Sustainable Cities: From Green Buildings to Green Cities

A sustainable city can be defined as a city that meets its developmental responsibility (social justice and urban safety) in a sustainable, spatially transformed and resource efficient way (natural and economic resources, and human capacity) that takes into account the limited biophysical planetary boundaries (environmental thresholds). (Oxford Martin University, 2013: 18)

With the global urban population set to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050, as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 also focusing on sustainable cities and communities, sustainability is an important topic for all cities across the globe.

Growing cities are not only dense in terms of their land use, but are also not easy to govern due to the many diverse social and economic landscapes. As cities grow, they will continue to battle issues such as climate change, social segregation, affordability, equity, transport and economic development. Now more than ever, cities need to holistically transform planning, governance and regulatory aspects towards something more inherently sustainable.

According to an industry agenda released by the World Economic Forum in 2016, to thrive future cities will need to be:

  • Sustainable
  • Citizen-centric
  • Economically vibrant
  • Accessible
  • ResilientLE
  • Well-governed
  • Responsive
  • Planned

One way to help move towards cities that display the characteristic of a future-thriving city is through the development of sustainable precincts and green-certified neighbourhoods and cities. Whilst green ratings for buildings have been and will continue to be very helpful in progressing the sustainability agenda in the built environment, the time has come for us to expand our viewpoint to include bigger communities and spaces with collaboration at the focal point.

Here are some of the certifications from around the world that are focusing on doing just that:

LEED for Cities

In August 2017, Washington, DC was named the first LEED for Cities Platinum city in the world. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is one of the most globally recognised rating system and has been designed to assist buildings, neighbourhoods and cities in achieving high performance in key areas of environmental and human health. The LEED for Cities tool was launched in 2016 and “enables cities to measure and communicate performance, focusing on outcomes from ongoing sustainability efforts across an array of metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience (which includes education, prosperity, equity and health & safety). LEED for Cities projects benchmark and track performance using Arc, a state-of-the-art digital platform that uses data to provide greater transparency into sustainability efforts and helps cities make more informed decisions.”

Green Star Australia Communities

The Australian Green Star Communities tool evaluates the sustainability attributes of the planning, design, and construction of large scale development projects, at a precinct, neighbourhood, and/or community scale. The tool aims to assist in:

  • providing diverse, affordable, inclusive, well connected and healthy places to live, work and play
  • protecting, maintaining and restoring the natural environment by reducing the ecological footprint of developments
  • achieving real value for money through demonstrated whole life cost savings
  • encouraging opportunities for business diversity, efficiency, innovation, and economic development.

In 2014 the Barangaroo South precinct in Australia was awarded a 6 Star Green Star – Communities rating, scoring an unprecedented 104.98 out of a possible 110 points.

Green Star South Africa Sustainable Precincts

Currently the Green Building Council of South Africa is piloting the Green Star South Africa Sustainable Precincts tool.

The sustainable precincts tool has been contextualised / adapted from the Green Star Australia Communities tool and is based on the understanding that buildings do not exist in isolation. Rather they are connected to their surrounding contexts by space, form, their construction processes and the operational impacts over their lifespans.

According to Manfred Braune, GBCSA Executive Director: Certifications, “The vision and focus of the Green Star Sustainable Precincts tool is to create more sustainable neighbourhoods, precincts and communities by focusing on five critical components of urban planning, design and construction, namely Governance, Liveability, Economic Prosperity, Environment and Innovation. The tool provides a framework for neighbourhood scale projects to align themselves to, and obtain third party validation of their sustainable development credentials, according to international best practice that is locally relevant.”

Green Star Accredited professional, Ecolution Consulting Director and sustainability engineer, André Harms served on the technical advisory panel for the sustainable precincts tool in 2016. “I believe that the Green Star SA sustainable precincts tool will assist our country in moving towards greener community nodes, whilst slowly moving our economy towards greener, more inclusive and livable cities”, says André .

For more information on sustainable precincts, contact Ecolution on 


Inspiring Future Cities & Urban Services Shaping the Future of Urban Development & Services Initiative. (2016). [ebook] Geneva: World Economic Forum, pp.3, 13. Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Myers, J. (2016). These are the world’s most sustainable cities. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Reinink, M., Moeng, B., Fourie, A. and Compion, Z. (2017). Local Context Report For RSA. 1st ed. [ebook] Cape Town: GBCSA, pp.8, 11. Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017]. (2017). World Cities Day, 31 October. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].”