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Jennifer: Hi I’m Jennifer
Cassie: And I’m Cassie
Jennifer: And you are listening to Green Talking, the podcast helping you learn English for good.
Cassie: Today we are talking about town planning, smart cities, and our urban areas of tomorrow. This session links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Eleven – Sustainable Cities and Communities. The goal is to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Jennifer: It is an interesting time to talk about sustainable cities as we are seeing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a positive sense, during lockdown or confinement, we saw the absence of cars on our streets, and a lot of people felt like our cities could ‘breathe’ for the first time. I found it incredible to walk on the roads and be aware of all the sounds and even smells that are usually masked by the traffic.
Cassie: Yeah it was surreal but so nice to see your local community in a totally different way. It was just so quiet. Even now the city is still quiet. Fewer people on the bus going by my house and more people walking and cycling. I was actually in the countryside for the formal lockdown and it was so nice seeing families out together enjoying the fresh air.
But, let’s not forget that COVID-19 will have a huge negative impact on those who are living in densely-populated areas, poorly built housing and informal or temporary housing, often known as slums. We need to take this opportunity to rethink how we design our living areas, for those who consume the most, and those who are most disadvantaged, so both ends of the scale.
So, before we get started, should we have some statistics?
Cassie: Of course we should! It’s time for fun facts with Cassie.
Jennifer: So that’s potentially no access to clean water, no permanent home, poor hygiene and almost a billion people live in those conditions.
Cassie: Yeah it’s really sad.
Fact number four: 90% of the world’s urban areasare on the coast which means cities are at particularly high risk from some of the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels.
Jennifer: 90% live on the coast. Ok so we need to act now!
So, you live in London Cassie, what’s it like living there, would you say it is a sustainable city?
Cassie: Yep, I’ve been here for 10 years. Well London has actually been named the most sustainable city in the world! Also did you know that London is technically a forest
Jennifer: That’s so cool. The most sustainable city in the world. I do always wonder how reliable those lists are, if it’s just politicians inventing things?
Cassie: Yeah sustainability is so difficult to define. But if we define it as economic, social and environmental security, London performs very well in all three areas It is a financial centre, it has a great quality of life, and it has a very high proportion of green spaces.
Jennifer: And so from your perspective as a citizen do you agree with that? What’s your perspective?
Cassie: Yeah. I think every city has room for improvement, of course, and if we are to meet our goals of reducing emissions in the future then we need to do more but I think London has come a long way and deserves the title of sustainable city. This year we are actually celebrating 10 years of the shared bike service and, as a result of COVID-19, the Mayor of London is accelerating plans to create more cycle lanes and pedestrian only areas. These are very welcome changes and I’ve actually bought a bike to take advantage of this!
Jennifer: You guys are winning all the awards! So what makes this building special?
Cassie: So the building uses all the traditional sustainability solutions, such as a water collection system on the roof and vacuum-drainage toilets—like the ones found on passenger jets—that dramatically reduces water usage.
But the real innovation comes in the design of the structure. The ceilings have been designed to help the building’s heating, cooling, lighting and acoustic functions, reducing energy usage by over 40%.
Special ceiling panels use aluminium in the shape of 3D petals. These petals can absorb and retain energy because they have a much bigger surface area than a simple flat concrete ceiling.
Jennifer: Wow so aluminium in the shape of petals, like a flower?
Jennifer: Amazing! We don’t usually hear much about ceilings in sustainable building design, it’s normally the walls talking about insulation and so on.
Cassie: The walls are actually pretty special in this building too. Sustainability really has to be a whole-systems approach, so that we don’t just think about part of a project and forget another. The Bloomberg building has living walls which means that plants are growing vertically on the walls inside, and outside there are big bronze sheets which can open and close to help the building ‘breathe’, like the gills of a fish. The idea behind the building was to work with nature, and not against it.
Jennifer: Ah I love that as an idea. So to work with nature and not against it. That sounds pretty cool. Have you seen the building?
Cassie: Yeah I have. Next time you are in London we should take a cycle into the city and we can have a look around.
Jennifer: On your new bike.
Cassie: On my new bike.
Jennifer: Do you think future cities will see more and more buildings like this?
Cassie: I really hope so but it isn’t all good news in terms of building and sustainable buildings. The building needed 600 tonnes of bronze imported from Japan to create those gills on the side of the building and a quarry-full of granite from India.
Jennifer: Yeah that’s not great. It’s good if the annual energy consumption is low, but we have to think of the construction costs in energy terms.
Cassie: Exactly. It’s all about looking at it as a system and not in isolation.
Jennifer: Whole systems approach, definitely. And like many things in sustainability, the most sustainable building is one which is not built. Maybe we need to go even further in our thinking and consider how necessary these office buildings are. We need to think about the purpose of each building, not just the way it is constructed. For example, currently, we are seeing that a huge number of workers are actually more productive working from home, and maybe our future city designs will begin to reflect that.
For example, Paris recently committed to designing the city based on 15 minute neighbourhoods where everything that you need is in your local community – it’s based around the idea of having lots of small local hubs, transport by foot or bicycle, accessing local businesses, really creating that strong local community feeling.
Cassie: Sounds like such a nice idea! But do you think it is possible?
Jennifer: Anything is possible but I think what will be really important is having solid frameworks and really clear strong leadership. If we want to see real change we are going to need to have innovative policies. For example in Oslo where all new public buildings must not only be zero-emission but actually be “energy-plus,” which means they are generating clean energy. That kind of thinking can really change the way we think about our buildings and our cities.
And energy particularly is one of the biggest challenges facing society, and with the good leadership, urban settings have a real opportunity to link thousands or even millions of consumers in a system which acts intelligently.
Cassie: A system which acts intelligently? What exactly do you mean by that?
Jennifer: So this is what we call a smart city A smart city uses technology to improve efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of services and quality of life for the citizens.
Cassie: Right. So what does that actually mean?
Jennifer: Would it be easiest if I gave some examples?
Cassie: Yeah I think that would definitely help.
Jennifer: So keep in mind we are thinking about using technology, increasing efficiency, improving services and improving quality of life.
Cassie: Ok yup.
Jennifer: So, for example, let’s think of street lighting. Normally you have a lamppost which is a big stick with a light on it. And it lights up at sunset, and it turns off at sunrise. Simple, effective, pretty much the same in every single city. But what if we rethought their purpose? That’s what the city of Glasgow is doing, in Scotland. They have an intelligent lighting programme, which is using lampposts as a smart network, the lights are less bright when there is nobody nearby, and they actually track air pollution, noise and activity to inform the city about movement and even identify crime. And they act as WiFi routers to provide internet!
Cassie: That’s pretty awesome. It’s true that lighting is an existing network that we don’t even think about normally, but it is actually a brilliant infrastructure which could serve multiple purposes. I guess smart cities is thinking about using these infrastructures and rethinking their purposes.
Jennifer: Yeah exactly and electric cars and charging systems is another great example, particularly as energy storage is a big issue for our future, and we can actually think of parked cars as batteries storing energy. So, for example, if we have renewable energy supply when the wind in blowing or the sun is shining, people can charge up their cars, and then the car stores that energy for when they need it and when they want to drive. There are a few cities exploring how to develop that idea. Rotterdam in Holland is currently developing a project where parked cars act as batteries that can actually feed electricity back into the system when the city needs more energy.
Cassie: That’s so cool. I love the idea of cars being a solution and not a problem.
Jennifer: I know, right? However there is a bit of a debate around smart cities versus more traditional so called ‘dumb cities’ – do we want to be living in a linked digital community, where all of our data is shared and used and bought and sold, where we are constantly connected, or can we use some more traditional, or even ancient techniques?
There are so many questions about our data, security, and of course where all that electricity would come from for smart cities. Technology has the potential to respond to so many of our current global issues, but we sometimes need to look back in time to be able to look forward. There are many ancient techniques to deal with flooding, for example, again we come back to that idea of working with nature and not against it. So instead of blocking rivers and trying to stop flooding, we are seeing more and more cities building parks that are specifically designed to accept flooding. And it’s an ancient technique that many traditional communities used. And there’s actually a park built with this purpose in Rennes, where I live, which is pretty cool.
Cassie: But Rennes not the most sustainable city in the world though are you.
Jennifer: Yeah not yet, not yet!
Well that brings us towards the end of our episode today. So, what are your takeaway thoughts from today?
Cassie: I think for me it’s about using existing infrastructure to do something different, like the lampposts in Glasgow. Taking something that was already in place and repurposing it. It makes me think about the lamps on my street and what else they could be doing.
Jennifer: Yeah definitely, for me that’s one of the most exciting areas of development and I love reading about those kinds of projects. It feels like something so futuristic and out of a film. But it is super important to think as well not just about shiny buildings and clever apps that do clever things, but also to take a step back and think about purpose. Thinking about safety, inclusivity, access to services. I think technology should be a potential solution and not the objective. It shouldn’t be the goal of what we are trying to achieve. Technology should just be a way that we can achieve our goals. But there is so much potential to see real change in our urban areas over the next few decades and I am really excited to see what happens!
Cassie: Thanks for joining this episode of Green Talking, the podcast helping you learn English for Good. We’ll link to all of the topics discussed today in the podcast notes but we’re really keen to hear from you! How have you made a change after today’s podcast? What have you learned? What would you like us to talk about next? You can join the conversation social media. You can find us on all platforms at @greentalkfr . And we look forward to you joining us next week!
Jennifer: Thanks for listening! And my catchphrase of the week today is: Environmental destruction is shocking, let’s get Green Talking.
Cassie: Ok you still need to keep brainstorming that one!
Jennifer: See you next time.
resilient => recover easily from difficult situation
pandemic => epidemic over a wide geographical area; noun an epidemic that is geographically widespread; occurring throughout a region or even throughout the world
lockdown => confining people to a space
confinement => the act of restraining of a person’s liberty by confining them
absence => not present
masked => true character is hidden
surreal => like a dream
cycling => the sport of traveling on a bicycle or motorcycle
countryside => rural regions
lowest => smallest in importance
informal => a warm or friendly and not formal atmosphere
disadvantaged => marked by deprivation especially of the necessities of life or healthful environmental influences
worldwide – adj. spanning or extending throughout the entire world; of worldwide scope or applicability; involving the entire earth; not limited or provincial in scope
hygiene => a condition promoting sanitary practices
yep => yes, yeah
reliable => trustworthy, can depend on
perspective => a way of regarding situations or topics etc.
pedestrian => a person who travels by foot
innovation => starting something for the first time
passenger => a traveller riding in a vehicle
dramatically => in a very impressive manner
aluminium – noun a silvery ductile metallic element found primarily in bauxite
petal => coloured segments of a flower.
retain => for possible future use or application
wow => expression of surprise
insulation => protecting something by surrounding it with material that reduces or prevents the transmission of sound or heat or electricity
vertically – adv. in a vertical direction
bronze => an alloy of copper and tin and sometimes other elements
gills => how fish breathe – the respiratory organ of fish
quarry => site for mining stone and other materials
frameworks => structure or approach which can be used to think about and deal with an issue
intelligently – adv. in an intelligent manner
yup => yeah, yes
lamppost => streetlight – a metal post supporting an outdoor lamp
sunrise => the first light of day
sunset => nightfall
flooding => overfull with water
takeaway => a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting
repurposing => adapt for use in a different purpose.
destruction => the termination of something by causing so much damage to it that it cannot be repaired or no longer exists
Cassie: So you Jennifer wanted to talk about this topic today because you feel it is something that we don’t usually talk about? I have to admit I don’t immediately think of digital waste when I think of sustainability. So why is this topic important to you?
Jennifer: Yeah I think digital waste is one of those ‘elephants in the room’, a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that nobody wants to deal with or even talk about. And so many challenges around sustainability relate to communication, being informed as consumers and having the knowledge to make decisions. And that’s what kind of we hope to achieve with this podcast too, opening up those conversations and just trying to ask some questions and help us all think about our consumption choices.
So, digital waste. Since the pandemic we have been travelling a lot less, right? We’ve been making video calls instead which mean there’s no carbon emitted from travel, great! But let’s think about that a bit more. Imagine you have an hour long video call with someone maybe working on a shared document in the cloud.
Relying on that cloud computing and those video calls actually has a huge environmental impact and those data centres that support that support that activity them consume large amounts of electricity, often sourced from coal-fired power plants.
So I think we need some statistics to better understand the issue. I think it’s time for “Fun facts with Cassie”
Jennifer: That is crazy. We talk so much about air travel in the media. We talk about flight shame. People are so aware about the impact of flying and we just never talk about digital waste. I would have never thought it was the same:
Jennifer: Ok so what that means is if I watch a programme on my mobile phone, on my data connection that is going to use four times as much energy as if I watch that same programme but connected on a wifi network. And that is because so the phone itself is very energy efficient, so when you are streaming something, the consumption comes almost entirely from the transmission of the data and not the phone’s energy use itself. So that is why we see such a big difference depending on which type of network you use to receive that information.
Cassie: Misrepresentation of the truth. So…fake news?
Jennifer: Fake news, yup. This is a good example of just how difficult it is to really understand what is happening in this area and understand our impact. We don’t really know who to believe.
Cassie: It’s actually not just a problem for us as consumers. A recent survey spoke to hundreds of IT leaders about their data centre practices and the findings are interesting. While data centres have an enormous impact as we have seen, energy efficiency ranked just fourth on the leaders’ priority list when building a new data centre. And, most respondents did not even know their data centre PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, this is the primary measure of data centre efficiency. Even worse, most of them often kept their data centres at needlessly cold temperatures, like keeping your fridge really, really cold – wasting large amounts of power.
Jennifer: Not good news.
Cassie: Not great at all but there are some projects that are starting to communicate about this issue. One of them is the International Energy Agency, the IEA, have created a calculator which lets you see how much carbon you produce by watching or streaming.
And so it’s great to see that that change is happening at the top in these huge companies and I hope that that will start to filter down and that we will start to more understanding of this need and start to see other companies doing similarly.
But renewable energy supply is not going to be enough, and actually doesn’t resolve one of the main problems which is the heat produced from data centres.
Jennifer: Sounds ambitious. Um I don’t know it sounds like it risks just putting more heat into the sea instead of into the air.
Cassie: Well, yes, it’s far too soon to tell if the project will be successful. And the last thing we need is to increase the sea temperature even more. But the most important thing is that we are trying, because it is through research and development that we will find solutions!
Jennifer: So research and development, data centres, renewable energy supply that all sounds great but can we do as consumers. What about at the other end of the scale?
Let’s talk about emails. So had you thought about this topic previously? Had you thought about the environmental impact of your emails?
Jennifer: Yeah so 240 million emails are sent in the world per minute, and around 20%, 1 in 5, 20% of those emails are never opened.
Cassie: I’m definitely guilty of not opening all of my emails. And now to find out that each of those emails has a footprint.
Jennifer: It’s just the scale. Like, 240 million emails per minute how many emails is that sent in the world since the start of this episode. I don’t know… billions! It’s just mind-boggling.
Cassie: And in our research I found out that a short email can add about 4 grams of CO2 to the atmosphere and then the average email is about 10 grams and an even bigger email with a big attachment can have a footprint of 50 grams of carbon emissions. A typical year of incoming email is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in an average car.I just can’t get my head around that. And the global carbon footprint from spam or junk mail or those newsletters that you never read annually is equivalent to the greenhouse gases pumped out by 3.1 million passenger cars in a year.
Jennifer: That is crazy. So just by not even doing anything, by receiving these emails globally we are creating the same amount of pollution as 3.1 million passenger cars. That’s just terrifying.
Cassie: It really is.
Jennifer: And storing all those emails in your inbox means that every time you open up your computer or your phone you are using energy to pull that data out and present that email on your screen.
So for any emails with attachments, it’s being stored in the email provider’s server for you. And that’s great, and its really useful for things you need, but personally, I receive literally thousands of emails and attachments that I read once and then never ever again.
Cassie: Same. So not only is it really annoying having loads of old emails, newsletters, promotional emails or being cc’d into emails that aren’t even relevant to you and having them in your inbox, it’s actually really bad for the environment!
Jennifer: Number one- reduce the size of emails by lowering the resolution and compressing images.
Cassie: Number two- regularly clean and maintain mailing lists.
Jennifer: Number three- remove any contacts that unsubscribe, and update any changed email addresses immediately.
Cassie: Number four- check your emails thoroughly before sending to ensure they contain all the necessary (and correct) information, to avoid the need for a follow-up email.
Jennifer: And number five- link to files or information online rather than adding an attachment.
I think that’s really clever and really simple to not put a pdf in attachment but actually link to it online. Yeah I think wherever possible it is definitely something that I try to do if I know I am going to send lots of emails referring to one document. I do tend to put it online and then send a link rather than as an attachment. And it’s just a new habit really to get in to.
So there are some handy apps and websites that can help you with this as well. One example of is Cleanfoxwhich is pretty useful to help you automatically delete all those emails and help you unsubscribe.
Cassie: Wait, Jennifer are you telling our listeners to unsubscribe!
Jennifer: Yeah, I think we might be the only podcast that says ‘and remember to unsubscribe!’
Cassie: Yes but it’s true, don’t subscribe to us.
Jennifer: Don’t subscribe!
Cassie: Or anything else for that matter, unless you really care. And if you change your mind about that newsletter, or that YouTube channel in the future, take two seconds to unsubscribe!
So that brings us towards the end of our episode today
Jennifer: Already. Well we don’t want to have too big of digital footprint, do we?
Cassie: No not at all
Jennifer: So this is obviously quite a complex topic and hopefully this episode has given you lots of food for thought. So Cassie what has our chat made you think about today?
Cassie: So I’m going to finally unsubscribe from those newsletters. And probably from those podcasts I’m not really listening to. Not only are they clogging my inbox and my phone but they are harming the planet.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah definitely. And yeah this is a topic that I find fascinating, so thank you for exploring it with me today. And I think maybe the most important thing is just to keep having these conversations and talking about this. And of course delete those old emails and unsubscribe.
So thanks for joining this episode of Green Talking, the podcast helping you learn English for Good. We’ll link to all of the topics discussed today in the podcast notes but we’re really to keen to hear from you! How have you made a change after today’s podcast? What have you learned? What would you like us to talk about next? You can join the conversation on social media at we’re @greentalkfr. And we look forward to you joining us next week!
Jennifer: Thanks for listening! And my catchphrase of the week today is:
Turn the planet clean, let’s get Talking Green!
Cassie: Ok keep brainstorming!
Jennifer: If you could see Cassie’s face in response to this…!
Jennifer: See you next time!
sustainability => noun the property of being sustainable. contributor => noun a writer whose work is published in a newspaper or magazine or as part of a book; someone who contributes (or promises to contribute) a sum of money relate => verb give an account of; have or establish a relationship to; be in a relationship with; make a logical or causal connection; have to do with or be relevant to informed => adj. having much knowledge or education consumption => noun the utilization of economic goods pandemic => adj. existing everywhere; epidemic over a wide geographical area;noun an epidemic that is geographically widespread; occurring throughout a region or even throughout the world travelling => noun the act of going from one place to another emitted – past tense of ‘to emit’, to send out a beam, noise, smell, or gas computing => noun the procedure of calculating; determining something by mathematical or logical methods; the branch of engineering science that studies (with the aid of computers) computable processes and structures sourced – to get something from a particular place coal-fired => adj. fueled by burning coal storehouses => large building for keeping things roughly => adv. (of quantities) imprecise but fairly close to correct emission => noun the act of emitting; causing to flow forth; the occurrence of a flow of water (as from a pipe); the release of electrons from parent atoms; any of several bodily processes by which substances go out of the body; a substance that is emitted or released worldwide => adj. spanning or extending throughout the entire world; of worldwide scope or applicability; involving the entire earth; not limited or provincial in scope transmission => noun the act of sending a message exaggerated => adj. enlarged beyond truth or reasonableness; enlarged to an abnormal degree; represented as greater than is true or reasonable fake => adj. not genuine or real yup => yes priority => noun preceding in time; status established in order of importance or urgency respondents. – people who respond to e.g. a survey needlessly => adv. without need fridge => noun a refrigerator handy => adj. easy to use renewable => adj. capable of being renewed; replaceable unrealistic => adj. not realistic overheating => noun excessive heating bandage => noun a piece of soft material that covers and protects an injured part of the body; supplier => noun someone whose business is to supply a particular service or commodity redistribute => verb distribute anew file => noun a set of related records (either written or electronic) kept together trialling. => the process of formally testing a product to discover how effective or suitable it is:
mind-boggling => extremely surprising and difficult to understand or imagine incoming => adj. arriving at a place or position spam => noun unwanted email (usually of a commercial nature sent out in bulk) junk => noun something useless globally => adv. throughout the world stored => adj. accumulated until needed server => noun a computer that provides client stations with access to files and printers as shared resources to a computer network literally => adv. (intensifier before a figurative expression) without exaggeration; in a literal sense annoying => adj. causing irritation or annoyance;noun the act of troubling or annoying someone promotional => adj. of or relating to serving as publicity; of or relating to advancement mailing => noun the transmission of a letter; mail sent by a sender at one time update => noun supply with recent information thoroughly => adv. in a complete and thorough manner follow=>up => noun an activity that continues something that has already begun or that repeats something that has already been done tend => verb have care of or look after; have a tendency or disposition to do or be something; be inclined subscribe => verb receive at regular intervals newsletter => noun report or open letter giving informal or confidential news of interest to a special group hopefully => adv. it is hoped; with hope; in a hopeful manner clogging => adj. preventing movement fascinating => adj. capturing interest as if by a spell; capable of arousing and holding the attention