The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
Rethinking the Idea of Waste in Detroit
U.S. businesses, entrepreneurs and municipalities are rethinking the concept of “waste” to create competitive advantage beyond the market and pave the way toward a circular economy and a landfill-free future. While this is a national trend, you can find these activities happening right here in Detroit.
Introducing the Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory (ROC) Detroit
ROC Detroit is a groundbreaking new effort led by General Motors, Fairmount Minerals, CXCatalysts, Pure Michigan Business Connect, The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) to bring together Detroit industries, small and medium sized businesses, and entrepreneurs to create closed-loop systems in which one company’s waste becomes another company’s raw material.
The program leverages the US BCSD’s collaborative By-Product Synergy methodology – which has been deployed around the world to help businesses reuse materials to their fullest potential – and match it with Detroit’s creative, entrepreneurial spirit to bring positive economic growth and social impact to the city.
How it works
Core to the project is an ongoing facilitated process that helps companies understand each other’s material flows and see opportunities, stimulating collaborative, innovative and business-friendly solutions. To foster strong communication and efficient implementation of material reuse opportunities, an online marketplace will be made available to all participants. Materials wanted and available can be posted, trade barriers addressed and transactions facilitated. The marketplace is confidential and secure and provides a neutral ground to stimulate the creation of innovative waste diversion solutions.
The US BCSD will support match identification by leveraging best practices from our extensive case study library, national network of material reuse projects, technical partners, the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology, the Ohio State University’s Center for Resilience and engineering expertise from the participating companies.
Detroit is synonymous with creativity and innovation
Social entrepreneurs and do-gooders are reshaping the Detroit landscape, and we want to connect them to as many undervalued resources as possible. Let’s look at Veronika Scott as an example. Veronika is the founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the homeless community. As part of its mission, the team hires homeless women from local shelters and train them to become full-time seamstresses. These women then manufacture a coat that transforms into a sleeping bag, which is then given out to homeless individuals living on the streets at no cost.
Insulation is one of the largest expense in the coats’ production, but there was a practical, durable and sustainable solution just around the corner. With the help and recommendations from General Motors, Veronika has been able to use a repurposed scrap sound absorbing material leftover from production of Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Verano sedans as an insulation. This collaborative reuse opportunity created a win-win-win for everyone involved.
Veronika is a fascinating example of the impacts that can be created though rethinking underutilized materials. Imagine hundreds of groups and individuals thinking the same way and you’ll begin to see the full picture of what we’re building with this project.
Good for the community, good for the environment, but also good for business
General Motors thinks of waste as a resource out of place. This underlying philosophy has led to:
- 111 landfill-free facilities worldwide — more than any other automaker.
- Recycling or reusing 84% of its worldwide manufacturing waste.
- Recycling 2.2 million tons of waste in 2013.
- Vehicles that are, on average, 85% recyclable by weight at the end of their useful life.
When waste can’t be fully designed out of a process, businesses can think of waste streams as revenue streams. In the last few years, GM has generated about $1 billion annually through various by-product reuse and recycling activities. When GM started its landfill-free program in the United States, it invested about $10 for every ton of waste reduced. Over time, it has reduced program costs 92 percent and total waste by 62 percent. Leveraging GM’s leadership in the project, we’re hoping to bring similar results to other businesses operating in the Detroit region.
Call to action
The success of ROC-Detroit depends on a diverse and tight-knit network of companies large and small, linking with academia, nonprofit institutions and government agencies who together will create beneficial economic, societal and economic opportunities from Detroit’s underutilized materials. We want you involved. For more information, contact Tess Mateo, at email@example.com.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.