• 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
Swedish police search for missing elderly hikers
The only trace is currently a mobile phone found in the area and which is believed to belong to one of the men. Photo: Henrik Montgomery /TT

Police have launched an extensive search operation after two elderly hikers went missing in the Swedish mountains.

Winds leave thousands of Swedes without power
The winds are also expected to blow away the warm weather that the Swedes have been blessed with in the past few days. Photo: Peter Arwidi / TT file picture

Strong gusts, forecast to reach up to 21 metres per hour, left thousands of people without power in Sweden’s northern regions on Saturday.

Migration agency ’to get rid of LGBT experts’
Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

An internal report looking at ways to make Sweden’s Migration Agency more efficient has proposed the agency gets rid of specialists dedicated to LGBT-related issues. The move has prompted the country’s main gay rights group to see red.

Sweden's Spotify hits 39 million subscribers
Spotify is gaining listeners. Photo: Erik Mårtensson/TT

Spotify has grown by nine million paying subscribers in five months, fending off competition from rivals.

Prosecutor wants asylum stabber convicted of murder
Prosecutor Linda Wiking. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

The man was convicted of aggravated manslaughter for stabbing a worker to death at a home for young refugees in Sweden.

Old Swedish cash worth billions still in circulation
Old Swedish money. Photo: Micke Larsson/TT

Hand in your invalid Swedish bills to the bank by the end of the month.

Sweden moves to battle high rate of drug deaths
Sweden has among Europe's highest drug-induced mortality rates. Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB/TT

Sweden has among the highest number of drug-related deaths in the EU despite its zero-tolerance policy. The government wants to find out why.

Human skeleton found on abandoned farm in Sweden
Police at the farm in Hörby. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect human remains found in a well on an abandoned farm in rural Sweden belonged to a man who was murdered.

The Local List
You'll never really be Swedish without trying this weird food
Kebab pizza. It exists. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The Local's intern Saina Behnejad on her love-hate relationship with Swedish cuisine.

Sweden's Stenson pulls out of Barclays with injured knee
Henrik Stenson at the Olympics this summer. Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Henrik Stenson's injury throws doubt on Europe's chances at next month's Ryder Cup.

Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
Travel
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Gallery
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
National
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Gallery
Property of the week: Karlsborg
National
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
National
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th-21st
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
How to find student housing in Sweden
National
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Swedish population nears ten million
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Society
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
National
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th-14th
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Gallery
People-watching: August 10th
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
The Local Voices
Syrian presenter: Swedish media should make more shows in Arabic
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Travel
Watch the meteor shower in Sweden
Lifestyle
How to survive a crayfish party
The Local Voices
Gabriel mastered Swedish and got accepted onto a medicine degree in just 7 months
3,396
jobs available