and
by whom); that there is growing interest in
applying eco-city frameworks yet practical
experiences are still relatively few and far
between; and that the application of eco-city
frameworks can be expected to result in
complex processes of governance intervention
on the ground; all of this suggests the need
for an open and open-minded approach in
the interest of generating relevant knowledge
and fostering shared learning. In particular,
a commitment to openness should benefit the
following aspects of eco-city frameworks:
Conceptual design: explicating the definition,
and choice, of underlying principles,
indicators and targets
Selection process: clarifying the motivations
for, and purpose of, applying a given eco-
city framework within a particular policy and
decision context
Implementation processes: providing
transparent information on, and
documenting, the structures, procedures and
participants involved in implementation
about how methods and techniques are
defined in framework design, nor to
questions about how in their practice
application they interact with governance
processes on the ground.
Certification. A similarly large cluster
of frameworks includes a certification
function (sometimes alternatively referred
to as ‘endorsement’, ‘recognition’, or
‘accreditation’). This category uses
performance assessment in a structured,
multi-stage process, through which
certification can gradually be obtained.
(Working towards certification may entail
starting as an ‘applicant’, then progressing
to ‘candidate’, and eventually becoming a
full ‘member’.) How certification interacts
with, and can be integrated into, wider,
established governance processes,
including (local) planning and regulation,
merits close consideration, as does the
relationship arising between the certifier
and the local adopter; neither of these can
be assumed as given. Interestingly, while
certification may be particularly attractive
to private sector actors (both as certifiers
and adopters), there is some indication
that certification may become a tool for
public planning: ÉcoQuartier is an example
of a national framework (France) which
incorporates formal accreditation; similarly,
some national and international standards
organisations have developed certification
tools for sustainable urban development.
Design & planning process. A deliberately
broad approach is taken by eco-city
frameworks intended to facilitate
comprehensive design and planning
processes. This variably entails – on the
basis of a set of principles and indicators,
and through a series of structured
techniques and procedures – assisting with
creating visions and strategies, developing
action plans, implementing these through
targeted initiatives, while also providing
quality assurance through accompanying
evaluation. Similar to certification
processes, this approach typically relies
on a close working relationship between
the organisation offering a given eco-city
framework, and the actors adopting it
locally; but it may also extend to other
stakeholders on the ground who would
be expected to be involved in, say, co-
producing action plans and disseminating
‘good’ practice. How participants can be
effectively incorporated in these processes,
therefore, becomes a critical issue, as
does again the ability to align the activities
generated by the application of an eco-
city framework with the wider policy and
planning cycles. Consideration should be
given to the possible risk of generating
perfunctory activity in the case of an
eco-city framework curtailing otherwise
substantial processes in the name of
efficiency or as a quick-cut to sustainable
urban development.
Since, as noted in Chapter 2, communication
is a cross-cutting governance function relevant
to all three of the above governance roles, a
further set of important implications arise for
how eco-city frameworks are presented and
discussed. Whether an eco-city framework
fulfils mainly a technical function as
performance assessment tool, whether it
is used for marketing initiatives through
certification, or whether it serves to facilitate
design and planning processes, each of these
contributions involve different communication
modes and thus required particular efforts
of their own. The communicative function
of eco-city frameworks is central, from
explicating the particular conceptual
understanding underpinning the framework
to specifying its particular substantive and
procedural elements in principle as well as
practice. In designing eco-city frameworks,
and when selecting one for practice
application, the communicative dimension
needs close consideration.
A matter of context
While it is essential to probe into how eco-
city frameworks themselves are internally
constructed, in order to consider their
underlying conceptual approaches to
sustainable urban development, it is ultimately
to their application in particular contexts
and in practice that we have to turn our
attention: it is here that we can gain proper
insight into their actual contributions to urban
sustainability processes and outcomes, and
learn about the prospects for standardising
sustainable urbanism. To date, the experience
of eco-city frameworks as applied processes
46 47
Outputs and outcomes: documenting, and
providing an account of, outputs produced
and resulting outcomes in policy- and
decision-making processes; furthermore,
documenting and analysing substantive
urban sustainability outcomes
(Independent) review: enabling evaluation
of process implementation and outcomes,
ideally through third-party review, to provide
learning feedback and ensure accountability
Open access: as much as possible offering
eco-city frameworks on an open-access
basis, in the interest of practice innovation
and diffusion, which may be particularly
relevant in resource-poor settings
International research observatories: making
available and maintaining repositories of
information materials and documentation,
as open resource in support of comparative
research and practice development.
In this study, access to information about
eco-city frameworks has generally been
found to be good, although the level of
detail of information and explanation
varies considerably between individual
frameworks, rendering in-depth evaluation
and comparison at times challenging. Given
that both the theory and practice of eco-city
frameworks are not an entirely uncontested
field, and in the interest of ongoing
innovation and shared learning, there should
be commitment to information transparency
and scrutiny. This may understandably be a
more sensitive issue in the case of eco-city
frameworks that are available commercially
and involve certification, but here, too,
there are notable examples of organisations
practising a culture of openness.
Beyond business-as-usual
A focus on how eco-city frameworks are
constructed in theory and operationalised
in practice might risk diverting attention from
the outcomes to be achieved. It seems
important, therefore, to ask critically whether
the application of eco-city frameworks can
pave the way for significant advances in
sustainable urban development. Conversely,
one should ask whether application – as
routine performance assessment mechanism
perhaps, or certification process – could
in effect lower the innovation threshold
and produce sub-standard sustainability
outcomes. This, then, prompts questions
about the sufficiency of both the principles
and aspirations enshrined in a given eco-city
framework, and the commitment on the part
of local users to realising these in practice.
And it again suggests that more short-term,
punctual uses might result in perfunctory
and superficial outcomes, instead requiring
more profound and enduring engagement.
Consequently, a guiding question for both
policy and practice would have to be
whether an eco- city framework – in principle
and practice – sufficiently promotes high
aspirations for urban sustainability and
facilitates action towards that goal. In part,
this is a question of normative values and
priorities but, crucially, it is also a matter for
critical scientific inquiry and evaluation
This may well be an area where international
standardisation would be most welcome –
namely, in the form of high-level, aspirational
norms and goals, underpinned by science,
that would set the bar as high as possible,
and against which individual eco-city
frameworks could be then assessed. Such
standardisation may need to be limited
to aspects where global dimensions – for
example, limiting the effects of climate
change – are most relevant and can
be agreed upon, leaving sustainability
dimensions that are more directly shaped
by local variables to be determined on the
ground. The latter dimension, too, however,
should arguably be driven by high-end
aspirations and innovation, to prevent the
perpetuation of ‘business-as-usual’ thinking
and practice.
48 49
At the same time, it is important to embrace
the emergent agency of communities of
practice themselves as generators and appliers
of innovation. And if real-world sustainability
innovations arise through iterative processes of
practice and critical reflection, then all actors
involved may benefit from a better conceptual
toolkit for thinking through the challenges and
tensions involved. We would hope that this
report has at least made a few steps in that
direction, and that others will continue to refine
our thinking – as indeed we ourselves will
endeavour to do – as the field of the eco-city
framework continues to evolve in future.
But our intention has not been simply to
survey the rise of the eco-city framework
neutrally. Rather, we have aimed to highlight
the need for critical evaluation of its ongoing
development. Because of the polycentric,
hybrid nature of the field, this is not a
straightforward ambition: since no one group
of actors is in charge of its development, it
may seem difficult to privilege any particular
set of criteria. At the same time, it would seem
unsatisfactory if any de facto consolidation
in future is justified only as a pragmatic or
efficient outcome, regardless of its substantive
transformative effects. To the extent that
frameworks do have a shaping influence
on sustainability outcomes, it will clearly be
in nobody’s interest if civilisational collapse
itself comes to be encoded into a future set
of widely accepted ‘standards’. The work
of ongoing critical evaluation remains vital,
then, as part of the broader debate which
frameworks individually and collectively open
up. And if this evaluation needs to be based
on a compelling normative foundation, which
transcends the interests and perspectives of
individual actors, then we should look first
to the limits of the ecological capacity of the
planet, and, equally, to the need for cities in
the ‘urban age’ to be relatively agreeable
places to live.
This research has attempted to go beyond
the well-established debates over how
urban sustainability indicator sets should
be constructed, and what purposes such
indicators might serve, to examine what
has actually happened in recent years as
theory has turned into widespread practice.
The investigation of these practices has
taken place at two levels. First, it has made
a preliminary attempt to analyse the work
of ‘decoding’ frameworks on the ground.
It has found, at least, that outcomes are
indeterminate; they depend on processes
of negotiation among shifting networks
of heterogeneous actors in particular
local settings. Second, it has surveyed the
frameworks themselves at a global level;
the sheer variety encountered in this survey,
across different analytical dimensions,
should serve to remind us that these too are
practical outcomes. Frameworks are shaped
by their promoters’ particular agendas and
by expectations of their adopters’ needs;
adopters, meanwhile, remain able to choose
one framework over another (or two or more
frameworks in combination) for instrumental
reasons. The field of eco-city frameworks
is, therefore, constituted by emergent co-
production both at the level of concrete
results and of the frameworks themselves. At
both levels, real-world innovation is enabled
and constrained by divergent systems of
motivations; it does not flow in a linear
fashion from abstract principles of urban
sustainability, however these may be defined.
50 51
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Tomorrow’s City Today
International Research Network
The research on which this report draws was
conducted between 2012-2015 as part of
the international research network Tomorrow’s
City Today: An International Comparison
of Eco-City Frameworks. The network was
established to respond to the recent growth of
various types of ‘eco-city’ initiatives resulting
in a diverse range of urban sustainability
indicators, standards, and endorsement
schemes. It aimed to address the need – both
from a research and policy perspective – to
carry out systematic comparative analyses of
emerging eco-city frameworks. It was made
up of partners from various global regions
that brought together complementary research
and policy expertise, as well as geographical
spread, relevant to the research theme.
The network was supported with a research
grant (IN-2012-102) from the Leverhulme
Trust, and coordinated by the University of
Westminster, London.
Research themes
The research addressed the following
interrelated themes delivered in three
consecutive phases:
1 Mapping and comparing eco-city
frameworks, standards and certification
schemes. The first phase included the
development of an analytical framework
encompassing relevant eco-city framework
dimensions, and the systematic mapping of
existing eco-city indicator, standards and
certification schemes. This was followed
by a comparative analysis to identify both
similarities and differences concerning
underlying rationales/concepts and
substantive contents.
2 Evaluating the use and implementation of
eco-city frameworks. Phase 2 consisted of
empirical anslyses to consider and evaluate
the functional relationship between various
eco-city frameworks and specific practice
contexts, including how individual eco-
city frameworks are applied in individual
initiatives and particular urban (policy)
contexts, and what related processes and
outcomes result.
3 Defining requirements for international
eco-city standards. The third and final
phase comprised the identification of
substantive and procedural requirements,
and the definition of criteria for the
future development and integration
of international eco-city standards.
This included considering the role of
international actors and policy programmes
in standardising, implementing and
monitoring eco-city frameworks.
Network activities
The research was accompanied and informed
by a series of parallel workshops hosted
locally by the partner organisations in
Canada, China, Germany, South Korea and
the United Kingdom. The workshops brought
together interested researchers, practitioners
and policy-makers in discussion about current
trends and future requirements concerning
various urban sustainability frameworks. In
addition to seeking to contribute to capacity
building on the ground, the workshop
proceedings informed the findings published
in this final project report. Echoing the
overarching research themes, the workshop
addressed the following topics:
The network was involved in co-hosting
the following international conferences:
Second Biennial Conference of the Global
Research Forum on Sustainable Production
and Consumption (GRF-SPac), 8-11 June
2014, Shanghai (China)
Sustainability and The Dynamics of Place and
Scale, International Conference Songdo/Incheon,
20 August 2014, Songdo (South Korea)
Sustainable Innovation, Cities and Regions as
Catalysts for Smart and Sustainable Innovation,
3-4 November 2014, Copenhagen (Denmark)
Dresden Nexus Conference: Water, Soil, and
Waste, 25-27 March 2015, Dresden (Germany)
The culmination of the network activities
was the international conference Tomorrow’s
City Today: Prospects for Standardising
Sustainable Urban Development, held on
12 June 2015 in London, where the current
report was launched.
The lead partners in the project are:
Professor Martin de Jong
Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
& Fudan University (China)
Professor Simon Joss
(Coordinator & Principal Investigator),
University of Westminster (United Kingdom)
Professor Bernhard Müller
Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and
Regional Development, Dresden (Germany)
Professor Buhm Soon Park
KAIST, Korea Advanced Institute of Science
and Technology (Korea)
Professor William Rees
University of British Columbia (Canada)
Professor Mark Roseland
Simon Fraser University (Canada)
Professor Yvonne Rydin
University College London (United Kingdom)
The network facilitators are:
Dr Daniel Tomozeiu (2012-2014),
and Robert Cowley (2014-2015),
University of Westminster.
Yeongsil Kang, Dr Stefanie Rößler, Maria
Spiliotopoulou, Youjung Shin, Lewis Sullivan
and Dr Catalina Turcu all contributed
significantly to the network’s events and
research outputs.
Professor Robert Kargon, Johns Hopkins
University, and Dr Arthur Molella,
Smithsonian Institution acted as associate
partners on the project.
Workshops Topics Dates & locations
1Taking stock: current research, policy
and practice in ‘eco-city’ indicators,
standards and frameworks
London, 28/06/13;
Shenzen, 25-26/07/13;
Daejeon, 29/08 & 14/10/13;
Vancouver, 13/09/13;
Görlitz, 21-22/09/13
2Moving towards implementation:
evaluating the use of ‘eco-city’
frameworks in a variety of local,
national and international contexts
Vancouver, 01/05/14;
London, 01/05/14 & 26/06/14;
Shanghai, 10-11/06/14;
Görlitz, 20-21/06/14
3Eco-city frameworks at a crossraods:
identifying requirements and
opportunities for national and
international ‘eco-city’ standards
London, 11/02/15 & 13/03/15;
Vancouver, 26/02/15;
Beijing, 18/04/15;
Dresden, 05/05/15;
Daejeon, 05/06/15
For more details on all the above, and
to download summary reports from the
different research activities (including the
local workshops), please visit our web pages
Simon Joss
Robert Cowley
Martin de Jong
Bernhard Müller
Buhm Soon Park
William Rees
Mark Roseland
Yvonne Rydin
... This meaning can be found in other literature, which may also be combined with a definition based on the multi-stakeholder consensus process by which standards are developed (ISO/IEC, 2004;Elgert and Krueger, 2012;Joss and Rydin, 2018). The promotion of uniformity across contexts has had different variations, referring either to the fact that any common approach is being developed at all (Elgert and Krueger, 2012), or to the extent to which one or a few instruments have achieved dominance within a sector or country (Joss et al., 2015;Joss and Rydin, 2018). This thesis focuses on the use of replicable verification criteria, however, given their importance as a way of promoting uniformity. ...
... Four of the types were identified as being the most prevalent of the family in question, adopted within the professional field of sustainability, globally: rating tools and indices; targetsetting initiatives; indicator guidelines and process standards. These types were identified as a result of extensive practice engagement together with a review of industry and academic literature, including global reviews such as Joss et al. (2015). All these types can be considered standardised, and take differing approaches to the problem of applying such standardisation across complex, varied contexts. ...
... In comparison to command-and-control regulation, all voluntary instruments can be considered non-coercive, since they are not required by law (Gunningham et al., 1998). Prescriptiveness, combined with coerciveness, reduces the flexibility in decision-making available to those applying instruments, reducing the potential for actors to contribute their own local and 'tacit' knowledge and values when 'decoding' instruments into any given context (Polanyi, 1967;Awad and Ghaziri, 2007;Joss et al., 2015). ...
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The past two decades have witnessed an increased use of voluntary governance instruments providing guidance on sustainability strategy and/or monitoring, rewarding users with marketable public information such as certifications, ratings, and reports, to incentivise take-up. To support trustworthy information, these instruments are typically based on standardised assessment criteria. Such standardisation has been applied across increasingly complex varied contexts, such as companies, neighbourhoods, and cities. However, recent academic literature emphasises more context-sensitive and systems-based, or ‘regenerative’, approaches, giving cause for questioning the effectiveness of standardised approaches. This thesis uses the concept of ‘legitimacy’ to evaluate instruments, based on promoting effective programmes, achieving take-up and systemic effectiveness, and providing public information that is high quality rather than reflecting positively on business-as-usual practices. Existing research finds that standardised approaches have achieved take-up at the expense of programme effectiveness and informational quality. Although research calls for alternative approaches compatible with a systems-based or regenerative perspective, there remains a shortage of empirical investigations of established instruments based on this perspective. This research addresses this need by evaluating Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework, using a practice-embedded, mixed-methods methodology. The framework is found to promote effective, participatory, and generally transparent programmes. However, the flexible, bespoke approach can provide limitations in terms of structure, resource requirements, and the integration of measurement, which can affect take-up as well as programme processes and transparency. Overall, the research provides insights into the role that voluntary instruments can play in sustainability governance across complex and varied contexts. Despite their widespread usage and ability to scale, standardised approaches have major limitations in the important matter of supporting effective programmes. OPL’s regenerative approach can support programmes effectively but has limitations particularly in relation to take-up, partly reflecting the more bespoke model, and partly reflecting the more fundamental problem of mobilising ambitious action on a voluntary basis. The question of scaling such practices remains of urgent importance.
... Recently, many studies have been published about the theoretical and methodological aspects of creating indicator frameworks and their use in the assessment of sustainability, e.g., [12,23,[28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] and others. The review of available frameworks for assessing sustainability was the object of articles and studies such as those of [8,10,13,25,27,[37][38][39]. Contributions to the topic of creating indicators for cities have been made by studies and methodological guidelines with practical usages-for example, [9,16,[40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47] and others. ...
... When creating a new indicator framework for a certain city, the first phase of this process is selecting relevant existing USIFs based on references and geographical or thematic similarities [13,[37][38][39]. Subsequently, their content analysis takes place in terms of methodology and basic structure, within which the dimensions of sustainability, thematic categories, and the classification of indicators are examined. ...
... In the second phase of our research, we selected appropriate USIFs by using two approaches. The main sources for the selection of USIFs were the publications of the European Commission [26] and Joss et al. [38], who provided a review of the most commonly used USIFs around the world. From these works, we selected a total of 29 frameworks that fulfilled the defined criteria. ...
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The issue of urban sustainability is currently exceptionally up to date, and the sustainable development of cities has become an important topic on the political level. Many cities in the world are facing acute challenges concerning growing dangers to the environment and ensuring quality of life for their inhabitants. In connection with cities achieving their individual goals of sustainable development, urban sustainability indicator frameworks (USIFs) are becoming the subjects of attention. Such frameworks enable sustainability to be clearly measured and assessed. In this article, we analysed selected global and European USIFs in terms of their commonalities and differences, sustainability dimensions, thematic categories, and categorised indicators. Based on the analysis of the content of the reviewed frameworks, we compiled a list of generally recognised thematic categories within the four main dimensions of sustainable development, and we identified the key indicators of urban sustainability. Our review showed differences in the existing approaches that substantially contributed to the current inconsistencies in assessing and measuring sustainable development in cities. Our results provide an overview of this issue, e.g., to decision makers, and could concurrently serve as a generally applicable foundation for the creation of new urban sustainability indicator frameworks. We also point out the current trends and challenges in the domain of urban sustainability assessment.
... Despite the conceptual evolution of sustainability over the last decades, policies and initiatives have not always involved a balanced approach between environmental, economic and social concerns. The multitude of definitions and the lack of shared language or understanding of SD and SCD have contributed to limited and inconsistent application of sustainability principles through a variety of local agendas grounded in diverse theoretical backgrounds and frequently reflecting specific stakeholders' interests (Joss et al., 2015;Kristensen and Roseland, 2012;Roseland and Spiliotopoulou, 2017). Meanwhile, SE and CED initiatives have been criticized for operating inside the capitalist system without trying to change the system's rules (Roseland and Spiliotopoulou, 2016). ...
... Future community development research should emphasize performance enhancement, impact and user benefit increase, human productivity strengthening, effective and inclusive decision-making processes, co-production of community space and efficient use and regeneration of resources. These are values and outcomes that are not always recognized or successfully implemented or assessed using current SCD agendas (Clarke, 2012;du Plessis, 2012;Joss et al., 2015;Newman and Jennings, 2008;Roseland, 2012). ...
... sustainable city, ecocity, smart city, resilient city, low-carbon city, green city, compact city, eco-urbanism, and "climate urbanism" operationalize SCD, in practice most do not seem to adopt a systemic perspective [22]. Some prioritize climate action, such as emissions reduction or green infrastructure, or economic growth over social equity and justice and others are executed within mainstream municipal operations or without adequate resources, equitable planning, and political will [4,13,[23][24][25]. Additional obstacles include ineffective collaborative processes, persistence of a greenwashing mentality, limited local government financing or mandate, and absence of regular and reliable data [26,27]. ...
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In this “urban century”, planetary realities and increased environmental and social awareness have led to significant international agreements and the recognition that local communities play a crucial role in successfully implementing long-term sustainability goals. Through two case studies in British Columbia, Canada, this research focused on how the concept, principles, and practices of holistic urban productivity can help address urban sustainability planning, implementation, and assessment processes. The research findings showed a range of challenges in urban sustainability such as the persistence on utilitarian approaches to resource management and community planning, the prioritization of short-term policies, a general resistance to systemic thinking, and various shortfalls in municipal capacity. These obstacles reflected the reality and complexity of urban sustainability processes and highlighted the need to redesign current decision-making. Addressing issues that transcend humanmade borders requires new configurations, non-hierarchical decision-making processes, and using local knowledge as a key guiding tool. Our recommendation is that cities embrace systems thinking in sustainability planning and implementation by focusing more on holistic evaluation of policy impact and finding synergies among policies and stakeholders in all sectors.
... It is generally accepted that individuals' contributions to climate change targets are very important, and surveys (Steenjes et al. 2017) in the EU revealed people's connectedness to the Paris Agreement and the perceived necessity of the agreement's goals. Some authors (Joss et al. 2015;Flurin 2017) emphasise the importance of "Agenda 21", which introduced new governance relationships between citizens. The level of ambition of "Agenda 21" policy implemented in the EU is successfully related to the rise in awareness on sustainability and to the growth of participation of local civil society (Jänicke 2017). ...
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Climate change is one of the primary environmental problems broadly discussed in the Paris Agreement. In the literature, authors mainly focused on the changes in climate change concern. However, it is more important to answer whether the changes in concerns and responsibilities affect climate-friendly behaviour. Therefore, this study’s objective was to analyse the changes in climate change concern, personal responsibility, and climate-friendly behaviour in EU-28 from 2015 (the launch of the Paris Agreement) to 2019 and evaluate how these changes contributed to separate actions. The changes in climate change concern and personal responsibility were statistically significant (F value). During the analysed period, the purchase of energy-efficient appliances increased the most. Meanwhile, the usage of environmentally friendly transport alternatives decreased. The determinants of changes in climate-friendly behaviour were identified using the multiple linear regression model. Results showed that changes in climate change concern significantly and positively affected waste management and choice of energy supplier which offers a greater share of energy from renewable sources and purchased of low-energy homes. Meanwhile, personal responsibility significantly and positively influenced switching energy suppliers but had a negative effect on home insulation. Furthermore, residents who performed high-cost behaviours (purchase of low-energy homes) also switched energy suppliers and insulated their homes. Therefore, the results indicated that the benefit and cost of behaviour (time, money) are very important aspects to promote climate-friendly behaviour. This study suggested that policymakers should raise public awareness about climate change and take all efforts to reduce the cost of high-cost behaviours and enable the possibilities to perform climate-friendly behaviour.
... The fourth issue relating to global city studies concerns patterns of urban life and sustainability of development of a city in the globalization era. Many tools have been proposed and developed to assess the sustainability of buildings, neighborhoods and cities [23,24]. Some urban sustainability indicators encourage sustainable solutions for urban development [25], and the development of a new style of urban life, along with cultural reservations that have become important issues. ...
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This study discusses the measurement of the global city with the primary aim to uncover the logical grounds to measure the features of “the global” in the study of ranking and comparing the cities. The study sets up a three-dimensional analysis framework with infrastructure (economy), fluidity (openness), and reputation (influence) for the basic dimensions of measurement for the global cities. Using this framework, the studies of top-10 Chinese cities in the global city comparison have been conducted with the data of cities’ scores from various ranking systems. The resources used include the index of Globalization and World Cities, global urban economic competitiveness index, Economic daily and United Nations global urban sustainable competitiveness rankings. The study tests the effectiveness of this framework by illustrating the coherence and dissimilarity of this analysis with other city ranking systems, and further discloses the advantage of this indicator system. This study exposes the existing problems in the logic and rationale of the urban studies and establishes the basis of global city ranking, thus offering policymakers new perspective on the strategy of city development.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, social isolation and unhappiness rates have been increasing almost in parallel with an increase in house sizes and material possessions. Is there a way to develop a happy community with a high quality of life and well-being? We propose that it is possible to tackle the realities of individual and community isolation through whole systems thinking coupled with improvements in the quality of life, with less stuff, enhanced social connections, and ideally reduced and more efficient resource use. In this chapter, we discuss the need to transition from current sustainable community development theory and practice towards a productive and regenerative community. Following a brief review of the emerging concept of community productivity, we argue that achieving community happiness and well-being is possible through increased productivity of multiple, tangible and intangible, community assets.
India has made commitments at the global level towards supporting sustainable development goals and is progressing towards achieving them. Its position in the composite sustainable development index improved from 57 in 2018 to 60 in 2019 (Economic Survey 2019–2020, Government of India, in Sustainable development and climate change, Chapter 6, 2:167–192, 2020). This chapter aims at documenting and assessing policy measures adopted by government of India towards sustainable consumption with a special focus on policies towards energy efficiency. Energy consumption in India has been growing at an average growth rate of 5.3 per cent from the last five years, 2013–2017. India’s share in global energy consumption has reached 5.6 per cent in 2017 (BP statistical review of world energy, 2018). With economic growth the energy consumption is expected to increase manifold in future. Energy consumption results in emissions leading to air pollution. Nine out of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in India. Vehicular emissions and industrial pollution are major factors for air pollution. The government of India has undertaken various policy measures towards energy conservation and efficient use of energy. While some of the policy measures target industries, other policy measures aim at sustainable consumption via demand-side policies. Energy consumption labels inform consumers of the relative efficiency of different products and are going to be effective if consumers are willing to pay a higher price for the energy-efficient products once information is provided. The chapter also includes a discrete choice experiment (DCE) conducted to investigate whether car drivers in New Delhi, India, value fuel-efficient cars. The DCE was designed to estimate consumers’ willingness to pay for star labelled cars in New Delhi and estimate the impact of socio-economic characteristics such as income and education in influencing consumers’ willingness to pay. The experiment is conducted in two districts of Delhi, South Delhi and East Delhi. The two districts differ in socio-economic characteristics such as affluence, education, occupational structure, etc. These differences have an interesting bearing on the results. We find that the South Delhi respondents have a stronger preference for high star label car and on average, are willing to pay 5050 US Dollars for the five star label car as compared to 1186 US Dollars by East Delhi respondents.
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Urban areas are often, and not without reason, portrayed as an opportunity to reduce environmental impacts: more effective use of land, better opportunities for the provision of public transport and less need on a per capita basis for investment in physical infrastructure. This is also the message of the literature on urban scaling. The very nature of the agglomeration economies that allow for economising on natural resources may, however, result in higher levels of per capita consumption. A major reason is that high density often translates into higher costs of space, in turn encouraging the concentration of high(er) productivity activities in major cities. As a result, spatial sorting occurs (e.g. with respect to educational attainment and incomes) and with it potentially also a differentiation of consumption patterns. In consequence, not just size and density, but also position in the urban hierarchy may need to be taken into account in assessing sustainability outcomes. To grasp the issue of urban sustainability, however, intra-urban differentiation too, will have to be considered in tandem with the inter-urban issues of boundary drawing for measurement—what we call “ontological cityism”. This is especially so if the focus shifts from the environmental to the social dimensions of sustainability, and if the trade-offs across the three pillars of sustainability are to be understood.
In the past three decades, mounting scientific evidence on the planetary condition has been sending a clear message: the world needs to be on a more sustainable pathway, quickly. Yet effective action has been elusive, partly because the effort to address global challenges needs to start at the local level. The 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge the importance of localizing the global goals. The success of the SDGs is conditional on creating and implementing successful, monitorable, and transferable sustainability policies and practices in communities. In this chapter, we present our case studies with two municipalities in British Columbia, Canada, where we applied modified versions of the Community Capital Tool (CCT) and conducted a complex matching and mapping exercise to show the relationship between the SDGs, the CCT, and local goals in the municipalities. We also discuss the challenges and opportunities we identified with regard to achieving local sustainability goals and contributing to the SDGs. The B.C. municipal experience described here demonstrates that if Canadian cities incorporate tools such as the CCT into their regular practice, they can contribute to and become leaders in the achievement of Canada’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, Canada’s commitment to the SDGs.
Conference Paper
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The One Planet Living (OPL) framework is among a growing number of replicable schemes on offer internationally to facilitate urban sustainability initiatives. It is based on the principle of ecological footprint and related socio-economic sustainability dimensions, and aims to guide the design, planning and assessment of a range of sustainable urban developments, from in-fill projects to city-region initiatives. Using the innovation perspective, this paper considers OPL‘s potential as an innovation tool and process. It does so using a comparative case analysis of OPL‘s application in three UK urban settings: Brighton & Hove; NW Bicester; and Sutton. The findings overall highlight the critical importance of governance as a driver of innovation; specific issues identified include: (i) aligning the open innovation process with focused policy and project development; (ii) enabling effective stakeholder engagement; (iii) facilitating partnership between the OPL champion and local users; and (iv) ensuring the robustness of implementation and assessment.
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'Interest in the sustainable city is growing around the world and with it come important questions about governing sustainable urban development. Why are there blockages to achieving the goal of a sustainable city? How is it possible to overcome the practical difficulties that initiatives often face? And how can an increasingly technocratic focus be rebalanced with more of a public perspective? In this wide-ranging text, Simon Joss examines mainstream policy and practice and looks at the approaches that can overcome some of their drawbacks.' (From back cover: Sustainable Cities: Governing for Urban Innovation, Palgrave Macmillan 2015)
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Proliferating environmental sustainability policy frameworks suggest that sustainability and economic competitiveness are essentially interdependent and mutually enhancing. Under these policy discourses, cities are designated as strategic geographical locales for fulfilling the green capitalist goal of reconciling the contradictions between the environment and development that have long bedeviled capitalism. While most urban sustainability agendas are crafted based on the experience of post-industrial countries, the promise of green capitalism and sustainability faces different challenges where industrial production still dominates the economy. However, research on whether and how urban sustainability policies are geographically variegated is still sparse, particularly beyond western (post)industrial capitalism. Examining the Dongtan eco-city project and the associated Chongming eco-island project in Shanghai, we interrogate how sustainability is imagined and practiced on the ground within the distinctive Chinese context. The meanings of sustainability in Dongtan and Chongming reflect the context of Chinese urbanization in the Shanghai area. Both Dongtan and Chongming seek to develop green technologies as a way to resolve the dilemma of being caught between urbanization and agriculture. This approach is also shaped by Chongming's island geography as enabling a self-sufficient development trajectory, and its desire to attract a cosmopolitan population. Through these place-specific contexts, the ecology and economy of Dongtan and Chongming become intertwined, producing and reproducing a variegated form of urban sustainability, and of “green capitalism.”
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According to the most recent (2011) global census of eco-city initiatives, there are currently 178 eco-city initiatives under development, representing a significant mainstreaming of urban sustainability in the last decade. As the number of eco-city initiatives grows, so the question of how to define eco-city indicators and establish standards becomes more pressing. While there are many sustainability standards and certification schemes available for use at building level (e.g. LEED, BREEAM), similar sustainability assessment and endorsement frameworks for the urban level have only recently begun to emerge. This article surveys the current situation by: (i) proposing a conceptual model of urban sustainability indicators from a governance perspective; (ii) presenting the findings of a comparative analysis of the use of urban sustainability indicators in nine eco-city initiatives; and (iii) outlining key challenges for the future development of international urban sustainability standards. It argues that the current situation is marked by a considerable diversity of practice and governance functions, and an ongoing tension between place-specificity and universal applicability as goals of urban sustainability.
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The global mainstreaming of urban sustainability policy, since the early 2000s, points to a new phenomenon: the ‘ubiquitous eco-city’. Its key features – based on the analysis of a census of 178 initiatives – include: the significant, global proliferation of eco-city initiatives; increased international knowledge transfer activities involving both public and private actors; the centrality of ‘carbon discourse’ guiding concepts, policy and practice; the marrying of ‘green’ with ‘smart’ technological systems; and a focus on achieving environmental innovation through economic growth. Among the implications is the need to moderate the ‘ubiquitous eco-city’ paradigm with strong local contextualisation and social sustainability measures.
Achieving urban sustainability is amongst the most pressing issues facing planners and governments. This book is the first to provide a cohesive analysis of sustainable urban development and to examine the processes by which change in how urban areas are built can be achieved. The author looks at how sustainable urban development can be delivered on the ground through a comprehensive analysis of the different modes of governing for new urban development.
Efforts to innovate in urban sustainability have in recent decades culminated in a new phenomenon: eco-cities. In recognition of the key role played by cites both as the cause of, and potential solution to, global climate change and rapid urbanisation, the concept and practice of eco-cities have since the early 2000s gained global significance and become increasingly mainstream in policy-making. This study provides an analysis of contemporary eco-city developments by systematically mapping some 79 recent initiatives at global level; evaluating key characteristics (including development type, phase and implementation mode) and discussing the factors (such as technological development, cultural branding, and political leadership) that drive and condition innovation in this area. The article concludes by outlining a research agenda for addressing both the challenges and opportunities of future eco-city governance.