By Ilmar Reepalu - 12th April 2013
Sustainability is not a cost; it is an opportunity to save costs and build economies
Malmö has transformed from an industrial town to a modern and sustainable city, Ilmar Reepalu explains how it happened.
Crises, like the one Europe is facing right now, have happened before. Malmö, in the southern part of Sweden, has over the last decades undertaken a remarkable journey from an industrial city based on a huge shipyard and heavy industries, to a modern city of knowledge and sustainability. In Malmö we believe sustainability can walk hand in hand with economic and social development.
The journey of Malmö from industrial harbour town to modern cosmopolitan city is one shared with many other western cities over the last century. But although its history is far from unique, Malmö’s solutions have taken a different approach, putting us at the forefront of cities working towards sustainability. The transformation of the city is especially obvious in the western harbour, where polluted industrial areas have been replaced with offices and residential buildings.
When the Kockums shipyard in Malmö closed down, together with other important industries, the city lost tens of thousands of jobs. At its peak, the shipyard had more than 6000 employees at one single company. Today the same area is rebuilt with sustainable housing and offices and hosts about 10,000 employees, but at 300 different companies and organisations. The western harbour attracts 5000 visitors every year, coming to see the local renewable energy system, high biodiversity and mobility solutions.
Since we know that one of the largest challenges for the coming years is to refurbish the existing housing stock, both in Malmö and the rest of Europe, our experiences from the successful transformation in Augustenborg, with green roofs and retrofitted houses, are invaluable. The city of Malmö has already started the implementation of some of the good examples in city districts, such as Rosengård and Lindängen.
By incinerating the residual waste, we generate electricity and heat water for our widely established district heating grid. Food waste is being collected and anaerobically treated to produce energy-rich biogas that runs our city buses and a large portion of the taxis and municipal vehicles. If we consider waste as a resource, instead of a problem, we gain both environmental benefits and economic development.
Malmö is today linked by 470 kilometres of bicycle paths, more than any other Swedish city – in fact even five kilometres more than our sister-city Copenhagen, famous for its bicycle culture. Bicycling in Malmö is on the rise, with some 30 per cent of total transport occurring by bicycle. As much as 40 per cent of all work-related activities are undertaken by bicycle. Cycling saves money due to less stress on the infrastructure and better health for our citizens, and we know from local studies that we will save more than €10m a year with our continuous bicycling measures in Malmö.
The city of Malmö has a holistic focus on sustainability. The political ambition and leadership is strong with ambitious targets. The city departments cooperate with each other and with enterprises, universities and organisations. The aim is to use ecological development as a driving force for economic growth and social innovation – a challenge that includes and demands commitment from all actors in society.
The rebranding of Malmö, which has taken place over the last 10 years, has transformed the image of the city and brought tangible benefits to its residents. Malmö today is part of a cross border employment market and the housing market is strong. A combination of landmark architecture and strong commitment to sustainability has put Malmö firmly on the international map.
Tourism, including professional study tours, is a growing aspect of Malmö’s economy, and by hosting events such as the Eurovision song contest in May 2013, planned to be the greenest ever, the name and positive reputation of Malmö has reached a far wider audience. By showcasing the best of Swedish sustainable technologies in our work, we are at the same time providing a marketing opportunity for leading Swedish businesses in a competitive global marketplace in which sustainable technologies is one of the growth sectors.
Sustainability is not about tomorrow, it is about today. It is not about rocket science or future technologies; it is about applying the technologies we have today, but doing it better, more efficiently and faster. Sustainability is not about sacrifice, but is about embracing a new quality of life. Sustainability is not a cost; it is an opportunity to save costs and build economies. Sustainability is not a state that has been achieved in Malmö, but Malmö will continue to give and receive knowledge to develop our city and help others around the world develop more sustainable cities.
Ilmar Reepalu is mayor of Malmö, Sweden