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THRIVE Outreach Cluster: Smart Communities for a Greener Future



The Smart Communities (SC) cluster is one of 7 task groups within THRIVE Project that conducts outreach activities with external collaborators. This cluster encompasses a broad range of initiatives intersecting with the following Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 6, SDG 7, SDG 9, and SDG 11.

UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) icons for SDG6, SDG7, SDG9, and SDG11.
The Smart Communities cluster covers a broad range of initiatives intersecting with UN SDG 6, SDG7, SDG9, SDG11.
Source: United Nations

what are smart communities?

The main motivator behind this cluster is to promote a sustainable built environment through conducting research, analysing data, and raising awareness, all geared to drive meaningful change and achieve the UN sustainability goals. Considering environmental and social constraints while achieving these goals would necessitate not only rapid reductions in GHG emissions, but also the need to ensure that cities and local communities are liveable and sustainable to secure their long-term resilience and prosperity. The SC-cluster provides guidance to individuals, homeowners, and businesses, enabling them to make well-informed decisions, particularly in the context of sustainability and reducing any harmful environmental impact they may have.

Why do we focus on Smart Communities and Cities?

Modern cities are crucial to the strategic development of sustainability (Bibri et al, 2019).

So much of a nation’s sustainability rests on what happens in its cities. Cities account for about eighty percent of all economic activity in Australia. As globally connected centres, they are essential locations for community, trade, infrastructure, biodiversity, government, and democratic processes.

More than half of the world’s population currently live in cities. 7 out of 10 people are expected to live in cities by 2050 (UN, 2022). According to a 2021 study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Earth’s surface temperature has climbed by over 1.5°C. Therefore, as hubs of human activity, cities play a crucial role in the search for answers to the sustainability challenge. They can make or break the progress of society.

Technology must be utilised in order to create smart cities.
Technology must be utilised in order to create smart cities.
Source: London Premier Centre

Moving from ‘Sustainable’ to ‘Smart’ Communities and Cities

A sustainable city strives to maximise the efficiency of energy and material use, create a zero-waste system, support renewable energy production and consumption, promote carbon-neutrality and reduce pollution, decrease transport needs and encourage walking and cycling, provide efficient and sustainable transport, preserve ecosystems and green space, emphasise design scalability and spatial proximity, and promote liveability and community-oriented human environments (Bibri et al, 2017).

However, there has been a recent drive for sustainable cities to become smarter. Thus, they become more sustainable by incorporating big data technology and its novel applications in order to achieve the highest level of sustainability possible.


In the context of sustainability, the use of emerging IT helps people understand and prepare for the possible effects of urbanisation. The primary aim is to tackle the many complex, wicked problems pertaining to urban operational functioning, management, planning, development, and governance.

The global accelerated urbanisation presents significant and unprecedented sustainability challenges (Dodman et al., 2017). Put simply, the multidimensional effects of unsustainable living are most likely to be with urbanisation. Urban growth will threaten the sustainability of cities (Quist et al, 2016).

In light of the above, the use of advanced IT in sustainable cities is a good way to separate the health of the city and the quality of life of its residents from the energy and material consumption and related environmental risks associated with urban operations, functions, services, strategies, and policies.

A data-driven framework for a smart city
A data-driven framework for a smart city.
Source: Springer Open

A framework for the data-driven smart sustainable city comprises urban, technological, organisational, and institutional components dedicated to enhancing, advancing, and sustaining the contribution of such a city to the goals of sustainable development (Bibri, 2019).

The Smart Communities cluster key focus areas

Energy And Environment

Smart communities integrate technology and sustainable practices to address water, energy, and waste management. They employ advanced systems for monitoring water usage, prioritise renewable energy sources, and implement efficient waste management processes to minimise environmental impact and create eco-friendly urban ecosystems.

Energy powers our cities, from heating and cooling to appliances and transport. Fossil fuels are a major source of energy. However, burning these pollutes the air, often causing smog and acid rain. As a result, it also harms creatures that live on land and in water.

Clean, renewable energy can fix this. Solar power, which draws energy from sunlight, is becoming more common as a source of power. Unlike many other renewable sources, it uses no water or other materials. It can also gather energy in urban areas while taking up little space, as buildings and houses can hold solar panels, which tend to be easy to maintain. Another way cities could make power may be through renewable energy generators in buildings. Some examples being explored include wind, solar, and rainwater harvesters for high-rise buildings. As technology continues to advance, renewable energy sources will improve in efficiency, usability, cost-effectiveness, accessibility, and sustainability.


In smart communities, inclusive decision-making processes and transparent policies characterise governance. These communities employ digital platforms for citizen engagement, enabling residents to actively participate in shaping their urban environment. Furthermore, smart governance addresses challenges related to population growth, whether over or under, by utilising data-driven planning strategies to ensure efficient resource allocation and the provision of essential services to meet evolving needs.


Innovative solutions revolutionise mobility and transport in smart communities. Intelligent transportation systems optimise traffic flow, reduce congestion, and enhance safety. Smart mobility options such as electric vehicles, bike-sharing programs, and seamless integration of public transportation promote sustainable transportation choices. Real-time data and smart navigation systems further improve efficiency and accessibility, enhancing the overall urban mobility experience.

The liveability of modern cities is significantly impacted by mobility and transportation (Newton, 2000). The interrelationship between transport, people, and amenities are argued to be the key components of the micro-structure of a sustainable city (Frey, 2003). Sustainable transport aims to meet people’s needs while reducing harm to the environment. Most vehicles emit greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) into the air, making climate change worse by trapping more heat from the Sun. There are many ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include using electric or hybrid vehicles, bikes, and other less polluting transport. Furthermore, it involves refuelling with biodiesel or low-carbon fuels.

Safe, smooth, smart, inclusive, resilient, climate-neutral, and sustainable mobility systems for people and products are made possible by user-centric technology and services, such as digital technologies and enhanced satellite navigation services.

Enabling Technologies

Enabling technologies, like sensors and drones, can play a crucial role in smart communities. Sensors can monitor air quality, noise levels, and energy usage, providing valuable data for informed decision-making. Drones can assist in surveillance, emergency response, and infrastructure inspections. Furthermore, smart communities prioritise sustainable materials and explore alternatives to traditional concrete and glass. This approach not only reduces carbon footprints but also promotes eco-friendly construction practices, ultimately fostering a more sustainable built environment.

Living and Inclusion

Living and inclusion are central to smart communities. They prioritise equitable access to amenities and services for all residents, fostering social cohesion and inclusivity. In remote regions, smart communities enable regional off-grid living by leveraging renewable energy, decentralised systems, and innovative technologies. Moreover, vertical forests in urban structures boost air quality, biodiversity, and well-being, creating a healthier, more sustainable living environment. Additionally, they promote a connection between nature and urban life.

Infrastructures And Buildings

Green Buildings

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion. Thus, the number of buildings is expected to double (World Green Building Council, 2019). In fact, buildings account for 35% of all global energy emissions (UNEP, 2020). Hence, the built environment sector must play a significant role in tackling the climate emergency.

In the 2018 World Green Building Report, many building industry professionals anticipated the continued growth of green buildings over the next three years. For instance, green buildings, such as LEED-certified buildings, consider their impact on both the environment and the people in them. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building certification program and the globally recognised standard for green construction. Compared to normal buildings, LEED buildings have reported over 20% lower maintenance expenses, while green building retrofits often reduce operating costs by almost 10% in just one year (U.S. Green Building Council, n.d.).

We can employ several strategies to reduce emissions from buildings and infrastructure:

  • Increasing building utilisation
  • Reducing material use
  • Utilising materials with low embodied carbon

Achieving ambitious targets for these interventions can potentially reduce emissions from buildings and infrastructure between 2017 and 2050 by 44% (University of Leeds et al., 2017).

Renovating and refurbishing existing buildings instead of building new ones is an effective strategy to increase building utilisation. Adaptive reuse is a growing trend in the construction industry. An Adaptable Buildings Design Framework consists of four phases: identifying uncertainties, embedding flexibility, formulating design rules, and value analysis. Moreover, flexible design is an effective way of utilising an existing space and allows reconfiguration of interiors for different uses.

Sustainable Building Materials

Optimising the design to reduce the building’s overall size is the most straightforward way of reducing the amount of building materials. Indeed, using conventional commercially available material sizes helps conserve resources and reduce waste. According to estimates, as much as 30% of building materials delivered to a site go to waste.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has developed guidelines for sustainable and green building design. Hence, they propose a “systems” approach, which looks at how different parts interact to find the best solutions to lessen total impact.

It is crucial to take into account energy efficiency, water usage, and social and ecological implications when selecting sustainable materials. Although often overlooked, material fabrication and end-of-life can significantly impact a structure’s overall sustainability. Let’s consider concrete. Its use exceeds that of all other building materials combined (Gagg, 2014). Cement is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for 7% of global emissions. Additionally, it is also the third-largest industrial consumer of energy, accounting for 7% of global industrial energy consumption (International Energy Agency, 2018).

A study summarised the set of parameters that influence sustainable building material selection and their interrelationships in the diagram below. This is based on several rating systems, previous studies, and expert opinions.

A causal loop diagram of the factors affecting sustainable building materials selection.
A causal loop diagram of the factors affecting sustainable building materials selection.
Source: Sahlol et al. (2021)

Building with Purpose: A Case Study

Smart Communities has conducted a case study of a single residential home in Sydney, Australia. The objective is to measure the impact of replacing conventional building materials with more sustainable alternatives and inform homeowners on how to build better. The study not only looked at the upfront impact during the building phase (embodied carbon) but also the impact during its use phase (operational carbon). Embodied carbon is the total emissions of the materials throughout their life, including processing, transport, and installation. On the other hand, operational carbon refers to building emissions as a result of regular energy use. The proposed building materials included timber, lightweight cladding, and cellulose insulation. A life cycle analysis comparison showed a remarkable decrease in embodied carbon—as much as 47%.

The white paper, “Building with Purpose“, provides several evidence-based recommendations for first-time homeowners and renovators to take the necessary actions toward building and living more sustainably.


Infrastructure and buildings in smart communities focus on sustainability and connectivity. Telecommunications infrastructure ensures reliable connectivity for seamless data exchange, enabling smart services and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The combination of sustainable buildings and robust telecommunications forms the foundation for resilient and technologically-advanced smart communities.

Water & Sanitation

Potable water is a vital resource that is deeply woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. From the refreshing flow of tap water that quenches our thirst and its utilisation for personal hygiene to irrigating our lawns and gardens, this precious resource even finds its way into many home appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, water coolers, and heaters. 

Effective Water Management Measures In Smart Communities

One key aspect of water management in communities is the implementation of advanced monitoring systems. By collecting and analysing real-time data, communities gain insights into patterns of water usage. This knowledge is essential in ensuring that safe and affordable drinking water is accessible to everyone. Armed with this information they can identify opportunities for optimisation and implement strategies to minimise wastewater which then ensures water security and minimises scarcity on the land.

Smart Communities And Water

Smart communities also recognise the significance of water in terms of sustainability. They prioritise conserving this resource by empowering residents to adopt simple yet effective techniques such as rainwater harvesting for capturing rainwater from rooftops and reuse for non-drinking purposes, like irrigation, vehicle cleaning, or even toilet flushing. Greywater system is another water recycling technology to divert wastewater from showers, sinks, dishwashers, and washing machines to irrigate gardens, thus reducing the water bill, and the water burden on wastewater treatment plants.

To enhance the circularity of water and waste management and embrace sustainability, smart communities and governments actively use resource recovery facilities. These facilities extract nutrients from sewage waste, transforming them into organic fertilisers and biogas.

Moreover, smart communities focus on the quality of their water sources as well by investing in water purification technologies.  

In this era of climate uncertainty, smart communities must be prepared to adapt to changing water conditions. This encompasses various issues, such as water supply shortages due to irregular rainfall or evaporation from extreme summers. This, in turn, results in increased atmospheric water vapor, leading to intense future rainfall and flooding. These events damage property, pollute water bodies, and contribute to rising sea levels, posing a threat to islands and coastal areas.

Adopting green infrastructure, such as permeable pavements and urban wetlands, helps mitigate flooding by managing stormwater runoff while replenishing groundwater reserves, promoting sustainable water use and protecting ecosystems.

While we strive for thrivability towards the development of smarter and more sustainable cities, water sustainability is at the heart of the solution. The significance of water in our smart communities is undeniable, serving as a cornerstone for sustainability and progress.


In the context of smart communities, the concept of a steady-state economy gains significance. In fact, a steady-state economy aims to achieve ecological balance by promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns. Smart communities embrace this concept by prioritising resource efficiency, regenerative economy practices, and equitable distribution, fostering long-term economic stability while minimising environmental impact. This approach ensures a sustainable and resilient economic system within smart communities.

Safety And Security

Safety and security are paramount in smart communities, and surveillance cameras play a vital role in ensuring a secure environment. Integrated with advanced analytics and AI, surveillance cameras enhance threat detection, crime prevention, and emergency response. Privacy measures are implemented to balance security needs with individual rights, ensuring that smart communities maintain a safe and secure living environment for their residents.

Moving Forward With Smart Communities

To summarise, smart cities are increasingly interconnecting IT, physical, social, and economic infrastructures to leverage their collective intelligence, thereby striving to be more sustainable, efficient, functional, resilient, livable, and equitable. We can continuously improve the role of the built environment in achieving the goals of sustainable development by reducing material use, lowering energy consumption, mitigating pollution, and minimising waste. In addition, we seek to enhance equity, inclusion, quality of life, and well-being.

In addition, for numerous reasons, the compact city model is considered more sustainable: First, compact cities are efficient for sustainable mobility. Second, compact cities is seen as a sustainable use of land. Reducing sprawl preserves rural land and reuses urban space. Third, compactness and mixed usage promote diversity, social cohesion, and cultural development. Its accessibility makes it equitable. Fourth, compact cities are argued to be economically viable because infrastructure, such as roads and street lighting, can be provided cost-effectively per capita (Jabareen, 2006).

Why Is It Important We Focus On Smart Communities

Focusing on smart communities is crucial for several reasons. Smart communities leverage technology and data to enhance efficiency, sustainability, and the overall quality of life for residents. By integrating innovative solutions in areas like transportation, energy, and governance, smart communities can address environmental challenges, improve resource management, and promote inclusivity. This approach not only enhances urban living but also contributes to long-term sustainability, resilience, and the effective use of resources in the face of growing urbanisation and environmental concerns.

SDG 6 has a vital link Smart Communities, while interconnecting with all other SDGs.
SDG 6 has a vital link Smart Communities, while interconnecting with all other SDGs.
Source: Hall et al. (2016)

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) And Smart Communities

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership.”

United Nations

Smart Communities ties into all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here are some of the ways that they integrate with the goals:

  • SDG 6. “Clean Water and Sanitation“. Smart communities use technology for efficient water management, waste treatment, and data-driven decision-making. This ensures clean water access, promotes conservation, and builds resilience to water-related challenges.
  • SDG 7: “Affordable and Clean Energy“. Smart communities often incorporate renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies to promote sustainable and affordable energy.
  • SDG 9: “Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure“. The development and implementation of smart technologies contribute to innovation and improved infrastructure in communities.
  • SDG 11: “Sustainable Cities and Communities“. Smart communities aim to create more sustainable and resilient urban environments through efficient resource management, improved infrastructure, and enhanced quality of life.
  • SDG 12: “Responsible Consumption and Production“. Smart communities often focus on optimising resource use and promoting sustainable consumption patterns.
  • SDG 13: “Climate Action“. By incorporating technologies that reduce energy consumption and promote sustainable practices, smart communities contribute to mitigating climate change.
  • SDG 16: “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions“. Smart governance and technology can enhance transparency, inclusivity, and efficiency in decision-making processes within communities.
  • SDG 17: “Partnerships for the Goals“. Collaboration between governments, businesses, and communities is essential for the success of smart initiatives, aligning with the goal of fostering global partnerships for sustainable development.

The integration of smart technologies in communities can help achieve multiple UN SDGs, promoting a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.

A Thrivable Framework

Systemic Holistic Model

THRIVE stands for The Holistic Regenerative Innovative Value Entity. It forms the basis for the THRIVE Framework, and is a transdisciplinary, holistic modelling system. It models likely outcomes of actions well before they occur. The purpose of the THRIVE Framework is to help measure the potential of initiatives taken today. In fact, this is to help transform society towards a ‘better than sustainable’ future. The SDGs are the goals and the THRIVE Framework is the strategy to realise them.

12 Foundational Focus Factors (FFFs) underpin the THRIVE Framework. Furthermore, these FFFs are theories and guidelines. Indeed, they help us navigate ways of living and working through crises, natural disasters, and climate change. As a result of several years of comprehensive research, the 12 Foundational Focus Factors identify necessary and sufficient conditions to transition humanity beyond sustainability towards Thrivability.

Sustainability is not just about surviving, but thriving. The 12 FFFs, along with the THRIVE platform, use backcasting to solve problems. Backcasting is like planning your dream future and then figuring out the steps to make it happen. It’s not just predicting the future based on what’s going on now; it’s about working backwards to set goals, tackle obstacles, and formulate plans. People often use it in sustainability planning to develop and innovate ways to achieve their objectives.

The Systemic Holistic Model brings together these 12 Foundational Focus Factors, which operate across four quadrants, working together to create Thrivable transformation. These quadrants are significance, shift, scale, and scope.

Backcasting Model

The use of the backcasting model is also considered an effective approach for facilitating urban sustainability. In the context of city planning and development, this approach can be used to illustrate what might happen to cities in order to allow them to adapt to perceived future trends and manage uncertainty. As such, it aids in dealing with this uncertainty by clarifying what the most desirable possibilities are, what can be known, what is already known, as well as how today’s decisions may play out in each of a variety of plausible futures. Finally, an integrated national framework of city-regional policies and strategies is necessary for sustainability. It requires the support of all three tiers of government.

The backcasting process.
The backcasting process.
Source: Springer Open

Finite Resources

We have only one planet with a limited amount of resources. Finite resources are resources that are consumed faster than they are produced. They are considered non-renewable for this reason. Finite resources is another FFF. Smart communities take into account the limitation of current resources and seek to advocate for the building of structures that protect, rather than exploit, what resources we have left for future generations.

Entity Model

The FFF of Entity Model aims to navigate what entities can do. In fact, an entity can be anything from a small single-celled organism to the entire cosmos. Furthermore, these models shape the boundaries that outline their limits. THRIVE’s logo, a ciambella chart, outlines two important boundaries for humanity to adhere to. These boundaries consist of a social floor, representing the minimum for an entity’s survival, and an environmental ceiling, where excessive resources are extracted from the environment. Smart communities understands the social and environmental boundaries innovating solutions for humanity to remain within the thrivable zone.

Integral Thinking

Integral thinking, another FFF, goes beyond the usual step-by-step problem-solving approaches. It involves combining multi-capital and reporting beyond the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. This approach allows organisations to better understand the wide-ranging implications of their actions. Integral thinking looks at how the social, economic and environmental impacts of any group, product or service are interconnected. To achieve the best outcomes, it often requires consideration of the systems where decisions take place.

To build a smart community, we can not depend on linear thinking. Cities already exist and need to be adapted. Understanding what is available and how to maximise its use, while limiting resource consumption and CO2 emissions, integral thinking seeks to inform and guide smart city planners and developers in their actions.

Regenerative Economy

Regenerative economy is one of THRIVE’s FFFs. A regenerative economy is an alternative approach to living within our Earth’s natural means while still providing for the Earth’s population. Furthermore, it is a is a business model that aims to maximise the value of resources while minimising waste by reusing them as much as possible. It’s three main principles are:

  • elimination of waste and pollution, 
  • circulating products and materials at their highest value, and 
  • regenerating nature

Smart communities is all about building cities designed around the concept of a regenerative economy and living in harmony with the environment, rather than seeking to force and control nature, and suffering the consequences thereof.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking, a FFF, is an approach that involves taking a holistic look at the range of existing challenges over time. Interactions between elements of the system can directly or indirectly affect its success or failure. A community is a system. A smart community is a smart system. Smart communities understand what happens in one part of the city will affect another part, sooner or later. Using systems thinking, smart communities mitigate issues before they arrive and search out ways on enhancing the already good bits.

Values-Based Innovation

Values-based innovation takes into account the values we care about most. Some of these values include: human life, healthy societies and ecosystems, fair policies, equity, social justice, and other causes that engineer for a better world. Smart communities innovates using the human values we care about. Its aim is to build an inclusive and prosperous society.

Your Invitation To Build A Smart Community With THRIVE

THRIVE Project is dedicated to humanity. Furthermore, it invests interest in issues fundamental to the well-being of our society. The passionate volunteers at THRIVE research, educate, and advocate on all things concerning sustainability. THRIVE’s mission is to safeguard human well-being in all domains and the well-being of nature and every living being. The Smart Communities Outreach Cluster is filled with volunteers committed to exploring how smart communities can be adapted from our current lifestyle and building new ones from scratch.

How do you feel about taking the necessary steps to create a smart community that thrives with nature? If you’re interested in more information about all things thrivable, you can visit our homepage, sign up for our newsletter, listen to our podcast, watch our YouTube channel, read our blogs, or interact with experts during our webinars.


  • Jessica Schefe

    Based in Brisbane, Australia, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Creative & Professional Writing), Jessica has a background in copywriting/ copyediting and digital marketing. She is passionate about feminism, sustainability, LGBTQIA+ equality, and social justice.

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