Talking Transformations

Medals at the Olympics, the Oscars in Hollywood, Nobel Prizes for scientists – but what about an award for cities working with sustainability? In this episode, we discuss the ‘Prize for Cities’ recognising transformative projects in cities around the world that are igniting innovation on sustainability and climate action. We interview Rogier Vandenberg – the Global Director for the Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities at the World Resources Institute (WRI). He provides a host of insights into the purpose, ambitions and impact of the ‘Prize for Cities’.

What is Talking Transformations?

Research shows conversations matter - both for learning and inspiring action. In this new podcast collection, we are 'Talking Transformations' with thought leaders from government, industry, and academia. Our mission is to discuss current trends in science, technology, governance, and behaviours to transform our society and economy towards sustainability. 'Talking Transformations' is produced by the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University. We release a mini-series several times a year, consisting of a bundle of episodes around a common theme. Our inaugural mini-series focuses on cities, climate, and change. Also, check out our regular long-form podcast 'Advancing Sustainable Solutions'.

[00:00:13.090] Kes McCormick
You're listening to a mini-series that explores cities, climate, and change – part of a new podcast collection called Talking Transformations produced by the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University. My name is Kes McCormick, and in this mini-series, I�ll guide you through a collection of interviews, recorded at the ICLEI World Congress, hosted in Malm�, Sweden during May 2022.� We�ll explore the dynamics of transformation in cities responding to climate change. We�ll meet influential change-makers from a range of organisations including the World Resources Institute, the European Commission and ICLEI.� And, through our discussions, I hope to share knowledge, examples, and inspiration relevant to you in your city, as we ask� �What next for cities?�

[00:01:01.110] � Rogier Vandenberg
Hi, my name is Rogier Vandenberg. I'm the acting Global Director for World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. And we are a think and do tank, so we work through our regional offices globally with a big team of foreign professionals. It's a non-profit organization for making cities better for everyone.

[00:01:23.010] � Kes McCormick
So look, I mean you already work with cities and climate change and sustainable development, but what do you think is the role that cities can play in the context of climate action?

[00:01:32.920] � Rogier Vandenberg
They have a key role to play. I always say you can't resolve the climate crisis without involving cities. I mean, two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions come from cities. So cities have a key role to play and they can do that by changing how they work in the building construction industry, how they work around their transport and mobility, how they think about materials and waste and so on. So cities really have a crucial role and it's really very much needed. That is going to be, I mean, it's acknowledged, but it's not only going to be the responsibility for cities, but also the responsibility for a lot of other partners.

[00:02:08.550] � Kes McCormick
No, absolutely. As you point out, I mean, cities are working across so many topics and areas. Look, I've heard about this thing called �The Prize for Cities�. Can you tell us a little bit about what is the �Prize for Cities�?

[00:02:19.680] � Rogier Vandenberg
The �Prize for Cities� is a prize that we started three years ago. It's now in the third cycle. It's a WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities �Prize for Cities�. And the prize for cities is really aiming at highlighting transformative projects that have a ripple effect and that can really change the trajectory of cities to sustainability.

[00:02:40.770] � Kes McCormick
This idea of a ripple effect and so on is really fascinating. If you took that a bit further, I mean, what is the ultimate ambition of a �Prize for Cities�? I mean, what do you hope to happen? What kind of impacts do you hope to happen in the world around us?

[00:02:52.260] � Rogier Vandenberg
First of all, I think there are three elements in it. One is showcasing what have cities done and how did they do it. The second element is really showing what are the kind of approaches that are happening across the globe. The last cycle, we had 260 submissions, so it gives you a lot of data and insights. And the third is a learning component. And increasingly, the learning component, the exchange between cities and the people and actors that produce cities is important, really practical approaches, learning from things that have been successful.

[00:03:26.670] � Kes McCormick
Yeah, look, this last point on learning, I mean, it feels like that learning around transformative skills and capacities and how we make shifts in systems and organizations is so important. Obviously, you work with cities all over the world, but if I asked you to pick a city that inspires you or several cities that inspire you, could choose?

[00:03:44.560] � Rogier Vandenberg
Well, all cities. But let me pick the winner of last year, Rosario in Argentina. Very inspiring. That's the winner of the �Prize for Cities� of last year. They really looked into bringing scaling urban agriculture in order to kind of reshape communities and to reshape the cities. Really, after in the wake of the Argentinian crisis, they kind of started to plan and started to develop kind of empty public lands and started to develop a whole ecosystem and infrastructure, including markets, including kind of job programs. And really, that helped to kind of revitalize the city, reduce kind of impacts of climate change, create jobs, and create kind of community practices. So that's a beautiful example of such a transformative project. So Rosario, Argentina is now my favourite city. So let's wait for the next cycle to se my next favourite city.

[00:04:38.050] � Kes McCormick
It's definitely a good example, just a follow up question, because it is a global prize. Do you get applicants from all over the world applying to the �Prize for Cities�, or do you have to work a bit harder in particular regions?

[00:04:48.900] � Rogier Vandenberg
No, we really have a very good distribution across the globe. So as I said last time, it was 260 submissions. So it's a very good distribution that gives us a very good view on kind of global trends, but also understanding what's kind of regionally at play.

[00:05:12.980] � Kes McCormick
Yeah, look, it's a fantastic mix, and as you say, it provides real insights into what's happening around the world. Just finally, if there was a national policy-maker standing here, or perhaps a multi-national company standing in this room and wanting to support cities, what kind of support would you ask for cities working on climate change?

[00:05:28.220] � Rogier Vandenberg
You can't do it without cities. And investing in climate change reduction in cities is going to offer you jobs and economic growth. So that's one thing. A multi-national company can help us to really shape and unlock a behavioral change on the ground. So that means offer options so people can change the way how they move from A to B. They can change what they eat and so on and so forth.

[00:05:56.100] � Kes McCormick
Look, thank you so much for being here today. Great insights into the �Prize fro Cities� and WRI and the work all around the world. Thanks a lot.

[00:06:02.930] � Rogier Vandenberg
Thanks a lot.

[00:06:17.770] � Kes McCormick
Once again, we thank our guest for joining us on this episode of Talking Transformations, a new podcast collection by the IIIEE at Lund University.�In addition, we produce a monthly podcast called �Advancing Sustainable Solutions�, available wherever you listen to podcasts.�This mini-series is produced in collaboration with the podcast team of �Advancing Sustainable Solutions�, and supported by ICLEI and Viable Cities. ICLEI, also known as Local Governments for Sustainability, is a global network of more than 2500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. Viable Cities is a strategic innovation program in Sweden focusing on the transition to climate-neutral and sustainable cities.�If you want to learn more about ongoing research and activities, visit our website at And, stay tuned for new episodes of Talking Transformations.