Multisolving, or how to solve several problems with one solution

Coaching 4 min read, October 2, 2019

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Trees in streets, green roofs, bike lanes, energy retrofits for houses, silent and clean electric busses; rooftop solar. What do all of these measures have in common? They all drive down CO2 emissions and they help communities become more livable and attractive. We call solutions like these, ‘multisolving’ – because they solve multiple problems with just one intervention. 💡

Challenge of our time ⏳

To ensure our prosperity and wellbeing we must halve CO2 emissions every 10 years by quickly and completely moving away from fossil fuels. At the same time, by 2050, we have to remove an additional five gigatons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere through massive reforestation and improved agriculture.

Business as usual... 🌏

While these are hugely ambitious targets to reach, too often climate change policies are framed as sacrifices we have to make in order to ‘save the planet’. This is wrong in two ways: first — we’re not saving the planet, we’re saving ourselves. And second — even if we were not facing such an climate emergency, — most people would likely benefit from and desire the many benefits of the energy transition.

What multisolving is all about 🧐

Multisolving policies help protect the climate while also providing other ‘co-benefits’, such as improving health, offering resilience against disaster, creating jobs, and providing access to healthy food and clean water.

Multisolving policies focus on the tangible, short term benefits of moving off of fossil fuels and rebuilding nature. They help connect us to the natural world and people around us, and they do so while saving time and energy. They are, in short, win-win solutions for people and the climate.

The benefits ✅

From economic returns to creating a more just world, multisolving makes sense for many reasons — especially when it comes to climate measures in cities:

  1. Ethics. Many people today are suffering from poverty, inequality, violence, poor health and other problems. By focusing on climate change measures that also address these other causes we create a huge win for all. 🌈 An example: initiatives taken by municipalities (or authorities in general) to improve the quality of social housing in their territory. For example, roof insulation, makes it possible to combine lower energy costs, with an improved quality of life at the same time. This goes a long way in addressing health issues related to energy poverty. 🏠
  2. Financial impact Many municipalities need to run their administrations on constrained budgets. Solving multiple problems with the same investment of time or money makes a lot of sense and helps “sell” climate action across municipal departments. Other departments may also benefit from progress towards their policy goals as a result of climate action. 💰For example, by improving the energy efficiency of municipal buildings, we increase their comfort while reducing operational costs for the whole city administration while leveraging their real work. 🏢
  3. Politics When there’s a broad, strong base of people committed to climate action they have the best chance of overcoming the “business as usual interests” who maintain the fossil-fueled status quo. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 An example: organizing a car-free Sunday has many advantages. This temporarily reduces air pollution while creating a great, lively atmosphere. This also has a political impact by giving citizens a glimpse into what a city designed around people, and not around cars, could feel like. 🌳
  4. Systems’ thinking We live in an interconnected world. Design solutions that only focus on one goal — for instance improving the efficiency gas furnaces, for instance — can bring about many unintended consequences. By considering the whole system, all the benefits and doing the right steps in the right sequence, there’s much more to be gained. 🔍 For example, in Denmark, the state saves millions of dollars each year in health costs through the network of bicycle paths it has financed. It thus encourages its citizens to travel by bicycle, resulting in better health because they exercise and there is less traffic and pollution. A great way to work towards climate as well as towards mobility and health outcomes! 🚲

The obstacles

While this may seem very appealing in theory, several obstacles prevent multisolving measures from being implemented on large scale. The obstacles include: knowledge gaps; budgetary and legal silos and weak community engagement skills.

Examples 💯

And yet, despite these obstacles, multisolving projects can be found all over the world, at scales ranging from individual hospitals to entire cities. For instance:

  • Green Curtains in Kyocera. Japan grows edible or decorative climbing plants on the exteriors of buildings;
  • Healthy Meals for Patients and Environment in Penang, Malaysia serves vegetarian food and recycles all forms of waste in a dialysis center;
  • Healthy Streets for London improves air quality, reduces congestion, and makes the city healthier and more attractive.
  • Warm Up New Zealand retrofits houses to reduce cold-related illnesses, energy costs, and carbon emissions.

For many of these projects, the system-wide benefits exceeded the costs. And thes projects tended to create benefits — from more children walking to school, to a better patient experience, to increased opportunities for recreation — that were appreciated in the organizations and communities where the projects happened.

Where to begin?

With a multisolving approach to addressing health and climate challenges, people are designing the communities that they want to live in while, at the same time, preventing and preparing for climate change. If you’re up for this approach there are things you can do to get you going: embrace learning; start small; avoid fancy; cultivate a long-term perspective; recognize the limits of the participants’ knowledge and perspective, and seek stakeholder input.

At FutureproofedCities, we are fully committed to supporting a multisolving approach through our platform (stay tuned for that) and through our community. If you have questions or know about great multisolving examples, please share them in the community. 🤗

FutureproofedCities allows all municipal services to work together on a single online tool to carry out more climate actions and communicate them to their citizens.

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