10 Feb 2017
Collaborative approaches to global urban sustainable development

As part of the World Urban Campaign and Australian Sustainable Living Festival, the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme hosted a forum and panel event on How to make public private partnerships work for urban sustainable development – challenges and successes. 

Held on Wednesday 8 February at RMIT University, the panel was facilitated by UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Deputy Director, Elizabeth Ryan, and featured Sustainable Solutions Co-Director, Alan Pears, South East Water Chair, Lucia Cade (both UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Global Advisors) and CEO of the Committee for Geelong (CfG), Rebecca Casson.

Alan Pears’ presentation Collaborative approaches to global urban sustainable development and PPPs highlighted the benefits and challenges of both public-private partnerships and of centralised systems versus distributed systems.

Lucia Cade then spoke about South East Water’s new project, Aquarevo, a unique collaboration with Villawood Properties to create a residential development in Lyndhurst, south east of Melbourne, where homes will feature a range of unprecedented water saving features.

South East Water’s ambitious goal is to reduce demand for external infrastructure and water storage by 70% through combining old school tanks with new remote technologies.

Aquarevo aims to optimise the local treatment, recycling and discharge of water to set a benchmark and to reduce network sizing and upfront investment. Part of this involves supporting government water initiatives that seek to reduce reliance on drinking water.

With a project covering such a large area there is greater likelihood of South East Water tackling and solving some of the bigger challenges in terms of implementing change across entire neighbourhoods instead of simply households.

Rebecca shared the Committee for Geelong’s journey, beginning with the 2014 Australian Second City Tour. In 2015 the Committee for Geelong’s Transforming Geelong Vision sub-committee was established, which led to the funding of partnered and commissioned academic research on second cities in 2016. The resultant report, “Winning for Second”—developed by the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme with RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research through an international study tour—was launched in November 2016.

Rebecca’s presentation concluded and crystallised the overarching theme of the dialogue: the key to successful public-private partnerships is shared benefit.

UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Chair, Michael Nolan, then delivered a presentation on the idea that focusing on failures can give rise to seeing greater opportunities.

“It’s important to start with failures. I think we all have them in terms of sustainability being very clear in its need, by so many players in government, private sector and civil society. The ability to actually integrate and embrace that complexity is quite often an insurmountable barrier. The SDGs allow that opportunity for us to gather around and have a common language.”

The two SDGs central to the Cities Programme activities are:

SDG 11: “Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, and

SDG 17: “Strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development”

The Cities Programme plays an integral role in navigating those complexities and avoiding failures through facilitating cross-sectoral collaborations and, now this year, building capacity locally.

Michael noted that the failures of PPPs are often a result of insufficiently discussing each partner’s need and the context, particularly local, from the beginning.

“The grey area between the disciplines is where the solutions are,” Michael said.

Indeed, during the panel discussion, Rebecca suggested that another factor in ensuring that PPPs run smoothly and benefit all parties involved is actively accepting that it’s natural for each sector to want different things from a project in terms of outcome, such as business seeking greater profit. More PPPs are likely to take place if this transparency and honesty exists in the initial discussions and continues throughout a project’s lifespan.

“There is a magic that can occur when you get good collaboration between the private sector, government and civil society,” Michael said.