Blue Cities: Powering the future economy

The team at Singapore-based Integrative Design, (from left) Rodin Genoff, Rosie Helson, Sarah-Jane Sherwood and Nigel Grier. Image: Integrative Design

Singapore-based Integrative Design plans to launch the inaugural Blue Cities Index in Singapore to redefine how sustainable cities should work to power the future economy.

New Singapore start-up Integrative Design is the brainchild of two Australian sustainability experts, Rodin Genoff and Nigel Grier, who together have a wealth of experience in applying a holistic, integrative approach to designing solutions for buildings and industries.

The duo believes that ‘Blue Cities’ are the next big thing and in such cities, businesses and governments take sustainability to a new level by transforming ways that industries work. These cities practice the principles of author Gunter Pauli’s Blue Economy, which promotes solutions where “the best for health and the environment is cheapest” and where there is no waste.

Integrative Design is part of the be sustainable group of companies specialising in the areas of sustainability consulting, project implementation and financing. Genoff, who is Integrative Design’s global head for strategy and business development, is a ‘cluster development expert’ known for developing business strategies for integrating business and investment opportunities across different industries. He had previously helped the OECD in Paris prepare a study on developing green indicators to measure growth. Genoff, who is also managing director of Rodin Genoff & Associates, works with Australia and Sweden’s governments and industries on developing engineering and mining clusters. He also works with Hub North, Denmark’s wind energy cluster located in Aalborg.

Grier, the firm’s chief executive, considers himself an ecologist, engineer and entrepreneur who has worked in Northern Australia and Asia for 15 years. He formerly set up Australian-based multidisciplinary design and project management practice Zingspace, which integrates the design disciplines of architecture and engineering with construction and operational management.
 The duo speaks to Eco-Business about what defines a ‘Blue City’ and why they chose to set up in Singapore.

So tell us more about these ‘Blue Cities’. What defines them?

RG: It is important to begin by saying that blue cities are not a competitor to green cities, they are the next stage in development. Think of it as the next belt in martial arts – you still retain the skills from your previous belt but the new knowledge you have acquired enables you to use those skills more efficiently.

Blue cities are borne out of the Blue Economy, a term that Belgium author and entrepreneur Gunter Pauli first coined in 1994. To quote him, it doesn’t matter what it is called but what it does that’s important. You can call it Green Economy 2.0 if you like. A blue city takes the features of a green city and improves them with systems, infrastructure, technologies and governance to enable a smarter and more efficient way of working.

In a blue city there is no waste – not just landfill waste but also no waste of time and resources, as businesses and governments collaborate to share intelligence and innovation, avoiding duplication of efforts. You can see the difference by comparing the efficiency and performance of individual companies and industry clusters with its counterparts globally. For example, Singapore produces some of the world’s most efficient semiconducters per unit of energy. Through a process of collaboration and transparency, companies can create more high-tech products and services. Local businesses can even evolve into micro-multinationals as a result of this collaboration. For example, local engineering companies can create new joint ventures to target new markets by bringing in industrial design, software capabilities etc. This style of working attracts local and global investment and talent.

NG: The values underpinning blue cities are trust and integrity. We’re talking about a highly-collaborative society where companies and people are doing things for each other to improve quality of living, it’s not just about financial transactions.

All too often, sustainable solutions can also have unintended consequences. The company Pauli started – Ecover – for example, used to use palm oil as an environmentally-friendly alternative to toxic, non bio-degradable, synthetic chemicals in household detergent. But the ingredient was also linked to deforestation in Borneo, so Pauli addressed these supply chain issues and started using only sustainably sourced products and began designing the principles around Blue Economy thinking. It looks at each step of the solution to remove these unintended consequences while creating new revenue streams and benefits to the community.

Can you name some examples of cities you think that are ‘blue’?

RG: We believe cities like Singapore and Copenhagen have the biggest potential to become blue cities. They have the essential ingredients, such as high levels of collaboration and social cohesion. Both countries do not have abundant natural resources yet they export their renewable energy, industrial design & software solutions to the world. Their competitive advantage is the high level of collaboration. This encourages social and entrepreneurial interaction to engage citizens and businesses to do transformative work that produces happier, healthier and more productive societies. Singapore has earned a reputation as one the world’s leading innovation and investment hubs, while Copenhagen is ranked as one the world’s greenest cities, in one of the world’s happiest countries.

“The values underpinning blue cities are trust and integrity. We’re talking about a highly-collaborative society where companies and people are doing things for each other to improve quality of living, it’s not just about financial transactions.”

We believe blue city ecosystems are driven through the interaction of cluster dynamics. For example, in Singapore we witness deep reservoirs of knowledge and knowhow, in high performance clusters like life sciences, electronics and cleantech. The challenge is to also develop horizontal connectivity between these clusters where exciting new products and services can be developed collaboratively.

This is why the future is so interesting. Imagine data visualisation companies collaborating with software, electronics, communications and smart materials companies to bring to life next generation intelligent building and construction projects.

NG: A blue city creates the innovative environment and ecosystem around such different companies and competencies to release this social and market potential which is often locked up in traditional industry silos.

You say Integrative Design is planning a Blue Cities Forum sometime next year and will launch a Blue Cities index. Can you tell us more?

NG: The Blue Cities Forum will take place in the week of the World Cities Summit in Singapore next year to advance sustainability and ‘blue thinking’ in the cities space.

The forum will provide an opportunity for participants to be involved in developing the Blue Cities Index, to build partnerships, extend capabilities and to understand how to operate in the ‘blue cities market’. We are also producing a special report in which the attendees will be featured. The forum aims to support Singapore with foreign direct investment and spin-off micro-multinationals.

RG: We have developed an overarching architecture for the Blue Cities Index and will be seeking expert insights, prior to and during the forum, so that cities can adapt the index to their own unique requirements. The index will build on the work of the FTSE 4Good Index, and take the criteria used to develop the European Green Capital Award. We will assess indicators, such as liveability and wellness, to ensure that all elements of the Blue Economy are considered. This will involve altering a number of indicators and adding indicators such as industry cluster density, waste free ecosystems and what we are calling Blue City Intelligence.

NG: Many of these indicators have been captured in the past in silosThey have not been gathered as a whole to gain a complete view of the health and economic resilience of a city. That is what the Blue Index will achieve.

“We will assess indicators, such as liveability and wellness, to ensure that all elements of the Blue Economy are considered. This will involve altering a number of indicators and adding indicators such as industry cluster density, waste free ecosystems and what we are calling Blue City Intelligence.”

Why hold it in Singapore?

RG: We’ve chosen Singapore because we believe that it is ready to take the next step in becoming a Blue City. Singapore has so much going on in the sustainability space. It’s already a global investment and knowledge hub and an intelligent, 21stcentury city because of its structure, size, density and diversity of industrial activity.

We want to invite partners to contribute to the methodology and framework that supports this new blue thinking. It requires us to think about new solutions beyond just greening and reducing carbon emissions.

NG: One indicator of a blue city is transparency and integrity. Singapore is relatively good in some areas and poor in others. For instance, the country has the best portfolio of green buildings, but what’s lacking is transparency in how the green buildings are performing when in operation. So for Singapore to rank highly for resource and energy consumption in building, it needs to be more transparent in disclosing the performance of these buildings and systems. Technology, governance and systems need to be applied here and this is one of the things the index will help to define.

What’s the link between Integrative Design and blue cities? What does the company hope to achieve?

NG: We’re a client-side engineering, design and project management business. Integrative design is the next innovation wave in design methodology and uses a collaborative methodology. Very simply, it means more time is spent by the whole team upfront in the design process to consider the operational performance of the project, whereas traditional methods will spend 10 per cent of a project’s time in the concept stage. ID takes more time upfront, and in doing so, project goals become clearer and less design effort is required at the traditionally more intense stages.

As a result, the design process becomes shorter, there are typically less conflicts and errors and the project team is more aligned to the project goals. It also means that there is often a reduction in capital expenditure of anywhere from five to 12 per cent, and savings of operational expenditure of more than 50 per cent.

Green buildings in Singapore should cost less, not more than traditionally designed buildings when delivered through an integrative design process. These intelligent, efficient and cost-effective ways of working are part of a blue city’s DNA.

The United World College of Southeast Asia, Tampines campus, was delivered using an Integrative Design approach and is an exemplary facility, achieving the BCA Green Mark Platinum. It is also achieving a high performance in operation and the management has been transparent in how they delivered the project and in disclosing its operational performance, which is available online. Projects like these are ‘blue city projects’.

RG: In the integrative design process, we encourage the sharing of intelligence to create higher performing products and solutions for our clients and stakeholders.

NG Ultimately, we are doers. We do projects and we see ourselves as catalysts in developing new business models.