• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The Swedish city touted as 'Europe's greenest'

AFP · 24 Jan 2014, 08:06

Published: 24 Jan 2014 08:06 GMT+01:00

Nestled among glittering lakes and thick pine forests in southern Sweden, Växjö has gone further than most in renewable energy, clean transport and energy conservation, promoting itself as "Europe's Greenest City".
   
"We started very early," Henrik Johansson at Växjö local council told AFP.    
 
"Our politicians realized in the '60s that if the city was to develop the lakes had to be cleaned up -- they'd been polluted by the linen industry in the 18th century and by the city's expansion."
   
The restoration of the most polluted waterway, Lake Trummen -- infamous for its noxious smell as far back as the 18th century -- acted as a catalyst for more ambitious environmental projects, he added.
   
"When I was a kid you wouldn't have dreamt of taking a swim in it, but today you can," said the 39-year-old environmental officer.
   
"That very obvious change has stayed in people's minds -- it showed that if you really want to do something and set your mind to it, you will succeed."    
 
In the 1990s, before global warming was grabbing headlines, the city council announced plans to abandon fossil fuels by 2030 and to halve carbon emissions in less than two decades -- among a host of "green goals" that also encourage local farmers to go organic and everyone to reduce paper consumption and to use bicycles or public transport.
   
Today, Växjö's CO2 emissions are indeed almost half what they were in 1993 -- one of the lowest levels in Europe at 2.7 tonnes per person -- and almost half of Sweden's already low average.
   
Energy from moss and twigs
 
In the 1970s Växjö developed a district heating and power system -- pumping heat and hot water from a central boiler around the city.
   
That was not unique for Sweden, but the city-owned energy company went on to pioneer a changeover from oil to biomass -- incinerating leftovers from the forestry industry.
   
At the plant just outside the city, Björn Wolgast, the director, picks up a handful of tangled twigs, moss and bark, and breathes in the pungent pine fragrance as an excavator delivers a pile of the dusty material to a nearby conveyer belt.
   
"It's totally renewable energy -- Swedish forests still produce more than we take out," he said, adding: "And we send ash back to fertilize the forest."
   
Today almost 90 percent of the city's 60,000 inhabitants get their heat and hot water from the plant, which also supplies about 40 percent of electricity needs.
   
Thanks to a series of filters, the plant's emissions are almost negligible -- one-twentieth of the national limit.
   
But whether Växjö really is "Europe's Greenest City" is open for debate and the slogan irritates some locals,  including ecological restaurant owner Göran Lindblad.
   
"Why were we years behind other parts of the country in recycling food waste?" asked Lindblad, one of the first in Växjö to start recycling food two years ago.
   
Buses fuelled by potato peels
   
Nonetheless, when the local council did start collecting organic waste things happened quickly.
   
Two-thirds of households signed up voluntarily -- in return for lower charges -- and today the city's fleet of green biogas buses runs almost entirely on locally produced gas made from rotten food and sewage.
   
"It's difficult to compare cities of different sizes but I'd say it's one of Europe's greenest -- they're very advanced and ambitious," said Cristina Garzillo, a sustainability expert at the local government network ICLEI in Freiburg, Germany.
   
Ryan Provencher, a 39-year-old engineer, moved to Sweden from Texas just over a decade ago and could be described as a fervent convert to the green revolution.
   
"We recycle just about everything. I only use my car about twice a week and tend to run or cycle to work," he said.
   
Story continues below…
Provencher lives with his wife and three children in Växjö's most environmentally friendly "positive house", which sends more energy back to the local grid than it uses thanks to a roof covered in solar panels and an array of other energy-saving gadgets.
   
He says the contrast with life in Waco, where his parents live, is like "night and day".
   
"Gas is so cheap there that nobody thinks twice about driving."
   
Växjö may be a world away from Waco, but many of its residents have a similar love affair with the car -- about 60 percent drive -- and it has proved hard to change that, making the city's fossil-free goal harder to achieve.
   
"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," Johansson said.
   
"But 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," Johansson said.    
 
"And that would not be so bad!"

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sweden to sizzle in the sun for a few more days
The beach at Båstad on Saturday. Photo: TT

The heatwave that hit most of Sweden last week is set to continue until Wednesday at least, according to Swedish weather forecaster, SMHI.

Swedish ex-prime minister Thorbjorn Fälldin dead at 90
Fälldin in 1981. Photo: TT/FLT-PICA

Thorbjorn Fälldin, the former farmer who became prime minister in Sweden's first non-Social Democratic government since World War II, has died at the age of 90.

Swedish police fear serial rapist on loose in Malmö
The attacker is thought to be in his mid-twenties and had been seen riding his bike in the area prior to the incident. Photo:TT

The rape of a 14-year-old girl in Malmö has led police to conjecture that there may be a serial rapist operating in the southern Swedish city.

Stockholm Pokémon hunter impaled on metal fence spike
Another Swede playing Pokémon Go in Stockholm. Photo: Izabelle Nordfjell/TT

He tried to climb a fence to find more Pokémon.

Video
When Alicia Vikander taught us to put our pen in the bottle
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander and US talkshow host Jimmy Fallon. Photo: Tonight Show/NBC/Screenshot

We're not even sure if that's a euphemism or not.

Muslim man fired for not shaking women's hands
File photo of people shaking hands. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

A man is suing a local council in Sweden after he lost his job for refusing to shake hands with female colleagues.

Swedish bus driver who hit asylum seeker: 'I'm not racist'
The story has grabbed global headlines. Photo: Nobina

A Swedish bus driver caught on camera beating and kicking an asylum seeker has for the first time spoken to media.

Stay out, the water's filthy! Germs ruin Swedes' swims
Seagulls only.

Fancy a dip? If so, you might want to keep your mouth shut.

Man kicked off flight from Sweden over 'Isis tattoo'
A Norwegian plane at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

A flight from Stockholm was delayed on Thursday after it was claimed that one of the passengers had an Isis flag tattooed on his arm.

Homes
In pictures: Are Swedes falling in love with colour at last?
What happened to the Swedish greyscale? Photo: Linda Åhman

Antonia Wiklund of Houzz.se investigates why the Swedes are abandoning their sleek and clean interior design for vibrant colours.

Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Blog updates

14 July

Boris Johnson: why Britain’s new foreign minister is cordially loathed (Globally Local) »

"There are lots of things to say about Boris Johnson, Britain’s new foreign secretary. He is…" READ »

 

11 July

Swedish quizzes (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I have created some quizzes you can take online to test your Swedish skills. Here…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
Gallery
Property of the week: Smedjebacken, Dalarna
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
Politics
WATCH: A very Swedish take on Brexit...
National
Swede's fury at Daily Mail's Bråvalla 'lies'
Gallery
People-watching: July 8th-10th
National
Sweden and Denmark trolled each other on Twitter and it's hilarious
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
National
ANALYSIS: Why Swedes are talking more about immigration than before
National
Watch Icelanders cheer their Swedish hero coach
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,341
jobs available