Växjö in Southern Sweden relies on its renewable energy, clean transport and energy conservation initiatives to justify calling itself “Europe’s Greenest City.” Local council member Henrik Johansson told AFP that “politicians realised in the ’60s that if the city was to develop the lakes had to be cleaned up,” which spurred various ambitious environmental projects. Keep reading to find out what makes this city so sustainable.
In the 1970s Växjö developed a district heating and power system which pumped heat and hot water from a central boiler around the entire city. In the 1990s, long before global warming became an accepted topic of conversation, the city council announced plans to abandon fossil fuels by 2030 and halve carbon emissions in less than 20 years. Local farmers were encouraged to go organic, while the rest of the city aimed to reduce paper consumption and rely on bicycles or public transport.
While many similar actions were happening around Sweden, the city-owned energy company went on to blaze a trail for others by switching from oil to biomass, a program that turned the forestry industry’s leftovers into clean energy. Today almost 90 percent of the city’s 60,000 inhabitants get their heat and hot water from the plant debris, which is also able to supply about 40 percent of the city’s electricity needs.
The only remaining challenge is the residents’ reliance on cars, 60 percent of whom drive. It’s the one habit that has proven hard to change, and in the process made it harder to achieve the city’s fossil-fuel-free goal. “We’re dependent on national changes and on car and fuel companies to make alternatives available. We can’t force people out of their cars,” said Henrik Johansson, Environmental Coordinator of Växjö Municipality.
Johansson is still optimistic the city can surpass it’s already impressive accomplishments: “We’re making it more and more attractive to use bikes or buses and harder to drive shorter distances. And it’s pretty easy to make quick improvements: gas stations are already blending biofuels into ordinary fuel so everyone can start lowering their CO2 emissions. By 2030 I think we’ll be at least 80 percent there,” he said.
Images by arosablue_