Back in 2006 (as faithful readers of Municipal World may remember), I travelled to Jönköping, Sweden for the World Bioenergy Conference. It was my first opportunity to look, firsthand, at energy solutions on the international level. At the time, I was surprised to find bioenergy (and district energy systems) already playing such a large role in municipal energy production and distribution in Sweden and other parts of Europe. Even more surprising was the extent to which energy from waste was being deployed – and that it was so well accepted by the many, many communities where it had been adopted.
I was honoured to be invited back to Sweden this year, to see and learn about some of the country’s most recent urban sustainability initiatives taking place in Stockholm and Malmö. I was anxious to see how and whether the resolve and commitment to environmental protection and the very clear culture of conservation among Swedish citizens had continued and evolved in the five years since I was last there. As with my prior visit, I came away inspired by examples of “the possible” – examples where perceived limits and boundaries were being pushed aside by aggressive investments and technology, by remediation efforts, fuelled by plans and visions of a sustainable future.
Travelling with a contingent of journalists representing eight different countries from around the globe, the trip provided not only an opportunity to discover Swedish initiatives, but also to learn about sustainability efforts in other parts of the world, as well as the challenges and obstacles that are faced there – including social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental factors that sometimes stand in the way of communities doing what they know needs to be done.
The story on Malmö, on page 5 of the August issue of Municipal World, shows how that city, facing an unprecedented and seemingly insurmountable economic crisis, cast a vision for its future and then began putting in place the elements that are necessary to achieve it. As Malmö’s leaders won’t hesitate to tell you, it didn’t happen over night (and it’s not been without its challenges, either). And, although they’re not exactly where they’d like to be, they are confident they’re heading in the right direction. Walking on their streets and seeing their new developments and visions coming to life, I felt fairly confident they’d reach their goals as well.
Often, when we learn how things are done differently (sometimes better, sometimes not) in other parts of the world, it is too easy to assume that it was always thus. As Malmö shows (and Stockholm, too, which I’ll share in the November issue), the sustainable picture we see today would have been unimaginable for some to predict from their vantage point in the past. Sometimes, a challenging situation can be exactly what it takes to help make a sharp turn from the way things are currently done, and recognize that it’s time for a new approach.