In recent years, Europe has experienced unprecedented weather events sweeping across the continent. From heatwaves to floods, experts predict that such extreme events will become more frequent in the coming years and decades.
Urban centres are particularly affected by the phenomenon known as Urban Heat Islands, where materials used in pavements and buildings absorb and retain heat, exacerbating the effects of heatwaves and leading to increased energy costs and mortality. The summer of 2023 saw hospital cases across Europe soar as the “Cerberus” heatwave spread, with record temperatures being set in Rome (41.8°C) and Sicily (49°C).
Changing seasons can also bring on further extreme weather conditions: many parts of the UK fell victim to Storm Henk and became major flood zones in the lead up to 2024.
Knowledge sharing about how to most effectively safeguard urban residents from these extreme weather events while ensuring solutions don’t negatively impact air quality, energy consumption, existing urban infrastructure and already stretched local authorities’ maintenance budgets is of utmost importance going forward. In this blog, we will explore some of the available options.
Introducing trees and vegetation that provide street shade can help. They act as heat absorbers and can significantly lower the overall temperature in city neighbourhoods. Trees For Cities are a UK charity working on planting trees in cities on a national and international scale. Their strategically planted trees around London can drop the air temperature from anywhere between 2ºC – 8ºC. They claim that 1 in 3 deaths attributed to the urban heat island effect could be eliminated if there was a 30% increase in tree coverage.
Street canopies can also provide shade to exposed areas, they are important in spaces where people could be exposed to the sun for an extended period. UK based company StreetSpace is one of the country’s leading providers of canopies servicing sports clubs, schools and public walkways, while Spanish company SingularGreen has completed green shades and vertical garden projects in twenty cities to date.
These examples represent existing solutions to urban heat waves which can be implemented quickly, though it’s worth considering the costs and impact of installation materials and irrigation systems when analysing sustainability ROI. As the number of mass heatwaves ramps up, it will be essential for businesses with market-ready solutions to have a clear approach to communicating these benefits and impacts.
Flood risk management
With around 5.5 million homes and businesses in England at risk of flooding, and around 3.4 million properties at risk of surface water flooding in particular after heavy rainfall in urban areas, protective measures against flooding are crucial.
While the Environment Agency already makes use of flood warning services and high volume pumps, further sustainable drainage system (SuDS) installations and probabilistic flood mapping rendering systems can help communities respond quickly, with greater chances of saving properties and lives.
Effectively implementing these solutions requires close collaboration between local authorities, engineers, data analysts and installation experts. As such, having a reputable and active presence within professional networks could put your business in prime position to safeguard local communities.
Products which allow buyers to heat or cool their home in a more sustainable, cost-efficient way can also prove useful to managing extreme temperatures at an individual level. An innovative and practical example of this is smart windows. Developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and industry experts, these windows can reduce energy usage for cooling and heating homes by up to a third. They function seasonally, absorbing infrared light from the sun during winter for heat conversion and reflecting it during summer, ultimately streamlining energy costs.
For such practical solutions to leap from research to the mainstream, encouraging mass consumer awareness and conversation could be a key driver to facilitate demand and home installations.
Energy saving cooling solutions
Advanced technologies, such as automated and ‘smart’ air conditioning in buildings reduces overall energy usage and boost efficiency versus a manual system. These systems can be controlled from a centralised system in the house, offices or remotely through a phone. Users can program them to respond to movement or light, indicating if someone is present or not, further enhancing energy management.
Smart systems collect more detailed data and can optimise energy efficiency over time and regulate cooling or heating systems based on the air temperature. This has a significant environmental benefit as these systems offer long-term solutions to cool urban spaces without over-reliance on energy input. With strong signs indicating temperatures will continue to climb, smart systems’ communications strategies must carefully balance news of today’s innovations with long-term brand building efforts.
How to start a conversation with your key stakeholders
Collaborating with local and national authorities is essential to successfully implement and retrofit these weather and heat protectant solutions at scale. The cost of these technologies can be significant, and during a time of widespread economic strain, budget challenges are top of mind.
It is a fantastic step to see the UK government offer grants for adoption for renewable energy solutions such as EV and solar adoption, but more can and needs to be done to help combat extreme climate events. Urban residents, businesses and government need the funding and understanding to make a concerted, collaborative effort to secure temperature control for their home, offices and urban spaces while also reducing their energy usage.
Many companies offering cutting-edge solutions lack effective communication with potential investors, policymakers, and consumers, hindering their adoption. Public relations can act as a crucial bridge, connecting vital solutions and their benefits with those who need it most.