What philanthropy can do to support sustainable cities

This content forms a part of our issue briefing on sustainable cities and communities.

A wide range of philanthropic trusts and foundations can fulfil their purpose areas and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through supporting sustainable cities.

Sustainable cities are places where people have healthier lives through better active transport options and locally grown healthy foods, and which meet the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged people through better housing and social connectedness. As such, a focus on sustainable cities enables grantmakers to realise multiple environmental and social outcomes. For example, philanthropy can support research and specific interventions to improve the sustainability of key systems, such as food, transport, energy, and waste and recycling. Philanthropy can also support the innovation required to ensure our cities meet the challenges of climate change.

Several global philanthropic foundations have identified city governments as important leaders that can drive action on climate change. Across the world, cities are adopting strong mitigation targets and thoughtful adaptation strategies, with targeted help from philanthropy backing this work. While philanthropic trusts and foundations are less likely to make grants directly to governments, they can engage this important sector by supporting intermediary organisations that:

  • Provide resources targeted to helping city councils drive emission reduction and adaptation in their communities, which could involve a wide range of measures from local renewable energy systems to urban food production; and
  • bring city councils together so they can learn from each other, accelerating everyone’s efforts.

Housing the vast majority of the Australian population, cities are terrific places to engage communities in the challenges of adopting better lifestyle practices and valuing and protecting nature. Many organisations provide environmental education and mobilise their communities in positive initiatives ranging from community gardens to revegetating public land.

These organisations are often small and value core funding and capacity-building support for their work.

Sustainable outcomes can be unlocked through better planning rules and reforms to the systems that enshrine the large “ecological footprints” of our cities. With strategic urban planning a high priority need area, philanthropy can support organisations to undertake the research and advocacy needed to create systems change.

Foundations can also consider investing their corpus in ventures that promote city sustainability, generating a return while creating a more sustainable city. There is great potential in retrofitting commercial buildings for energy and water efficiency and using the large roof space available in city buildings to construct solar farms.

The AEGN includes foundations that are funding in different ways to improve the sustainability of our cities. New funders are most welcome to join us on this journey.

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