莎拉．葛林（Sarah Green）：嗨，我是莎拉．葛林，我們今天的來賓是哈佛商學院的約翰．麥康柏（John Macomber）。約翰，非常感謝你今天撥冗前來。
Cities are growing fast, and they’re consuming huge amounts of resources critical to quality of life. That’s why they offer the best opportunities for companies to surmount environmental and social sustainability challenges.
Sarah Green: Hi, I'm Sarah Green. I'm talking today with John Macomber from Harvard Business School. John, thanks so much for coming in today.
John Macomber: Happy to.
Sarah Green: So you see the big sustainability challenge as an urban one. Why cities ?
John Macomber: I see the sustainability opportunity as an urban one for a couple of reasons. One’s sort of backing up a little bit around demographics. There are billions of people all around the world moving to cities from the countryside in search of better opportunities.
They’re doing this in the context of not enough water, not enough clean air, not enough place to put the garbage, too much traffic, too much carbon. And a lot of times, people think that, “Well, governments are going to solve this.” My approach largely is that governments can't really solve it on their own, and that the private sector needs to. With respect to cities, cities are interesting partly because that's where you can do things at scale, quickly.
It's where the bulk of the world's GDP is generated and where private-sector actors can act in a single city easier than they can act in a nation. And, politically, cities are the entity that can do something. Many times at the federal level, nations are stuck, but cities can actually act. So for all three of those reasons, there are advances in sustainability that you can make working at the city level, thinking about resources.
Sarah Green: Let's dig a little deeper into that and the opportunity there for the private sector. How should companies be thinking about identifying the right opportunities?
John Macomber: Well, they are sort of the regular opportunities almost any company would think about -- that might be a product company making insulation or pumps or something like that. But they don't really advance the sustainability or resource efficiency or even the city competitiveness agenda that much.
So there are two other ways to go. One is to add on technology that advances beyond just coordinating within one company to coordinating with multiple entities, so you can optimize somehow between the uses of lots of people. That way, you can get more benefit from the same water, the same electricity, the same transit. That's one direction.
Similarly, you can work on financial models that help to allocate the benefits better. One of the big problems in any kind of efficiency situation is tracking who makes the investment with who gets the benefit. So there are some quite sophisticated financial models that have lots of different entities and categories of securities that help match up the benefit to the investment.
The most compelling ones, I think, are when they combine those two together. So when you have a technology advancement that also has a financial investment so that you can really capture a lot of value. You can think how to allocate the value. And you can get it funded by something other than some government writing a check
Sarah Green: Do you have a couple more examples, or maybe one really concrete example, of that kind of thinking in action?
John Macomber: Sure. I personally think that there's lots of ways to intervene in cities, there's lots of things that companies do. But if you're thinking about real impact across the globe, and you're thinking about the issues that are going to be really compelling in our time, I think they're three.
One is around water, because you need water to live, there's a finite amount of
clean water. The second is around electricity. And the third is around transit. So for example, in water, in the city of Algiers -- huge water shortage, millions of people have moved from the countryside to the city. The city of Algiers wasn't able to provide the clean water on its own.
So they entered into a 25 year-contract with General Electric and some partners by which that entity contracted to provide the water services for 25 years. They also put the capital in for the pumps and fans and things. And they had a technology component -- an information technology component -- that optimized the flows from multiple sites in multiple locations and multiple users, so that you get much more benefit from the same amount of infrastructure, same amount of energy. And then the financial model included investment from the principles, bank debt, and also NGO money from OPIC. So in that situation, you get more water using less energy by applying technology and sophisticated financial layering.
Sarah Green: So I want to just wrap up by talking about just that really cool experiment you did recently, where you traveled to the Kumbh Mela religious festival in India, which is maybe one of the world's most populous gathering of people. What did you learn from that experience -- what lessons came out of that, that we might be able to apply?
John Macomber: The Kumbh Mela was fascinating. It's an instant city, essentially, that happens every 12 years. It's a very auspicious time in Hinduism to meet at the confluence of the Ganges and the Jamuna River and the mythical underwater Sarasvati.
And on the busiest day, they have more than 10 million people on land which half of the year is underwater. It’s a flood plain, because the Gange floods, of course. And so once every 12 years, when this festival happens -- the waters recede in September, people will be coming in January – so, the authorities have to build this pop-up megacity for 8 million people.
And of course, what's interesting to see – and we went with colleagues from the Divinity School and Design School and School of Public Health, for obvious reasons -- my interest in infrastructure was to see how this was organized and if there were takeaways for multiple cities in South Asia or in China or in South America or in Africa. And the thing I didn't expect was that the organizers basically focused on three things. They said, “We're going to make sure people understand the land use.” So the competing religious sects, who used to come for centuries and kill each other with elephants and tigers to get land near the confluence, now have allocated parcels.
The second thing they focused on was transit. There are very wide roads, even though it's on sand, so these are metal plates on sand for about 160 kilometers of roads -- temporary roads, which will be gone in the summertime. And the third thing they focused on is electricity. There were 22,000, temporary electric poles put in the site that helped all of the non-government actors do all the rest of the services.
So that element of focus around a common objective, which is “We want all the pilgrims to have a good experience,” we think it's a pretty powerful takeaway for new urban settlements, to try to have a common purpose and not try to do everything in a scattered way all at the same time.
Sarah Green: JOHN, thank you so much for coming today.
John Macomber: It was my pleasure