• 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
Masked men on mopeds shoot four in Malmö
Censorgatan in Fosie is a relatively quiet residential area in Malmö. Photo: Google Maps

At least four people have been injured in a shooting in southern Malmö.

78-year-old crowned Sweden's best grower of oilseed rape
Gunnar Henningson celebrates his well-deserved victory. Photo: Svensk Raps

"This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said 78-year- old Gunnar Henningson, after being crowned Sweden's "Rapsmästaren".

Sweden to bring in tighter rape laws to up convictions
Mari Heidenborg, president of the Sexual Offences Committee wants to drop the Swedish term fro rape Våldtakt. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Swedish lawmakers are to propose adding a controversial consent clause to the country’s rape laws.

Sweden's centre-right voters up for deals with populist SD
Jimmie Åkesson with Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and Moderate leader Anna Kinberg Batra. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

A growing majority of voters for Sweden’s four-party centre-right Alliance support working with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

Coeliac disease not caused by early weaning: Swedish study
Carin Andrén Aronsson now plans to investigate why Sweden has such high levels of coeliac disease. Photo: Polarbrod

Mothers who stop breastfeeding early are not to blame for their children developing gluten intolerance, a new Swedish study has found.

Zlatan look-a-like storms pitch as Man U take on champions
A grinning Zlatan pushed the man away with the palm of his hand. Photo: YouTube

Zlatan fever has hit the UK, with a look-a-like storming the pitch on Saturday only to be palmed off by the grinning Swedish star.

Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
'Egor Putilov' had access to all areas of the Swedish parliament: Photo: Riksdag

A Russian-born political secretary for the Sweden Democrats has resigned after making six million kronor ($0.7m) in a property deal with a St Petersburg businessman.

Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Bruce Springsteen tells SVT talk show host that Trump is an 'embarrassment' to the US. Photo: SVT/Youtube

Rock legend Bruce Springsteen has described Donald Trump as an embarrassment to the United States in an interview on Sweden's Skavlan talk show.

'World class' developer told to leave Sweden over admin slip
Software developer Tayyab Shabab. Photo: Private

Tayyab Shabab has a house, a job and pays tax in Sweden, but he has now been told he must leave within three weeks.

Police release men held over bomb threat on refugee home
Police officers outside the building. Photo: Robert Nyholm/TT

UPDATED: Two men arrested after a bomb threat was made against a home for refugees in Boden, northern Sweden, have been allowed to leave custody.

Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Blog updates

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 

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 »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
National
Where Sweden's foreigners are from
Gallery
People-watching: September 9th-11th
The Local Voices
Shakib, 23, works and pays taxes — but will Sweden let him stay?
National
Watch this Swede roll his kayak without spilling his beer. Respect.
Gallery
People-watching: September 7th
The Local Voices
'Swedes are polarized on refugees - it's the welcome mat or the exit door'
National
WATCH: Yes, this Swedish rising star really is Abba legend's grandson
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
2,988
jobs available