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Sustainable Cities

We help decision makers to balance economic development with the need to create healthy, attractive, and sustainable cities for people to live and work in.

By 2025 megacities of 10 million or more people will house more than half the world's population and contribute more than half of global GDP. Managing growing cities and their supply of resources is a formidable task that places heavy demands on infrastructure and the environment. We focus on finding solutions that will support economic growth while reducing pollution and waste.

We work with mayors, urban planners, foundations, non-profits, utilities, and businesses to help create sustainable cities. Our role includes:

  • supporting mayors and city authorities in establishing a fact base, defining sustainable economic development, and delivering solutions tailored to local needs
  • working with water, power, and waste utilities to improve services, minimize waste, and reduce a city’s environmental footprint
  • assisting private sector clients such as real-estate developers, infrastructure providers, and logistics companies in engaging with cities and creating solutions that support sustainability goals
  • helping shape strategies to capture growth opportunities by developing district development plans, revitalizing older cities, and building greenfield cities that minimize their carbon footprint while attracting new jobs and industries

What we do

To support our work with clients, we carry out independent research and draw on an extensive body of in-house knowledge. The McKinsey Global Institute has conducted studies of urbanization in China, India, and Latin America, and its work on cities globally has culminated in City Scope, the largest database of its kind, covering more than 2,000 metropolitan areas. We also play an active part in the debate on the future of cities through collaborations with non-profits, foundations, and think tanks. Our partnership with Columbia University and Tsinghua University in the Urban China Initiative led to the development of the urban sustainability index, a new tool for evaluating how cities in developing countries are balancing growth and sustainability.

Examples of our work

Among recent examples of our work, we supported a Latin American megacity with the design of its waste management system, helped a global high-tech company understand cities as a market, advised on green real-estate development in the Middle East, and helped develop an infrastructure sustainability plan for a major US city.

Well-designed sustainability measures deliver multiple benefits. In transport logistics, for example, we found that consolidating loads to reduce truck numbers on congested city roads can increase traffic speeds by up to 30 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 50,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per million inhabitants at no significant infrastructure expense. Reducing congestion improves city dwellers' quality of life and cuts the cost of doing business by making delivery times more consistent and reliable.

Similarly, new approaches to public-private partnerships can help build relationships that create value for both cities and solutions providers. In one fast-growing city, we organized workshops to bring public officials together with representatives from a global high-tech company to brainstorm innovative solutions to infrastructure and development challenges. The effort produced a set of proposals for high-impact solutions, numerous possibilities for improving sourcing, performance, and infrastructure at lower cost, and insights into how to attract corporations to establish headquarters, factories, and sales operations in the city.

Featured experts

Jonathan Woetzel

MGI Director and Senior Partner, Shanghai

Shannon Bouton

COO of the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, Detroit

Andres Cadena

Senior Partner, Bogotá

Impact story

How a city paved the way to a new low-carbon economy

– An environmentally aware city tackles the next frontier of carbon abatement opportunities.