Sustainable Futures: Cities, Water and Cross-Sector Collaboration

Ingrid Andersson is a senior expert addressing issues related to “smart” solutions through community engagement and behavioural change at the International Organisation for Knowledge Economy and Enterprise Development (IKED). Her engagements include international projects linking smart cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East – focusing around pioneering methods to boost citizen adoption of new social and environmental solutions and innovations. In particular, she has been working on tackling effects of climate change and desertification in Oman, where she has used the “Groasis Waterboxx”( https://www.groasis.com/en) to plant over 3000 trees in the last three years with a survival rate of over 90%. Her other areas of interest and project development include: ecological villages; behavioural change around health; and women’s entrepreneurship programs.

You’ve been working across sectors and exploring issues ranging from water management to urban sustainabilty. What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities of collaborating across sectors around issues of sustainability?

I think it’s definitely difficult to work with both governments and large corporations because there’s a big gap in their interests as well as some of the big companies this is about, you know, giving the shareholders what they want and for the government, it’s about managing resources, but also to manage the strategies that are put in place by the leadership of the country. So there is a sort of gap of understanding… We have to bring government, business and other actors together. And I think the best way to do this is to actually collaborate actively together.

The more diversity we can have when we start the collaborative project, the better. So it’s not only the big company and the government just sort of starting a very big project together – we should work across industry, government, civil society, research and NGOs.

You’ve been working on issues of urban sustainability across Europe, what are some of the biggest insights you’ve gained from that work?

In many ways, it comes down to demand – encouraging populations to create a demand for more sustainable solutions and ways of urban living. While there are new technologies that can help conserve resources, there are also many nature-based solutions out there that have been around for thousands of years. As time has gone by we lost some of these competencies and skills. So now it’s about both educating people around certain behaviors and forms of sustainable living and looking at how to sustainably use resources. We have to look at resource recovery that comes in terms of the management of waste, energy and, of course, water. So there’s a tremendous need to educate people, but also for organizations and for governments. So how can we drive the demand for services and products that can create more sustainable resource use? Because when people start to demand these services and products they will be implemented and put in place more rapidly, so that we will have a more sustainable future.

You’ve also been working on water conservation efforts around the world. Could you share a bit about your pilot project around water and reforestation in Oman?

We are engaged in a reforestation project in the south of Oman, where actually 75 percent of the forest has been lost. We’re using our waterbox technology as a tool for the planting of trees.
We have a collaboration with Oman’s Environmental Authority and also some collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Water. And we have also BP Oman as the sponsor of the project, which is on land owned by the Omani environmental authority.

We plant on the land of the environmental authority. We have a mix of volunteers and professionals using this water box technology to plant trees. We only plant with native trees and we conduct research to see what kind of species are the most successful in terms of managing the dry and harsh climate there. These reforestation efforts also serve the need for the oil and gas industry now to start to mitigate what the CO2 emissions that they produce.

Ingrid at a tree-planting event in Siena, Italy. The waterbox technology and tree-planting efforts are on-going in different communities across the world.

How can we best structure cross-sector collaborations to create the most successful partnerships? And what are the biggest trends you see driving cross-sector partnerships and collaborations toward achieving the SDGs?

It’s essential that everybody has a shared vision, that you’re working toward one clear vision. It has to be a red-thread through the project. There must also be complete transparency, that everybody trusts and understands the agenda and the nature of the collaboration. That way everyone can take ownership and contribute most effectively with the resources they have. In terms of trends, I think that digitalization can play a very strong role. I see that the communication between people is key in this way, and that we are able to communicate the goals very well. In this way, actors can apply their strengths and their own wishes in a very sustainable way. We should be able to create a sort of cross-border collaboration between people, between nations as well and between regions and across disciplines. In this way, we have a possibility of not only connecting with people in the same system, but also other areas of expertise and knowledge.