11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

How business leadership can advance Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities

Over half of the world’s population live in urban areas; this is expected to increase to two thirds by 2050. Cities are centers of commerce, generating more than 80 percent of global GDP, and play a key role in boosting productivity needed for economic development. Urbanization can make it easier to put in place the infrastructure needed for essential services such as grid-connected energy, water and sanitation. However, urbanization also brings significant challenges. All over the world, cities are facing critical levels of air pollution. Many cities in developing countries face rapidly growing numbers leading to slum dwellers and unplanned urban sprawl as infrastructure provision has not kept pace with population growth. Much of this urban sprawl is in geographies vulnerable to disasters, risks that are being magnified by climate change. These challenges call for better urban planning and management to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Businesses are core to the development of cities, livelihood, and services to urban populations. They are well positioned to deliver on Goal 11’s promise of universal access to quality housing, transport, green and heritage sites, in collaboration with Governments and municipalities

Leading companies can contribute to Goal 11 through research, development, and deployment of products and services that improve access to resilient buildings, transport, green spaces, and utilities including electricity, water, and waste management services. Businesses can also leverage their convening power and expertise to protect and invest in cultural and natural heritage. Further, they can play a central role in supporting access to essential services across the workplace, marketplace and community.

As the social and environmental impact of rapid urbanisation increases, businesses can benefit from opportunities to develop more connected, resilient and sustainable urban areas. A concerted effort to improve the sustainability of communities will necessitate investment across a range of sectors including transport, energy, waste management and recreation. The next 10 years will require $78 trillion of investment in city infrastructure. This is likely to be delivered through private sector solutions including public private partnerships. Benefits of more sustainable cities and communities include a healthier more productive work force, and improved labour market functioning and market access as a result of better transport links.

By improving mobility and reducing pollution, developing more sustainable cities will contribute to the SDGs related to health (Goal 3), education (Goal 4), sustainable energy (Goal 7), decent work (Goal 8) and equality (Goals 5 and 10). Life on land (Goal 15) and climate action (Goal 13) can be positively impacted by ensuring that urban areas have a reduced environmental footprint. While investment in sustainable cities will improve the quality of life for their residents, it may also have negative impacts on housing affordability, the tax burden, and accelerated urban migration. This may lead to pressures on employment (Goal 8), food (Goal 11), water (Goal 6) and peace (Goal 16). Leading companies contribute inclusive, sustainable infrastructure that manages these risks to deliver prosperity and stability.

Do your actions satisfy the Leadership Qualities?

Guiding Questions to apply to the Leadership Qualities to your business






  • Is your company committed to supporting the achievement of Goal 11? Have you developed a holistic strategy that reflects this commitment, covering end-to-end operation and the wider community?
  • Are you committed to learn from your actions and do you have processes in place to improve them accordingly?
  • Is your strategy supported by the highest levels of management, including the Board of Directors?

Key Considerations

Actions to deliver sustainable cities and communities require a top-level strategic commitment to ensure that all parts of the organization are motivated and incentivized to contribute for the long-term, in accordance with the long lifetimes of city and infrastructure assets.

  • Do your actions achieve long-term outcomes that greatly exceed those resulting from current industry practice?
  • Are your actions aligned with what is needed to achieve Goal 11?

Key Considerations

Ambition on Goal 11 requires companies to take a holistic view of urban and infrastructure needs, taking all stakeholders into account, and providing solutions that can have the long-lasting impacts required for achieving the Goal 11 outcomes.

  • Is support for Goal 11 embedded across all organizational functions?
  • Are staff and board incentives aligned with achieving Goal 11?

Key Considerations

Consistency is essential as the complex nature of city and infrastructure investment requires many different departments, including procurement, legal, and government relations. Ensuring sustainability requires that sustainability is ingrained in all the company’s departments.

  • Do you proactively look for opportunities to partner with Governments, UN agencies, suppliers, civil society organizations, industry peers and other stakeholders to inform how to advance Goal 11?

Key Considerations

Collaboration on Goal 11 means companies will partner and engage with local, national and regional Governments to prioritise infrastructure and urban planning projects to deliver the maximum access to services given available resources, in a way that is compatible with sustainable development.

  • Do you publicly express your commitment to advance Goal 11?
  • Do you identify, monitor, and report on impacts, including potentially adverse impacts?
  • Do you mitigate risks associated with your action?
  • Do you remediate negative impacts associated with this action?
  • Do you engage stakeholders in a meaningful way?

Key Considerations

City and infrastructure projects have, due to their sheer size, lifetime, and frequency of use, a significant risk of negative impacts on people and communities which should be carefully managed. Safeguards must be in place, and companies must report on progress towards their goals.

Business Actions


Develop resilient buildings, transport & utilities


Protect cultural and natural heritage


Support access to essential services

How taking action on Goal 11 is interconnected with other Goals

The Global Goals are inherently interconnected. Action taken toward one Goal can support or hinder the achievement of others. Identifying and addressing these interconnections will help business to build holistic and systemic solutions that amplify progress and minimize negative impacts. To help build a greater understanding, we have illustrated some of the ways in which the Goals connect. These are not exhaustive, and we encourage business to consider how they apply in their own operations.

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on:

By improving access to the services offered in cities and communities, progress on this Goal will reduce inequalities tied to income levels or residential location, which are often higher in urban areas than others (Goal 10). Improved connectivity through transport infrastructure and smarter urban design links people to employment (Goal 8), education (Goal 4), health (Goal 3), energy (Goal 7) and green space (Goal 15). educed emissions through sustainable infrastructure and design (Goal 9) and less demand for transport will also support climate action commitments (Goal 13)

Minimise risk of negative impact on:

While investment in sustainable cities will improve the quality of life for their residents, it may also have negative impacts on housing affordability and the tax burden, and accelerate urban migration. Concentrating increasing amounts of economic activity in urban areas may imply that rural areas lag behind, increasing inequalities between rural and urban areas (Goal 10) and poverty in rural areas (Goal 1). Local communities at the fringes of expanding urban developments may be displaced with infringement on their human rights (Goals 1, 2 and 3) and losing access to decent jobs (Goal 8). Rapid urbanization and infrastructure build may further negatively impact on the environment if risks of negative impacts are not carefully managed (Goals 14 and 15).

Goal 11 Targets

Targets of Goal 11

  1. Ensure universal access to quality housing
  2. Ensure universal access to quality transport
  3. Ensure inclusive and sustainable urbanisation, planning and management
  4. Protect and safeguard cultural and natural heritage
  5. Reduce human impacts of disasters
  6. Reduce environmental impact of cities
  7. Provide universal access to green and public spaces