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City of Chennai gives its streets back to the people

Sustainia Award Winner 2015

COP21, PARIS: Inspiring cities around the world, the redesign of Indian city Chennai wins the 2015 Sustainia Award for its solution to the city’s mounting air pollution and traffic casualties.

The Sustainia Award is backed by an international coalition of sustainability-focused organizations, including DNV GL. The winner is selected by an Award Committee chaired by the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Global sustainability leaders including entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Ted Turner; the former EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard, and UN Global Compact Executive Director Lise Kingo attended the Sustainia Award Ceremony in Paris yesterday.

Accounting for at least 60 per cent of the city’s transport budget, the Chennai project is a full-scale redesign including expanded footpaths, safe pedestrian crossings, protected cycle tracks, properly scaled carriageways, conveniently placed bus stops and clearly designated on-street parking. It is a solution with far-reaching health and environmental benefits thanks to smart transport adaptations.

“Cities generate the lion’s share of greenhouse gases, but the Sustainia Award Winner from Chennai reminds us that cities also have the agility and power to act quickly and create solutions that benefit their citizens and the planet. I love these kinds of solutions, because they inspire other cities to take action and not wait for their national governments to do it for them,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California and chair of Sustainia Award.

The Sustainia Award, a global award honoring sustainable innovation, is founded by companies and organizations across industries: Realdania, IFHP, DNV GL, Storebrand, Regions20, UNGC, WWF and Connect4Climate form the coalition of partners representing a variety of approaches to sustainability - all determined to make the sustainable future tangible and real.

“We’re increasingly seeing innovative, bottom-up solutions from cities seeking to improve their citizens’ quality of life,” says Bjørn K. Haugland, chief sustainability officer at DNV GL, Sustainia sponsor and one of its founding partners. “Any major change takes root from an idea, and it’s vital that ideas like this gain more prominence. That’s why the Sustainia Awards are so important – they shine a light on viable solutions that exist today, and help them to gain momentum.”

Redesigning for green and healthy streets

With more than 10,000 traffic crashes reported in Chennai every year, among the highest number of road deaths in India, and outdoor pollution as the city’s top health risk, this year’s Sustainia Award winner responds to a critical challenge. The Chennai solution addresses major challenges linked to rapid urbanization in countries across the globe. In 1990, less than 40 per cent of the global population lived in a city. In 2050, the expected number will increase to 70 per cent. The OECD predicts that air pollution is to become the biggest environmental cause of mortality worldwide.

“Chennai's Streets today stand as a proud example of bringing in equity into the most common public space in a city. I thank all our partners for their support, and the Sustainia jury for acknowledging the work by the Corporation of Chennai,” says Vikram Kapur Commissioner, Corporation of Chennai.

A bridge between headline negotiations and grassroots innovations

Through a worldwide submissions campaign, the partners behind Sustainia Award each year create a list of 100 readily available innovations to highlight that a sustainable transition is possible and happening already. When put together 100 at a time, the solutions create a sense of optimism about the possibilities and benefits of making sustainable choices.

“Sustainia exists to answer one, simple question: how do we build a sustainable future with the solutions available today? We know the future is within our grasp, so we need to bridge the gap between headline negotiations and grassroots innovations. At Sustainia, we have seen the breakthrough solutions that are happening right here, right now,” says Mikkel Andersen, Director, Global Strategic Services at Sustainia.

Bringing the sustainable innovations to Paris

2015 is a year filled with promise for political action. Earlier this year, the UN adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and in Paris, we are hoping for an ambitious and binding agreement on global emission targets. However, these political ambitions require concrete innovations and development of new business models.

“The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is a turning point toward a better future. Meeting the climate change challenge means innovation, new economic models and sustainable growth for this century. The innovations identified and communicated by Sustainia illustrate that new, sustainable business models already exist and that action is happening,” says Christiane Figueres, Executive Director of (UNFCCC) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and member of Sustainia Award Committee.