Closing the accountability gap: Benchmarking Companies for Sustainable Urban Land Management


  • Besmira Dyca World Benchmarking ALliance
  • Hannah Itcovitz World Benchmarking Alliance




In 2015, all UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As part of the 17 Goals agreed upon, SDG 11, on Sustainable Cities and Settlements, vowed to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. There is a shared responsibility between public and private sector actors in shaping the urban environment. Benchmarking  the progress of the public sector actors on SDG goals is mainstreaming, including several dimensions of sustainability such as annual employment statistics, air quality reports, or initiatives where cities are ranked, i.e., most livable cities, green cities, traffic index and so on. In contrast, private actors are not benchmarked against these indicators, despite being significant players in the urban environment.

In this study, we develop an Urban Benchmark to answer the question of how the world’s most influential companies operating in the urban space are affecting sustainable urban land management. Building on Planetary Boundaries and Doughnut Economics frameworks, benchmarking methodology focuses on four measurement areas: 1) Governance, 2) Inclusive Cities, 3) Healthy Cities and 4) Climate Change and Resilience. We assess 300 of the world’s most influential companies operating in the urban space, following five keystone criteria. These companies are spread proportionately across the world’s regions, focusing on the world’s megacities or multiple urban areas that accommodate 10 million residents or more. They cover key industries in the realm of urban transformation: 1) real estate developers and managers, 2) design, engineering and construction companies, 3) urban passenger transport, and 4) energy, water, and waste management utilities. 

Findings from this study are expected to shed light on the performance of keystone companies in sustainable urban development practices. Through these findings we seek to feed into global reporting standards for these sectors on the topics assessed to encourage greater transparency. Concurrently, our findings will also highlight sectors and/or regions that are lagging behind in the areas we measure, stirring the focus to where action is needed to achieve SDG11 and other related SDGs. Finally, we identify potential levers of change in companies and translate them into policy recommendations for policy makers to support practices that expedite progress towards more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient cities. At the global level, records and key findings of company performances and their contribution towards making urban areas more sustainable may also inform subsequent discussions on defining the roles and responsibilities of companies in achieving global urban development agendas. This could potentially help in synchronizing the public and private actors’ efforts towards making cities more sustainable.


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