Sweden’s model for sustainability

A keynote speaker for this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair is Torbjorn Lahti from Sweden. After working as a local and regional planner, he started the first eco-municipality in his hometown of Ovbertornea. It is a successful example of how a local economy can be rejuvenated while meeting environmental goals.

This initial effort evolved into a national movement of eco-municipalities. For more than 20 years, Lahti has provided municipal training based on The Natural Step program, which systematically addresses economic and environmental challenges facing communities.

Racine, Wis., has been influenced by eco-municipalities and has incorporated some of its ideas in the Main Street Revitalization project. Bonnie Prochaska and Margot Mazur will speak about aspects of it at the Fair. Dane County, Washburn, Ashland and Bayfield have adopted their version of the Swedish program.

In 2001, Lahti became the manager of a unique municipal program, Sustainable Robertsfor, with the goal of developing a model sustainable community. After a democratic planning process involving hundreds of citizens, the municipal council passed a Sustainable Development Plan presenting how the community will become sustainable by 2050 and independent of oil by 2020. According to the U.N. Brundtland Commission report, sustainable development is the practice of balancing economic, societal and ecological objectives to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The Swedish strategy for sustainable development expands the eco-muncipality program. Government leaders are asked to take long-term economic, social and environment considerations into account in policy decisions. Implicit in their vision of a sustainable society are solidarity and justice. Citizens must have a voice in development and assume responsibility for it.

Energy is an important component in Sweden’s sustainable development plans. In 2006, their government announced plans to phase out oil use by 2020 and cut 75 percent of industry’s carbon releases from current levels. Nearly all of their new housing relies on ground source heat pumps. New homes will also use low-energy building techniques similar to Germany’s passive houses. Energy efficiency in existing housing will be upgraded. Electric heating systems will be replaced by district heating, heat pumps or biofuels. They plan to increase the use of public transit, hybrid electric cars and biodiesel powered cars.

How Sweden meets its future energy needs will be interesting. Their latest plan to phase out oil joins earlier commitments made in 1979 to phase out nuclear power and the 1998 decision to stop building new hydro plants. While any of these decisions could be modified, it appears Sweden is determined to maximize their use of efficiency and renewable energy.

Sweden is rated as having the best business creativity in the world, according to Richard Florida’s The Flight of the Creative Class (Wikipedia). It is good to know people of this caliber have focused their talents on upgrading energy efficiency and renewable energy.

As a leading figure attempting to implement sustainable development strategies on a municipal basis in Sweden, Lahti should present some stimulating ideas to fair participants.

This year’s Fair will be Aug. 11-12 at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill. Major sponsors include The Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Commonwealth Edison.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

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