How surveillance technology can help cities achieve their sustainability goals

Cities have a disproportionate impact on the environment, and therefore have a greater role to play in meeting sustainability objectives. 68% of the world’s population is expected to be living in a city by 2050, and while cities only cover 2% of the earth’s surface, they consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the pandemic has affected the way people want to live and what they value. Cleanliness, open spaces and green areas have disrupted the traditional city planning.

By Andreas Göransson, Global Marketing Manager for Smart City, Axis Communications

The UN Sustainability Development Goals

An important framework for cities large and small has been provided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Designed to be achieved by 2030, the SDGs are 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Recent research by ESI ThoughtLab, which surveyed administrators in 167 cities around the world, found that almost 8 out of 10 cities (78%) have fully incorporated the UN’s SDG framework into their city plans.

The same research highlighted how effective use technology and data is seen as foundational to achieving the SDGs. The research found that the cities making best progress towards the SDGs were also leaders in using technology, data, and partnerships to achieve their social, environmental, and economic goals. Today, the largest investments are being made in cloud (87% of cities), mobile (85%), IoT (81%), biometrics (72%), and AI (66%). These are what we call smart cities. The link between technology, data and sustainability is clear.

From video surveillance to actionable data

Sustainability has always been a priority for Axis, but of course « we also want to support our customers in achieving their own sustainability goals. As video surveillance technology has been transformed, we’re in a better position to do so today than ever before. »

Video surveillance has played a central role in the liveability of cities for many years, particularly in keeping citizens safe and secure. The increasing sophistication of video surveillance technology – particularly related to video analytics and the ability to link data from sensors of multiple types, including video cameras – means that it can support a number of the challenges facing cities and specifically the SDGs to be accomplished.

Three of the fundamental areas that cities are focused on are the environment, mobility and public safety.

The environment as a measure of sustainability

Monitoring of environmental factors is essential in smart city sustainability and ensuring the health and well-being of citizens. Take for instance one part of Goal 11 mentioned above, which sets the objective: “By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management”.

Indicators related to this target are specified as the proportion of total municipal waste collected and managed in controlled facilities, and the annual mean levels of fine particulate matter in the air of cities. It’s this level of evaluation which will result in achievement of the goals making a real difference, and the use of technology is central to this.

Poor air quality (and also noise pollution) are closely linked to serious health issues. Highly sensitive environmental sensors – such as those measuring air quality – used alongside video surveillance give city authorities early warning of issues, visual verification and the ability to take correct actions.

Over time, data can be analyzed and used to plan longer-term initiatives to reduce the impact of pollution and noise, as well as being the foundation for open and transparent communication with a city’s citizens. Video surveillance can also show that waste is being collected and managed in accordance with the SDGs, as well as monitoring for and deterring illegal dumping, vandalism and even littering, all of which have a negative impact on a city’s environment.

Environmental and weather monitoring sensors give city authorities the time to prepare for severe weather, video surveillance can monitor both the weather conditions and movement of a city’s population, and connected technology such as audio can be used to relay live and pre-recorded warnings and instructions to keep people safe.

Sustainable mobility and transportation

Enabling citizens to move around freely and easily is also a fundamental part of a city’s liveability. It is critical that transportation within cities has as minimal negative impact on the environment as possible (and directly relates to our earlier points around air quality and noise pollution).

Video surveillance helps ensure the safety of citizens and personnel on public transportation, and also monitors road traffic, altering operators to incidents which can cause traffic – and therefore pollution – to quickly build up.

Increasingly, data from environmental sensors and video surveillance cameras is being used as a proactive tool in planning and managing transportation infrastructure to reduce its environmental impact. Data from video surveillance can also be used to assist citizen mobility, for instance directing drivers quickly and efficiently to available parking spots or electric vehicle recharging stations.

Public safety in cities

“Making people feel safe” is a goal for every city. It’s also one of the fundamental roles that video surveillance plays across the whole city.

It remains a sad truth that the density of population in urban centres means that they are places that can both attract criminal activity and where incidents and emergencies can quickly become a serious risk to large numbers of people. SDG 16, “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”, covers a number of relevant areas in detail, with specific targets focused on reducing violence and combating organized crime.

While these are perhaps seen as a more ‘traditional’ place where video surveillance in used, the advances in technology mean that its support is increasingly intelligent, accurate and allows for greater proactivity, rather than simply post-incident investigation.

Instead of rely purely on manual monitoring, increasingly intelligent video analytics can monitor multiple video streams, spotting anomalies, unusual patterns, specific objects or suspicious behavior and quickly bring an operator’s attention to the scene. Intervention can then be triggered through emergency services, or via audio speakers on site, either warning criminals that they’re being watched, or offering assistance, advice and guidance to people at the scene.

Such rapid reaction can stop a crime before it committed, prevent the escalation of an incident, evacuate a specific area or provide direct assistance before emergency services arrives.

The SDGs move beyond crime prevention, however, with further opportunities for video surveillance to play a role. Ensuring the authenticity and allowing the use of evidence from video surveillance and body worn cameras is central to a fair and equal justice system.

Continually exploring opportunities to support sustainability

It’s clear that technology and data are central to success. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that the pace of technological advancement is extraordinary.

Indeed, it is not only about how video surveillance, analytics and other network technologies are used to directly support the work towards SDGs in cities. Innovations in these technologies – specifically related to energy, resource and material consumption – mean that selecting the right products can also contribute to SDGs.

Almost every decision a city authority makes should be seen through the lens of its contribution towards (or against) the SDGs. The combination of the commitment from city authorities and innovations in technology – including from Axis and its partners – give us cause for optimism.