Could VÃ¤xjÃ¶, a small city in southern Sweden, really be the greenest of the green? Though we are typically loath to make such hyperbolic statements, this particular city makes a strong case for holding that lofty title. In fact, the European Union recently bestowed its inaugural award for sustainable development on this tiny city - an award many equate with the distinction of being the "greenest city in Europe."
The key to their sustainable success? A single power plant. Unlike most power plants, which rely on coal or oil as a source of energy, VÃ¤xjÃ¶'s plant runs entirely on woodchips and other biomass waste from the area's sawmills. In addition to providing electricity, the plant also supplies 90% of the city's heating and hot water. "We are in the middle of the woodshed and we wanted to take advantage of that," said Tommy Sandh, who works in the plant's control room. The way the plant operates is simple: the gases produced as wood burns are condensed into a liquid, which is purified and then pumped around town - providing tap water and a source of heating.What is perhaps most unusual about this small Swedish city is just how early it decided to go green. After announcing that it was planning on becoming a "Fossil Fuel Free City" by 2050 more than 10 years ago, VÃ¤xjÃ¶ has taken several intermediate steps and is well on its way: it has already managed to reduce per-capita carbon emissions by 25% and now has the lowest urban level in Europe.
The next step: cutting emissions caused by cars and buildings. Though the city council already owns a fleet of ethanol-powered cars, it hasn't yet been able to convince all of VÃ¤xjÃ¶'s residents to follow suit. Besides for seeking additional support and funding from the Swedish government, the council plans on converting its public transportation system and is considering offering free parking for all low-emission vehicles. To minimize emissions from homes and offices, the city is turning to an elegant and carbon-neutral solution: wooden buildings.
It's clear to us that, as Anders Franzen, the city's head of planning and development, put it, we "could learn a lot from VÃ¤xjÃ¶."