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Warsaw releases second sustainability report

30 November 2015

by Jonathan Andrews

The Polish capital, Warsaw, has published its second sustainability report using standards from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and ISO. Jonathan Andrews spoke to Adam J. SulkowskiAssociate Professor, Babson College, about the key findings.

What have been the biggest changes in Warsaw as identified by the report?

Progress in city-wide recycling of waste streams is probably the area of greatest improvement related to sustainability. The completion and operation of the new metro line is another noticeable step. New bike lanes and the rapidly expanding Veturilo bike share system has made Warsaw more bicycle-friendly. Roughly 25 percent of the city includes green spaces and residents seem to be enjoying the natural shores of the Vistula River more, especially in warmer months.

What key actions have been taken as a result of the report?

The city continues to expand efforts for stakeholder engagement. We had dedicated open-to-the-public meetings for discussing which areas required greater disclosure. It might be overstating things to say that this report on its own single-handedly produced a specific change–it’s part of a multi-faceted and two-way effort to engage everyone and includes, among other things, a hotline and participatory budget meetings.

What is unique about this report?

Cross-referencing both the GRI and ISO standards assured that the team considered a comprehensive set of indicators. The engagement of a graduate student team, city managers, a course instructor who is a full-time reporting professional, and academic advisers is also an unusual approach.

The fact that students undertook the report and that it hasn’t been audited, does that weaken the outcomes at all?

Not really. First, the numbers have been triple-checked and cross-checked among departments and sources. The fact that students semi-independently put the report together actually lends some credibility. We’ve been pleased by the cooperation with students because–as in similar projects in the US, they’re gaining skills valued in the workplace–in several cases over the years, companies and a municipality have hired students to produce these reports.

Warsaw was the first city to publish an integrated sustainability report, have other cities followed suit and indeed looked to Warsaw as an example?

We just took a call from a major city in Mexico that liked our approach. We know that the town of Dartmouth in Massachusetts takes a similar approach (because I was also an adviser on their previous editions). We don’t know if other cities have explicitly said they emulated anything about ours. We know Boston is very visibly taking city performance measurement very seriously. It seems many cities are arriving at the same point on their own or as part of a widespread trend.

Is this something every city needs to undertake?

Yes. It’s actually a no-brainer that everyone–regardless of ideology or party–would want to know if their tax money is being spent well, and how safe, healthy, and prosperous their community is. It’s just a pragmatic truism that you cannot manage what you do not measure. So it’s really just a question of how we should do this.

What would you recommend to other cities considering undertaking their own integrated sustainability report?

Some big-takeaways: building both internal and external awareness and support and involvement matters, and it sometimes takes a while. Like many things, the first iteration may not be ideal, but what matters more is to continually listen to feedback and improve.

Will there future editions every year?

For the foreseeable future, yes, all the partners want to continue. I just met the team that is beginning the process for this year. We’re truly grateful for feedback from your readers. Cities seem to be the most powerful points of leverage for enacting policies and investments to make societies more sustainable, adaptive, and resilient, so anything that raises awareness and discussion of these report cards on effectiveness and performance helps.

Members of Warsaw’s second sustainability reporting team, clockwise from top left: Adam Sulkowski, Joanna Wakulinska, Magdalena Obłoza, Leszek Drogosz, Joanna Gajda, Liliana Anam, Magdalena Kraszewska
Members of Warsaw’s second sustainability reporting team, clockwise from top left: Adam Sulkowski, Joanna Wakulinska, Magdalena Obłoza, Leszek Drogosz, Joanna Gajda, Liliana Anam, Magdalena Kraszewska
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