Vaxjo—Sweden’s green model city. PDF Print E-mail
Sample ImageYou might not realize that this small city in Sweden—Vaxjo (pronounced vek-shur) has cut its emissions of carbon dioxide per inhabitant by nearly a quarter in the last ten years, and is aiming to go lower yet. Now it has won the Sustainable Energy Award for Europe for its environmental efforts. It is arguably the greenest city in Europe. This might surprise visitors because when you enter town the view of the lake is marred by a large smokestack. Look more closely though, and you’ll notice that it is giving off only a small mist of steam. Stroll around the plant, and you will see a huge pile of waste wood that towers above head height and takes almost five minutes to walk around. That’s enough to keep Vaxjo warm on the snowiest day in winter, or supply it with hot water for a fortnight in summer, and it’s a good way to use wood waste. Canada will have plenty of this when the remains of our pine tree infestation are no longer usable for wood products.
 As well as generating electricity, it also supplies ninety percent of the town with heating and hot water. The gases produced as the wood burns are condensed and purified before they reach the chimney. Then, instead of dumping this liquid, the power plant pumps it around town. Some gushes hot out of taps while the rest is directed through plumbing that runs through individual heaters, warming homes or offices.
Then there is the ancient, but still maintained, custom of planting a new tree for every one cut down. To help the new growth, the ashes from the furnace are swept out daily and used as fertilizer. It was this laudable system that earned Vaxjo the European Union’s inaugural award for sustainable development, an accolade that some say makes it the greenest city on the continent.
The city, set among forests and lakes at the south of Sweden, is on a mission to become totally fossil- fuel- free.  Henrik Johannson, Environmental Controller at Vaxjo’s planning department, says, “more than 50% of the city’s total energy comes from renewable sources.”
The city’s swimming pool has solar panels on its roof. Cycle paths, but not roads, are being extended and residents and companies can receive subsidies for environmentally friendly cars, which may be parked for free. But Johansson’s objective is to cut far back on the use of cars. Walking and cycling are passionately promoted.
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 However, getting residents to use public transit is not easy. One local cab company received a subsidy to install technology that has led to a twenty percent drop in its fuel use. It now keeps track of its cars by satellite, in order to send the nearest car to pickup a fare. Drivers are given a course to ensure they drive in the most fuel –efficient way.
Vaxjo likes to boast that its ideas on sustainable development go far back to the time of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, born in 1707 in a village near Vaxjo. Famous as a botanist, he was also among the first to preach sustainability. Actually Vaxjo’s environmental efforts really began in the 1970s, when the lakes near the city had become heavily polluted by both local industry and agriculture. A clean up began, and from then on, Vaxjo has never looked back. In 1996 it set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50% per capita by 2010. Now it aims to reduce emissions by 70% by 2025. “We still have a lot of work to do”, says Johannson, “but we hope by 2010 we can reach at least 40-45%.”
Vaxjo realizes that it is not solving the world’s problems by its efforts. “But we can set an example”, says Johannson. Indeed it already has. Companies and politicians from around the world are flocking to Vaxjo to learn from its experience, and to see how well it cooperates with its companies and its University. A special department was needed to handle this new tourist industry!
On the shores of Lake Trommen, construction is almost finished of an eight-story apartment block—the highest of its type in Europe. The site manager says it is 5 percent cheaper to build than the older brick structures.
Vaxjo is not waiting for the world to catch up. I am reminded of a cartoon seen recently. A small boy is pointing to a headline in a newspaper—for his Mother’s benefit. Her response is, “I don’t care WHAT Mr. Harper says, we are not waiting for the rest of the kids on the block to clean up their rooms. You are cleaning yours NOW!”
The fact is, it is difficult to convince other countries to attack global warming if Canada itself continues to stall and lag in its efforts. A little of the Vaxjo attitude on Canada’s part would have a profound effect on China and India—and even the United States. Mr. Harper does not seem to realize we have no time to waste. Apparently the public may have to lead the way—our government continues to disappoint.
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