One of the conferences I attended at WIREC 2008 was this one: SymbioCity, Sweden's approach to sustainable urban development. SymbioCity is Sweden's answer to get more for less by integrating different urban technology solutions to create synergy effects. Symbiosis in Swedish means '..the integration of two or more organism in a mutually beneficial union.."
I was literally ga-ga when I heard them talking about the concept. SymbioCity is a 'big picture' concept looking inward at creating a better environment for the society. When you look at how municipality works, you find that each of the function operates separately. We get a combination of urban planning, sewage, trash companies that are working independently of one another.
Sweden started early with their sustainable approach. Took the leading role in organizing the first UN conference on the environment - held in, yes, Stockholm in 1972. During the oil crisis in the 70's and 80's, they realized that they needed find new sources of energy. What a concept! Unlike the US, Sweden stay true to their concept/ approach - to this day. The focus never been short-term, but rather long-term. Long-term approach is key.
The results, according to their data.
- Since the 70's, the dependence on oil for heating and electricity production in Sweden has gone down by 90%
- Over the period 1990-2006 Swedish carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by 9% while at the same time GNP increased by 44%.
The thing is, Sweden also a big oil and gas producer in the world! So, what does this tell us? They take their 'environmental policies' very serious. And it pays off. Because for them sustainable growth is a shared responsibility, a cooperation between the stakeholders (public-private partnerships) and citizens.
The symbiosis in SymbioCity includes, combine waste management and heat production for a new power, waste water treatment and traffic systems for biofuel that can be used for public transport, and combine industrial waste heat with the municipal energy plant that help cut energy production costs in half. The concept is scalable. It can be implemented in small (a building), medium (district) to large (city) scale.
- Automatic underground waste collection systems
- District heating and cooling system fueled partly by local waste collection and by heat exchanger in water treatment
- Solar-powered hot water and electricity
- Biogas from household sewage water and waste
- Collection and filtration of runoff water
- Super-efficient buildings, green roofs, et.
The concept has been duplicated all over the world: China, Canada and South Africa. The first construction phases completed in 2000. There will be 11,000 apartments and 35,000 workplaces and 25,000 residents.
One word for their environmental success: a-ma-zing. At the same time, property values also increased by 26%!
Heard for the first time at the conference, the term 'district heating'. This district heating thing needs another post.
District heating is far more efficient than traditional individual household heating and thus releases much less carbon dioxide. From 1990, Swedish carbon dioxide emissions from district heating have been reduced by 60% or three times the EU targets for 2020. The use of fossil oil in district heating has gone down from 80% to 3% and the total Swedish carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by 25% since the 70’s thanks to district heating.
As a country, Sweden is number #3 in the world based on '2008 Environmental Performance Index,' a method of quantifying and numerically scaling the environmental performance of a set of companies or countries. For a comparison, the U.S. is nowhere near the top 30 countries in the world (#39).
You see, it takes them long-time (20+ years) to get where Sweden is today. Clean environment. Locally produced clean energy. Green living. Now that we're faced with rising oil prices, slow economy, etc., - only recently interests in energy-efficiency, energy independence - hit the high gear. It is something that we (all) can agree on that long-term vision in urban growth is desperately needed here.
The question here, how much time do we have to do all this?
image & data: SymbioCity
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