Glasgow Exemplifies how Cities can Embrace Sustainability

Challenges are acknowledged, but with a robust commitment to constant evolution, Glasgow stands poised to inspire cities globally to embrace change and usher in a greener, more sustainable future and net zero by 2030.

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Dr. Tariq Durrani, Research Professor of Electrical Engineering at Strathclyde University

Among his many awards, Prof. Durrani received the Order of the British Empire in 2003, in recognition of his contributions to the arts and sciences. Dr. Durrani is an IEEE Fellow and active volunteer.

As a longterm Glasgow resident, I am proud of Glasgow’s efforts toward achieving net zero by 2030 and the associated tech and innovation initiatives. Glasgow has a longstanding connection with IEEE, hosting the first major IEEE conference, ICASSP’89 (International Conference in Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing), around 35 years ago. Since then, it has been a hub for various IEEE events, earning the title “IEEE Conference City.”

Having been involved in IEEE activities in Glasgow and beyond, including chairing ICASSP’89 and subsequent conferences, this association has been integral to my professional journey. It attracted bright Ph.D. students to my research group and contributed to my leadership roles in IEEE, such as President of the IEEE Signal Processing Society and IEEE Vice President for Educational Activities. Recently, I chaired the 2023 IEEE Adhoc Committee to Coordinate IEEE’s Response to Climate Change (CCIRCC).

It is gratifying to see Glasgow’s commitment to sustainability, mitigation, and adaptation to climate change. As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of ICASSP’89, the presentation of an IEEE “tartan” tie by the Glasgow Convention Bureau is a fitting tribute to this enduring collaboration. Glasgow’s role in technological advancements and climate action is an example for other cities around the world and crucial for a sustainable future.

Glasgow, also known as the “Dear Green Place” or “Glaschu” in Old Scots, has evolved into a hotbed of innovation, embracing sustainability as a core tenet of its urban development. Gavin Slater, Glasgow’s Head of Sustainability, and Aileen Crawford, Glasgow’s Head of the Glasgow Convention Bureau, provide insights into the city’s sustainability achievements that make it one of the most sustainable cities in the world

In 2020, Glasgow developed its Climate Plan 2030, with the goal of attaining net zero carbon by 2030 for scope 1 and scope 2. The commitment requires technology and innovation to achieve the ambitious targets. Foremost among these is the aspiration to reduce carbon emissions across the city’s infrastructure through a variety of initiatives, including decarbonizing energy supplies, integrating renewable-energy sources, and forward-thinking urban planning and transportation.

As an example, Glasgow is working to decarbonize and retrofit existing buildings that adhere to stringent energy standards [ 1 ]. Currently, the predominant heating arrangement for private homes is a natural gas-powered boiler. Glasgow’s Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy places emphasis on the widespread adoption of district heating through the deployment of heat pumps. Slater says, “This technology is fantastic. The River Clyde runs through our city and we can use it to generate heat for our buildings. But these heat pumps are predicated on electricity, which can be expensive, so we also need clean, reliable, and cheap energy.” 

Glasgow has also embraced the transition to renewable-energy sources. The city is home to numerous renewable-energy projects, including wind farms and solar installations. The Whitelee Wind Farm, located just outside the city, stands as one of the largest onshore wind farms in Europe, producing clean energy to power thousands of homes. In addition to harnessing wind power, Glasgow has invested in solar-energy infrastructure, with solar panels integrated into public buildings and private residences. These initiatives contribute not only to reducing the city’s carbon footprint but also to establishing Glasgow as a hub for renewable-energy innovation.

Glasgow has prioritized sustainable public transportation solutions to address the environmental impact of traditional commuting methods. The city aims to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by focusing first on the reduced need for vehicles, as well as electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure. Investment in stations with 150kw chargers (up from 7kw) reduce charging times to about 30 minutes [ 2 ]. Collaborating with neighboring municipalities, the city is seeking to grow its existing network of charging infrastructure to span the entire region, ensuring consistency and reliability for commuters and visitors. The objective is to instill confidence in the public that they can conveniently access charging stations wherever needed during their journeys.

The city’s emphasis on sustainability is not limited to energy projects; it extends to the very fabric of its urban environment. The Sustainable Glasgow Partnership plays a crucial role in driving these initiatives, fostering collaboration between various stakeholders [ 3 ], from business to academia, to create a more adaptable city. The strong relationship between the city and academia has played an important role in driving innovation. For example, geographical information systems (GIS) [ 4 ] have been instrumental in mapping data sets visually, facilitating communication between citizens, communities, and the government.

The economic impact and global influence of Glasgow’s sustainability efforts underscore the city’s role as a leader in the global green movement. The Sustainable Glasgow Business Charter positions the city as a hub for environmentally conscious businesses and tourists. In 2021, Glasgow was host to the UN’s COP26 event, which enabled the city to showcase its many sustainability initiatives and dedication to fostering a greener future. Having a green mindset attracts international events such as the All-Energy exhibition and conference, as well as many IEEE conferences.

While Glasgow has made significant strides in sustainability, the city acknowledges the challenges inherent in its journey. The rapid rate of technological change requires constant adaptation, as evident in the swift upgrades to the EV charging network. Decisionmakers grapple with choosing the most suitable technologies that can have lasting impact. This ongoing process of evaluation is critical to staying on the cutting edge of sustainable practices while navigating the complexities of emerging technologies.

Glasgow’s sustainability initiatives are deeply rooted in community engagement. Residents know the People Make Glasgow Greener city brand as a recognizable symbol. 

Glasgow’s sustainability journey is founded on an ability to adapt and innovate in response to evolving challenges. Aileen Crawford remarks that “Glaswegians embrace change. Our city’s unique blend of innovation, community engagement, and a commitment to staying at the forefront of technology becomes a model for other cities seeking a more sustainable and resilient future.”

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[1] R. Bointner, A. Toleikyte and L. Kranzl, “Cross-country analysis of the implementation of nearly zero-energy building standards across Europe,” 2016 2nd International Conference on Intelligent Green Building and Smart Grid (IGBSG), Prague, Czech Republic, 2016, pp. 1-6, doi: 10.1109/IGBSG.2016.7539424.

[2] I. S. Bayram, A. Saad, R. Sims, A. Babu, C. Edmunds and S. Galloway, “Statistical Characterization of Public AC EV Chargers in the U.K.,” in IEEE Access, vol. 11, pp. 70274-70287, 2023, doi: 10.1109/ACCESS.2023.3293091.

[3] L. B. Furstenau et al., “Link Between Sustainability and Industry 4.0: Trends, Challenges and New Perspectives,” in IEEE Access, vol. 8, pp. 140079-140096, 2020, doi: 10.1109/ACCESS.2020.3012812.

[4] U. Zafar, I. S. Bayram and S. Bayhan, “A GIS-based Optimal Facility Location Framework for Fast Electric Vehicle Charging Stations,” 2021 IEEE 30th International Symposium on Industrial Electronics (ISIE), Kyoto, Japan, 2021, pp. 1-5, doi: 10.1109/ISIE45552.2021.9576448.