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What lessons did we take away from season 2?

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Our season 2 of The Urbanista has been a fascinating one, learning so much about many subjects from LCAs to EPDs, circularity, sustainability, and all about the new legislation and standards that we will soon have to manage. 

In fact, there’s been so much so that we wanted to make a recap on what happened during this 2024 year so far. In this episode we are looking back at some of the highlights. 

Why do we need to invest more in drinking water?

Back in September for episode 17, we spoke to Magnus Lundin, responsible for potable water solutions inside Uponor. He told us about some of the challenges currently facing the water industry. Since urban populations are growing, old infrastructure needs renewing but it can be difficult in the context of old cities with existing infrastructure and complicated urban design. There can also be problems with newer developments in areas with contaminated soil with oil, petrol or other components. Magnus discussed some of the solutions for these situations, and also how these solutions can then cause other problems, such as leakage. All of this, of course, has consequences financially. Additionally, the new European Drinking Water Directive is another change that will have to be managed by the water companies.

Why do we need to separate oil from the stormwater?

After Magnus, in episode 18 we spoke to Rickard Granath, Global Solution Manager for Stormwater at Uponor Infra, who came to talk to us about oil separation. 

Rickard explained the importance of oil separation in protecting our rivers and lakes. It is a complex situation with legal requirements depending on each individual context, but it’s essential in preventing pollution. 
Rickard talked about the clever systems used to separate oil, their effectiveness and how much they need maintenance and monitoring. 

9 criteria for sustainable infrastructure

In episode 19, it was really nice to meet with Riina Känkänen, Head of Sustainability at Ramboll Finland and Chair of the Infrastructure Committee in Green Building Council Finland. Riina is an expert in sustainable infrastructure. She explained their framework of 9 criteria for sustainable infrastructure, covering social, economic and ecological sustainability. Each of these a very important perspective to consider. 

Ecological sustainability aims to find a balance between human society and nature.The construction sector is a very intensive raw material user and the raw materials have been found to be a significant threat to limiting global warming to less than two degrees. 

So, it raises the question, how can we use and develop the current environment and infrastructure, and also the question, how long can we afford to build ‘new’ if our society has to consider the current limits and carrying capacity of the planet? 

Riina explained her ideas regarding choosing materials, renovating infrastructure and the predilection for looking at the economic sustainability perspective. Finally, she talked about Net Zero, and gave her opinion on whether we are getting closer to it. Go to episode 19 to listen her compelling point of view. 

GWI news: Tariffs for water are increasing by 8%

In December, the Urbanista had an exciting new format and we came together for the first time in episode 20 with our colleagues from Global Water Intelligence. Tallulah Lutkin, Utility Performance Editor at GWI discussed with us some of the stories in the water industry that were making headlines. 

These included the amendment by the EU parliament to the ‘Polluter Pays’ clause, reducing company liability for microplastic clean up from 100% to 80%, a project in Australia planning to build greenhouses powered by their wastewater plants, and reflection on the global increase of water tariffs. 

The truth behind data quality in LCA

Next to visit the Urbanista in episode 21 was Sustainability Expert Panu Pasanen. He is CEO at One Click LCA, who provides Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) software worldwide for the construction and manufacturing industries. 

Panu gave a comprehensive explanation of what LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are, and how they are calculated. Both standards are essential steps towards making the industry more sustainable, but they are perhaps more complicated than we might think. 

Panu showed us how long and complex a true LCA can be, and needs to be, in order to give information which really represents the impact our projects not only in the construction phase, but before and after that, as well. Go to episode 21 for the full explanation.

Urban utopia: The ideal city doesn't exist

In episode 22 we had the honour to talk with a very familiar person from the urban planning world. He has recorded over 400 episodes of his own podcast, Urbanistica, an international podcast about the making of smarter and more liveable cities. He’s also Urban Planner & Studio Manager at AFRY and a Placemaker EU Leader. We’re talking of course about Mustafa Sharif.

Mustafa shared his insights into how our society has ended up focusing urban design around mobility and transport. However, this has resulted in many issues, such as sustainability problems and even social segregation. 

The traditional ‘utopic’ image of the Nordic cities as the model everybody wants to follow, was also discussed and challenged. And the cherry on the cake was, of course, one of Mustafa’s dearest topics: placemaking. 
If you haven’t listened, look for episode 22 with Mustafa. You really don’t want to miss it!

GWI news 2: Sustainability mandatory reporting has financial impact

Back in the studio for episode 23 in February was Tallulah Lutkin, Utility Performance Editor at Global Water Intelligence, who came to discuss with the Urbanista some of the most recent top stories affecting the water industry.

First off, was COP 28, which had left a slight concern that the water utilities were not as involved as they should be in the sustainability conversation. This worry followed a minimal participation at the Stockholm Water Week, and left a feeling that progress is happening, but more is needed. 

Also on the agenda was the Direct Potable Reuse, also known as the ‘toilet to tap’ process; a new corporate sustainability reporting directive, one of the most ambitious reporting requirements in the world; Germany’s utilities falling behind in their treatment of wastewater sludge targets, and an interesting case where a community in Sweden has successfully sued a water utility for PFAS in the water supply, asking the question, where lies the responsibility for PFAS contamination?

Just recently we learnt that Tallulah has started her very own podcast! It’s called the Water Leaders Pod, congrats Tallulah!

Circular economy is NOT only waste management

The next of our winter guests in episode 24 was Michael Hanf - Lead, Sustainable Business at VTT and host of The Circular Coffee Break podcast. In his podcast he looks at circularity through very different lenses, from construction to textiles and cosmetics. He believes there is a lot to learn across industries on how to become more circular. 

We took the opportunity to ask Michael about his definition of Circular Economy and its principles, the challenges it brings, how consumers can engage in it, its role in urban planning, and the power of society. 
Michael helped explain the idea of circularity, how we can use our resources in the most efficient and effective ways, and how can we give these resources a long lifetime. He also talked about the possibilities of circularity for products in 50 or 100 years’ time. 

The final point Michael made, was how we can all make circularity happen, as businesses and members of society, but warned that perhaps we don’t have long before it’s too late. 

New EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

A few of our guests had already mentioned the EU’s new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), so for episode 25 it was good to speak to an expert in the area, Ella Tanskanen who is Head of Sustainability Services at Greenstep, who provides sustainability services and financial services in the Nordic countries.

Ella helped explain the CSRD, its goal of improving transparency and comparability and how it now encompasses more companies than before. She explained the data management challenges companies might face, and also some of the criteria, such as the definition of a ‘stakeholder’, the technology and tools necessary and much more. 

Ella also talked about the importance of getting your stakeholders engaged, not just trying to tackle the CSRD alignment with your team. She also emphasised that, despite the effort, the new directive will help future proof your company against climate change. Go to episode 25 to learn all te details about the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

How to excecute a sustainability driven project?

Here at the Urbanista we have had guest from almost all players in our industry, but we were missing one: the construction company or contractor side.

But we fixed it! In the episode 26, we talked with Martin Lundholm - Project Engineer focused on sustainability and innovation at SKANSKA. For the last four years, Martin has worked with the Skellefteå Municipality in northern Sweden which has the clear and ambitious goal of becoming the most sustainable city in Europe.

Martin talked about the fascinating projects he’s been working on in the city of Skellefteå, which have won prizes for sustainability. He explained the unique nature of the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contracts used to ensure a collaborative approach, and the benefits of such contracts. 

Martin stressed how essential it for companies like SKANSKA and municipalities to work together, sharing their expertise.

Challenges in building stormwater systems nowadays

Last but not least, on episode 27 we talked with Ebba Waernbaum - Strategist at VA SYD, the water utility covering the area of Malmö municipality in Sweden. We learnt from Ebba how are they planning their future stormwater solutions. During this insightful episode we discussed several topics: 
  • Challenges with hidden infrastructure that needs to be renewed
  • Process or the thinking behind when planning a new solution for stormwater 
  • How are we doing in terms of meeting 2027 water directive goals.
Ebba shared with us several data points from the research they have been doing, one of the main findings was that 90% of the pollution for stormwater comes from already built infrastructure, so only 10% comes from newly developed urban areas. 

So, it is clear where the focus and future investments should go. But there’s more:

Ebba’s preference for rather large stormwater treatment solutions comes from the data: because small solutions are roughly 6 times more expensive and their treatment capacity is 50% less than the big ones. So it’s pretty clear.

Look for episode 27 to learn from Ebba more details about strategic planning of stormwater solutions, whether it’s about retention or treatment and on site infiltration. 

So, that’s a wrap! This is how we conclude the season 2 of The Urbanista. Stay tuned for the next season!

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