Geneva’s Model for Sustainable Urban Innovation

12th June 2024

Renowned for its diplomatic significance and natural beauty, Geneva in Switzerland is also leading by example when it comes to sustainable practices. Armed with governmental support, event venues, social and environmental projects, local institutions and international organisations demonstrate how urban spaces can embrace sustainable development goals at every level.

Words Vicky Koffa

The Canton and City of Geneva, along with the Geneva Tourism & Conventions Foundation, are dedicated to developing sustainable tourism. The State Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 and the adoption of a revised Cantonal Climate Plan in 2021 reflect a citywide commitment to sustainability. This is further evidenced by the promotion of the “Ambassadeur du Terroir Genevois” and “Genève Région – Terre Avenir (GRTA)” labels, which emphasise the importance of local products and sustainable agriculture.

The Genilac project in Geneva is a pioneering initiative harnessing Lake Geneva’s hydrothermal energy to provide a sustainable heating and cooling solution for buildings. Launched by Services Industriels de Genève in April 2016, Genilac is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption by leveraging the constant temperature of lake water to meet the heating and cooling demands of the urban infrastructure. Its implementation aims to connect to over 350 buildings by 2035 and drastically cut CO2emissions.

In the realm of transparency, Geneva has launched the ‘Cercle Indicateurs’, a system for assessing the municipality’s efforts in the field of sustainability, which allows it to compare itself with other Swiss cities. 

International Reach

On top of the local authorities, many international organisations based in Geneva are active in the field. Initiatives like 2050Today and the SDG Lab at the UN showcase the city’s strategic role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 2050Today exemplifies a collaborative commitment among local and international entities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging a transparent, action-oriented approach to climate action. 

Simultaneously, the SDG Lab acts as a catalyst for innovative solutions towards the 2030 Agenda, facilitating a multi-stakeholder platform that bridges governments, NGOs, the private sector, and academia. Its focus on inclusivity and innovation promotes a cross-pollination of ideas by leveraging Geneva’s unique ecosystem of global expertise.

Business Events Venues & Hotels Take Centrestage

At the heart of these endeavors is PALEXPO (capacity over 9,000), Geneva’s premier exhibition and convention centre, committed to sustainability since 1993. In its comprehensive strategy with the principles of ‘avoid, reduce, reuse, and recycle’, the venue is focused on sourcing 95% of its products locally and reducing water and electricity consumption. 

In fact, it boasts 30,000-sqm photovoltaic panels, making it the second-largest solar power plant in Switzerland. PALEXPO has set ambitious goals, including becoming an energy-neutral building by 2030 and joining the SIG GeniLac network.

The International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG) can accommodate up to 2,200 people in its 22 meeting rooms, always in a sustainable manner. Solar panels, beehives, GeniLac thermal solution and recycling are some of the venue’s green efforts. Modernising infrastructures, adapting to clients’ needs, choosing quality partners and acting in a responsible manner are ongoing commitments for the centre’s sustainable contribution.

Alongside these venues, the Geneva Convention Bureau’s website provides a detailed list of hotels, restaurants and activities which promote low carbon impact practices among delegates. 

Geneva Sustainability Centre

Complementing these infrastructural advancements, the Geneva Sustainability Centre (GSC) – functioning in the framework of the International Hospital Federation – reinforces the city’s sustainable transformation in the healthcare sector. Its mission is ‘to equip hospital leaders with the information, tools, and skills to deliver a net positive impact for a healthy and resilient future.’

Under the leadership of Executive Director Sonia Roschnik, the Centre takes a holistic approach to sustainability, focusing on the environmental, social, and economic pillars. “The GSC takes a holistic approach to sustainability,” Roschnik explains, “recognising that hospitals and health systems can harness the synergies of working across these pillars to create multiple wins for the environment, society, and the economy.”

The Centre’s establishment in Geneva is no coincidence. Its location capitalises on the city’s vibrant ecosystem of international organisations, NGOs, and academic institutions, fostering collaborations that drive forward global sustainability goals. Roschnik says: “Being based in Geneva allows us to leverage the wealth of knowledge, partnerships, and international influence concentrated here, enabling us to shine a light on innovative solutions and share best practices in sustainable healthcare.”

Roschnik envisions the GSC playing an increasing role in the global shift towards sustainable healthcare. “Our aim is to accelerate the transition to low carbon, resilient, and sustainable health systems through more partnerships, trainings and our Sustainability Accelerator Tool,” she concludes.

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Building Sustainability Bridges

Geneva’s sustainability commitment is indisputable also around business events. From October 2-5, 2023, at the CICG, a Swiss-based initiative known as Building Bridges came in the spotlight. Inaugurated in 2019, the event seeks to fast-track the shift towards a global economic framework that not only aligns with but actively supports the SDGs. 

The 2023 edition offered a comprehensive programme, starting with a summit on October 2 that encouraged high-level dialogues on the future of finance, followed by three Action Days filled with over 60 crowd-sourced events. With a diverse community ranging from the financial sector to NGOs, corporate companies, international communities, governmental authorities, and media, Building Bridges is creating a sustainable and inclusive economic system.

Geneva’s innovative model of sustainable urban development showcases how a city can integrate environmental, social, and economic sustainability into every operation, from local initiatives to international collaboration.

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