In March, HEC Paris, a prominent French business school ranked No. 1 in Europe by the Financial Times since 2006, hosted the Sustainable Business Conference 2012, Enabling the positive city: smart cities, smart sustainability. Bernard Garrette, associate dean of HEC Paris, views issues of sustainability as business challenges and opportunities, especially as they apply to urbanizing the environments in which international business is carried out.

In a YouTube video, Garrette outlines some of these challenges, and why they represent economic and not just environmental problems. He suggests politicians should redouble their focus on sustainable communities as ignoring issues of energy, resources, and social equity has contributed to the recent economic crises. In a political year, France is also in full presidential campaign season, Garrette believes business should lead the discussion to focus on the opportunities available for reshaping our cities into positive ecological environments.

A number of questions were addressed during SBC 2012, which are relevant to the United States:

  • What can we do today, and what could we do tomorrow?

  • How do we reduce energy consumption in the smart city?

  • How do we industrialize the positive city?

  • How do we grant “new citizens” access to quality education?

  • What partnerships between public and private sector are needed to “enhance” smart cities?

  •  How do we generalize smart mobility?

Instead of focusing on architecture and planning, although important in any conversation about the future of cities, SBC 2012 focused on concrete, business actions that can be done today to switch toward the “Positive Economy: a growth model that would restore our planet’s natural and human capital by producing energy and resources, storing carbon, cleaning up water, air, and soils, and restoring biodiversity.”