Cities4ZERO Methodology

How can local authorities effectively address the decarbonization of urban environments in the long and short run? How can their interests and expertise be aligned with an integrated approach towards decarbonization? Cities4ZERO is a methodology that seeks to guide cities in their ambitious urban transformation processes, helping them to find the answers and to develop appropriate strategies while ensuring stakeholder commitment, all from an integrated energy planning approach.

Developed in close collaboration with the five partner cities of the SmartEnCity project, the Cities4ZERO methodological framework reflects the actual strategic energy planning processes that were ongoing in the partner cities. Based on this experience, Cities4ZERO was designed to enable effective action in other small and mid-sized European municipalities as well, both in terms of planning and implementation. Cities4ZERO takes an integrated approach to decarbonizing cities while focusing on the systems that have the highest impact on decarbonization processes, e.g. energy and integrated infrastructures, the built environment and green infrastructures, mobility and logistics, governance and engagement, ICTs and enabling technologies.

Cities4ZERO consists of 16 steps, structured in three stages. The process starts with the strategic stage, which helps a city administration to define the strategic planning framework that enables an effective transition to zero carbon cities. This is followed by the design stage, which guides the city through the development of key projects defined in the first phase, paving the way for actual interventions. The last stage thus focuses on intervention and assessment, including the deployment, monitoring, impact assessment and upscaling of the selected smart city solutions.

Do not let the concept of a “process” mislead you, though. The Cities4ZERO methodology can be followed step-by-step, but should not be seen as a linear process that comes to an end once the defined projects have been implemented and assessed. It is rather a circular process that is cyclically iterated, readjusting the focus of the strategies, leaving out parts that have become obsolete, redefining plans and key projects etc. All this in an attempt to reach the final decarbonization goal, according to how the vision was co-formulated for a specific city.

How to use & tips:

  • Integrated planning means securing the commitment of various stakeholders and considering all dimensions of a problem (social, environmental, technological and economic parameters), in order to determine the most appropriate solutions. Integrated planning also addresses the need for coordination with other local strategies, initiatives, projects, departments etc. to avoid barriers and to leverage potential synergies in the local context.
  • Local stakeholders and collaborative networks are key in the process. As they will be the ones who are going to implement the initiatives leading towards decarbonisation, they need to be engaged from the beginning to ensure that the chosen projects are implemented successfully and that the interventions have the desired impact on emissions.
  • A rigorous assessment process is key to measuring progress towards city goals. We cannot improve what we don’t measure! Measuring progress and reformulating the goals respectively is the basis of a circular process that will bring decarbonization closer and closer.
  • The main principles of this strategy have been built upon the experiences of small and mid-sized cities, far from the scale, visibility and the available resources of large EU capitals. As the slogan of the SmartEnCity project indicates, “you don’t have to be a capital city to make a major difference”. We are seeking to involve a wide range of European cities on the path to decarbonization.
  • If you are unsure about where to start in the Cities4ZERO framework or how it can work for you, take a look at the City Check-up Assessment tool as the first step. Once you fill in the check-up questionnaire, you will have a better idea of where your city fits in regarding the Cities4ZERO process and can start planning the next steps.
  • If you want to learn more about some of the key components of the Cities4ZERO process, feel free to explore the Foresight Methodology, Integrated Energy Plans and Replication Roadmaps as well as Monitoring and Evaluation.
  • If you feel like you’re ready for hardcore energy planning exercises, go straight to the Energy Balance Tool or EnergyPLAN tools.
  • If you think now is the time for something lighter, why not explore the SmartEnCity Academy, videos, webinars, newslettersandNetwork bulletins to see how SmartEnCity has used the Cities4ZERO methodology throughout its journey.
  • Want a more scientific approach instead? Check out the SmartEnCity scientific publications that elaborate more on the theory behind the practice. 


  • The Cities4ZERO methodology will not give you the answers, it will help you find them! The Cities4ZERO approach is based on identifying common barriers and success factors in cities’ urban transformations. Local context matters, however – an effective urban transformation towards decarbonization requires a thorough analysis of the local context to propose the most suitable plans and interventions for each specific environment. In addition to the commitment of the local government, it takes a strong collaborative network to increase the chances of success. After all, each city has unique features, culture, geography, goals, etc., which set the context to designing a strategy tailored to the local city needs. These local conditions influence the design and development of projects and therefore, it is crucial to consider differences and explore commonalities in this transition.
  • Try to overcome the traditional planning procedures that still tend to be siloed. Take it from the SmartEnCity cities’ experience – it really makes a difference in urban planning when you involve all the relevant stakeholders and potential implementers right from the start. Next time, give participatory practices like foresight a chance!

Links to more information:

Read the Cities4ZERO full report with guidelines for each step here - Cities4ZERO: The Urban Transformation Strategy for Cities’ Decarbonisation 

Read the scientific publication here – Cities4ZERO: Overcoming Carbon Lock-in in Municipalities through Smart Urban Transformation Processes 

Read the scientific publication here - Towards an Integrated Approach to Urban Decarbonisation in Practice: The Case of Vitoria-Gasteiz 

Read the scientific publication here - ENER-BI: Integrating Energy and Spatial Data for Cities’ Decarbonisation Planning 

Read the scientific publication here – Smart Zero Carbon City Readiness Level: Indicators System for City Diagnosis Towards Decarbonisation and its Application in the Basque Country 

Read the scientific publication here – Smart Zero Carbon City: Key Factors Towards Smart Urban Decarbonization