“The Greenest City In Europe”

Vaxjo, pronounced Vequa (don’t ask me how they came up with that spelling), makes no effort in acting humble over the term used to describe the city in a BBC article in 2007. In my short time in “The Greenest City in Europe,” the municipality and their sustainable smaland initiative presented a good case for why they deserve to keep the title. A fairly small city of 80,000 in the heart of southern Sweden, Vaxjo has been working in areas of sustainability for quite some time.

When I first began my site visit in the city, I was greated by Jesserina, an environmental economist who helped arrange my visit. A Chilean who has lived in Sweden most of her life, Jesserina gave me a good overview of how Vaxjo has been implementing sustainable strategies, as well as her own views on effectively implementing sustainable development. Once again, I heard a similar story about the difficulties in getting into the minds of individuals and changing their behavior. The further on in this journey, the more I am certain that communication may be a larger obstacle than new and effective technology.

I then had a meeting with an individual who had been involved with sustainability work in the city for a number of years. She led me through the timeline. The story begins with a lake restoration project in the 70s that brought new life to the city center. Since then, the city has effectively planned to keep population density high, a technique that often lowers CO2 emissions and energy usage. The city has now moved further into energy efficiency and has developed passive houses with energy positive houses (houses that add to the energy grid rather than take from it) on the way. The two most well known projects in Vaxjo are the biomass plant and the timber construction project.

I got the chance to tour the biomass plant which works on a system known as combined heating and power (CHP). The plant presently provides almost all the district heating in the city while producing about 50% of the electricity. I was led through the plant by the plant manager who displayed how the plant uses woodchips to create heat for heating as well as for a turbine to produce electricity. Here is a picture of the plant and a photo of myself in front of the “fuel” source, a regenerative pile of wood.

From Vaxjo, Sweden
From Vaxjo, Sweden

The following day, I continued my tour of sustainabled development projects and joined a city planner for a tour of the high rise timber construction projects in the city. If you can’t tell by now, Vaxjo likes wood! They have a lot of forests and if managed correctly,trees can be regenerated, becoming a renewable source. Vaxjo has lead the way for using timber instead of steel or concrete in building design. These timber buildings are more energy efficient and contribute less CO2 to the atmosphere. Here are some pictures from the timber projects. I think they look pretty nice.

From Vaxjo, Sweden
From Vaxjo, Sweden

I don’t know if Vaxjo is truly the greenest city in Europe but during my stay here it has made a pretty strong case. The people I spoke with identified transit as the biggest problem in the future. I would make the case that this has a lot to do with effective engagement of the public in an effort to change behavior. This is obviously no easy task but Vaxjo hopes to improve public transit and bike paths to encourage alternatives.

I am now off to Copenhagen for the night and then London to my seventh and final site visit. I still cannot believe this experience is almost over! I have been doing a lot of thinking about my conclusions on sustainable development and keys to its effective implementation. Hopefully my time in London will help solidify these ideas as I will be back in the States in just one week time.