Kaj Embren

The development of sustainable cities can be approached by many ways. As I discussed in my previous blog, the London Olympics showed how a metropolis can mobilise to promote sustainable practices. But we have a very different example here In Sweden.

For London, being awarded the Olympics was a catalyst for new ways of working. But it was Stockholm’s failed bid to host the 2004 Games that became the driving force for a bold experiment the site of what would have become the athletes’ village. The area that was created, the so-called Stockholm Hammarby Sjöstad, has since become one of the world’s leading examples of sustainable development.

After years at the forefront of environmental practice, the project is now entering a new phase of development. Behind this pioneering effort is the former Swedish Finance Minister, Allan Larsson. As a resident of the area, he leads now leads Hammarby Sjöstad 2020 – a cluster of actors that includes companies, research institutions and business offices.

On an autumn day in Hammarby Sjöstad, with the sun reflecting on the water and lighting up the picturesque district, I met with Allan Larsson.

“Hammarby Sjöstad is, for me, the answer to many of our future challenges and it appears to be of huge international interest,” Allan tells me. “We had approximately 7000 visitors in 2011 from 30 countries, with people from China, Japan and France as the most frequent.

“Not everything has been perfect, but we can now raise our ambitions further by adding new initiatives in the project of 2020. Our goal is to make Hammarby Sjöstad a model for sustainable urban development.

“We are now focused on reducing the consumption of energy in all of our buildings to under 100 kWh per square meter. We have done a survey with a network of many partners, in order to see what was working well and what was working not so well. ABB, Fortum, Science Partner (SP), the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) are all helping us to develop control systems after mapping and analyzing all the possibilities. An action plan is then discussed with the housing cooperatives in the area,” Allan explains.

Allan’s focus is on sustainable power generation. Concepts such as sustainable transport and smart grids that increase efficiency of power supplies are central features of discussions about the next stage of development.

“Energy losses in an internal combustion engine is 70 per cent compared to 10 per cent of an electric motor” he tells me. “We need to quickly convert our entire fleet of cars, buses, boats and trucks. That is why we are now establishing a partnership with Volvo and Vattenfall to create Sweden’s first fleet of biogas bus. With this new technology, energy use is reduced by 65 per cent and the emission of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) is reduced by 75 per cent on each bus, compared with conventional diesel buses.

Many companies have been committed to reducing their gas emissions. Last week, for instance, Lufthansa announced its project to turn algae and municipal solid waste into fuel for future use in commercial flights.

These innovations remind me of my interview with Swedavia CEO, Torborg Chetkovic, who stressed the importance of keeping the entire fleet in mind during planning (watch the full interview here). As with Hammarby Sjöstad, her company also sees the transport network as a central part of its role, both in creating a sustainable city and contributing to the wider dialogue around models of best practice.

With responsibility for 11 airports in Sweden, Swedavia has a crucial part to play in establishing effective and smart transport solutions for the city’s sustainable development. The results speak for themselves. The airport operator’s work on energy and climate issues has helped reduced its carbon emissions by 60 per cent during the period 2005- 2011. It is now aiming to become a zero-emission operation by 2020.

More and more is being invested in smart and intelligent energy networks according to Charles Secrett, a senior advisor at Respect and the developer of London’s Sustainable City program, and the leading players are in China, Europe and the USA. But it is the investment in the transport sector that has experienced the greatest increase and we have witnessed more flexible and mobile transportation facilities in urban development.

Charles also mentions Siemens as one of the leading players. In its “Smart Cities” project for instance, the company’s research centre (Siemens Campus) has been investigating how processors, sensors and network connections embedded in everyday objects can not only map and interpret users’ needs, but also predict them. By using such complex technology system, the company wishes to avoid waste, while taking advantage of the urban environment to its maximum potential.

The idea of a live test experiment, such as that used by Siemens, is one of the many exciting the visions of the future envisaged by the Hammarby Sjöstad 2020. The group calls this vision Recovery 3.0 – the next step towards sustainability in the area-, which aims at establishing a cooperation to streamline waste management that would serve as an international model for urban and environmental planning.

Just one of these initiatives has seen local groups working together with the sustainable waste experts Envac to streamline waste management. Another exciting part of this next stage is known as the demo platform for Information and Communication Technologies, developed in collaboration with renowned operators Sony, Ericsson and Telia. This addresses the question of how to deliver the information of tomorrow when readers move away from the printed newspapers.

Allan finishes our interview by telling me about another upcoming project – Electricity: a living laboratory – that will be a testing ground for electric cars, charging stations, car sharing and rental cars, and a showroom for smart grids and sustainable energy.

And for anyone thinking that this green experiment is just about saving energy – Allan is also planning a ski tunnel and indoor ski slope in the area and a cultural initiative in collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera.

When I leave Allan after our interview, I take with me a few words that I always associate with him – inspiration, dedication and entrepreneurship. These three attributes clearly make for effective social reform and an active retirement.

Kaj Embren

Read Charles Secrett’s article “From Smart Gizmos To Smart Cities … And Beyond” (full-text).
Read my research on the International Network of Sustainable Cities.
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