Liz Hung supports a lot of the imaginative concepts being discussed to make Vietnam “greener” economically and in terms of urban planning.
Consider traffic lights. Hung described how government authorities could collect smartphone data to see which streets are crowded, and then calibrate the stoplights to optimize traffic flow.
Hung and others in the private sector are giving Vietnamese officials their wish list for a green economy, from more renewable energy to buildings that collect rain water for use.
“Road congestion costs us at least 2 to 5% of our [gross domestic product] growth every year because of the time we lost or the high transportation cost, so that is why being smart [in] mobility is very crucial,” said Hung, who is CBRE associate director of Asia Pacific Research.
Hung’s comment highlights the link between good city planning and economic benefits.
Emulating China, Australia
There is also a larger debate about whether the economic benefits outweigh the costs of going green.
There is a financial cost of technology to make Vietnam more efficient. But there also is a security cost, as “smart devices,” like lights connected to the internet, have looser security settings that make them easier to hack.
In looking for inspiration for Vietnam’s future, Hung looked at places from Hangzhou, China, where she heard about the traffic data, to Adelaide, Australia, where authorities installed smart sensors in trash bins, which alert garbage collectors when the bins are nearly full.
If the idea is to increase efficiency, Vietnam should think about energy use, said Tomaso Andreatta, vice chair at the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.
Last month, the chamber held a forum on sustainable cities. In addition to rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, some cities are exploring ways to create energy from things that would otherwise be tossed out.
Trash can be burned, for example, to boil water for steam generators that produce electricity, a process known as waste-to-energy. This does risk increasing carbon emissions or decreasing incentives for recycling, however.
Aiming for zero waste
“More and more we realize that resources are limited, and producing waste destroys the quality of life,” Andreatta said. “Therefore, there’s been a movement worldwide to reducing waste to an absolute minimum, ideally zero.”
He went on to say, “The rapid development of the middle class and its lifestyle, which includes intensive air conditioning use, accounts for a considerable proportion of energy consumption growth.”
It may be the middle class that benefits most from a greener Vietnam, where the private sector steps in to create greater efficiencies, when the government is not involved.
Property developers are building enclosed communities where sustainability is part of the design, whether it’s motion-detecting lights, or insulation that keeps indoor temperatures manageable. One developer introduced pollution warnings. Another made a transportation app just for its residents.
But what about those who are not lucky enough to live in a gated community?
Government officials say they are listening to proposals across all sectors. They say that as Vietnam faces a major threat from climate change, it needs to make greater efforts at green planning.
“Climate change will have a big impact on the region,” said Huynh Xuan Thu, deputy chief officer of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Some of the ideas, such as a country full of electric cars, may be a pipe dream or years down the road. But Vietnam is getting started on some of the proposals.
In Ho Chi Minh City, officials are looking at traffic sensors and gathering data on congestion, which they hope to reduce through technology in the near future.