Smart Surfaces Pave the Way for Healthy, Wealthy Cities

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In June, a group of the world’s climate change leaders warned that Earth could face irreversible temperature increases if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced by 2020. While the group, dubbed Mission 2020, urges energy policymakers to move the world to 30 percent renewable energy in the next three years, it noted that much of the needed change will fall to cities and municipal governments.

The dire warning is alarming, but what if one of the simplest, and most natural, elements could be the solution? What if better harnessing fundamental properties of life on Earth—sun and water—could not only reduce rising climate temperatures, create jobs and improve quality of life, but also secure billions of dollars for cities in net financial benefits and potentially half a trillion dollars nationally?

A recent study by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is one of the first to research the costs and benefits of smart surface technologies, including cool roofs, green roofs, solar polar, urban trees and reflective pavement. The study focused on El Paso, Texas, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The results: Across the board, using smart technologies citywide, and especially in low-income neighborhoods, produced financial benefits that exceeded costs.

How can these smart surfaces make such an impact, and what are these “smart” surfaces?

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