Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Building Sustainable Cities

From: The Environmental Magazine, vol. XVI, no. 5
Building Sustainable Cities

Scandinavia’s “Eco-Municipalities” Show the Way
by Miranda Spencer
The headquarters of Umeå Energy,
which provides heat and electricity
from residential solid waste.
© BRYANT MORODER/SUSTAIN DANE

Sustainable development is a popular environmental catchphrase, but it’s not always clear what sustainability looks like beyond demonstration projects such as recycling centers or the occasional “green” building. Now North Americans are starting to look at Sweden for both models and methods of sustainability.

Since 1997, Esam, a self-described “human ecological corporation” based in Umeå, and the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based nonprofit Alliance for Sustainability have been co-sponsoring annual Sustainable Sweden Tours to some of the country’s 70 “eco-municipalities.” These places have voluntarily committed to integrating sustainability principles as official, across-the-board policy. From rural villages to the urban capital of Stockholm, the communities arrived at decisions and crafted innovative green solutions using a holistic, democratic planning process called the Natural Step framework (TNS).

TNS combines a scientifically based definition of sustainability with a systems approach to community planning. Developed in 1988 by Swedish oncologist Karl-Henrik Robért and a group of European experts, it addresses the fact that the polluting substances we release into the natural environment never disappear, only transform or disperse. To become sustainable, societies need to meet four “system conditions”: reduce or eliminate the use of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (like oil) and produced by society (like synthetic chemicals); reduce or eliminate the degradation of ecosystems (like sprawling development); and at the same time, meet human needs. Participants envision a better future, then figure out how to get there using community assets... [full article]

Sustainable Sweden
Phone: (877)278-7824

Alliance for Sustainability
Phone: (612) 331-1099

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