Stockholm, First European Green Capital
This summer I’ve spent two weeks in Stockholm, European Green Capital 2010 and the first city ever to win this award. I was aware that Stockholm is one of the greenest cities in the world: there is nature all over the place. The question was: What had Stockholm done in order to deserve this award? What great achievements, apart from being a sustainable city surrounded by water, forests and all kind of green areas?
Stockholm, a truly green city
First of all, it’s easier to be environmentally friendly when your relationship with nature is so close. Furthermore, Stockholmers have earned the title of green city during the last decades; they were able to transform a town surrounded by dirty waters 100 years ago into a place where everybody can have a bath or spend the time fishing. This has not happened all of a sudden; Stockholmers have worked hard for that, with strict regulations and sustainable measures.
I wanted to find out why Stockholm was “the” green capital of Europe, know how the city was communicating this happy news and get information on how citizens were participating in the whole event.
According to the information taken from their website: the reasons why Stockholm had being designated European Green Capital 2010 included:
- the City has an integrated administrative system that guarantees that environmental aspects are considered in budgets, operational planning, reporting and monitoring.
- the City has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent per inhabitant since 1990.
- the City has adopted the objective of being fossil fuel free by 2050.
All these achievements are very remarkable, and everyone should congratulate Stockholm for that. The award is well deserved, however, there are two aspects that should be taken into account by the next prizewinners (Hamburg in 2011):
- The City should involve everyone in the award: the participation of important stakeholders, such as the citizens, is missing.
- The communication about the event should definitely be improved and be more open to the public. Without communication all efforts could be in vain. Let citizens be proud of their city’s great achievement!
Study visits only for “professionals”
I tried to set up visits to the different activities dealing with the event, as well as meetings with people involved in this process. Unfortunately, all professional tours were addressed to institutions, other cities, universities, etc.
There were no meetings intended for consultants or “normal” people. As an example, the next event is a conference intended for representants from other cities, the European Green Capital Conference. Little information is found on events where “normal folks” can participate.
As one person working for the City told me: “The aim of the study visit programme is to strengthen Stockholm’s network with other cities and increase the possibilities of sharing experience and learning from one another”. But I didn’t give up, I must thank this same person for getting me in touch with different institutions and recommending me to arrange informal interviews with them. I was able to set up one meeting with an environmental consultancy and another one with one person working at GlashusEtt, the centre for environmental information and communication in Hammarby Sjöstad (the new eco-friendly district in Stockholm).
That leads me to one of the things I missed: There were no events intended for the general public or even for tourists visiting Stockholm. The whole thing was too closed, almost for insiders.
Stockholm is the Green Capital of Europe, could you tell?
Another thing I missed was public reference to Stockholm being European Green Capital. The only one I found was a poster hanging in a stairway at the Tourist Centre. It’s great to be sustainable and green but it’s only half that great if you don’t spread the news…
Communication of the award was inexistent. Even Swedish friends living in Stockholm told me they were not aware of the fact that their city was this year European Green Capital.
One would expect workshops, rallies and other events addressed to citizens and tourists, but there weren’t any, or I couldn’t find them (so hidden were they!)
The Green City and The Companies
The impression after the informal meetings was that the current City government was living up to the high standards reached by the previous one (from a different political party). Some people said that the City government was using the European Green Capital as a greenwashing tool.
My contacts at the environmental consultancy told me that the City government had cut down help to small and medium entreprises who wanted to adapt themselves and be environmentally friendly. I think that local assistance to small companies who want to be greener is a must. The role that cities can play in order to reach sustainability is crucial. They can be the interface between citizens, companies and public institutions.
Communicate, celebrate, convince
Stockholm deserves to be celebrated as a green, sustainable, citizen-friendly city, that’s why a little more effort communicating the event and sharing it with the community would have been recommendable. People need to hear good news connected with green and sustainable matters, not the usual “this is the end of the world” type of messages.
Being positive, telling the good news and offering alternatives are key for the cause of sustainability.
In my next post I will tell about Hammarby Sjöstad, the new eco-friendly district in Stockholm, an urban paradise on Earth.