ASU Center for Organization Research and Design

Sustainable Urban Infrastructure in China: Towards a Factor 10 Improvement in Resource Productivity Through Integrated Infrastructure Systems

by David Ness

Aug 1, 2008

This paper emphasises that more holistic infrastructure systems are of great importance to achieving sustainable development of China and hence of the planet. Whilst rapid urbanisation brings the prospect of economic growth and a higher standard of living, it may also involve unsustainable consumption of scarce resources (land, materials, energy and water), accompanied by environmental degradation (such as pollution, emissions and waste). The challenge is to achieve the necessary economic growth but with far lower resource use, and thus reduce the ecological footprint, as recognised by China's Circular Economy policy. Whilst developed nations should rightly aim for a Factor 10 improvement in resource productivity, Factor 4 is often seen as a more appropriate target for developing countries – a fourfold increase. This involves doubling wealth while halving resource use in order to return to an ecological balance. Arguably, even greater resource productivity is required. China's economy will need to achieve at least a sevenfold increase in efficiency of resource use to achieve the goal of 'all-round well-being of society' set for 2050, although some have argued that a tenfold increase (90% improvement) will be required. The paper highlights the significant contribution of transport, energy, water and built infrastructure to resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the ecological footprint. It examines ways that China can move towards a Factor 10 improvement in resource productivity. This involves viewing infrastructure as 'a system to facilitate the delivery of services' to support social and economic development in an integrated, eco- or resource-efficient, cost-effective and socially inclusive manner, coupled with extending the principles of a 'product service system' more widely to an 'infrastructure service system'. It is argued that a revolution in thought and action is required to achieve the necessary paradigm shift in China, with the West leading by example.

Sustainable Urban Infrastructure in China: Towards a Factor 10 Improvement in Resource Productivity Through Integrated Infrastructure Systems