Friday, July 12, 2024
 
 

The business of sustainability: A Swedish success story

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From popstars to flat-pack pioneers, the Swedes are no strangers to global domination, but today the flag they fly is not so much blue and gold, but green.

Having taken the top spot for the second year running in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index for Green Living, Sweden is now playing host to the ICLEI World Congress, putting the city of Malmö under the eco-spotlight for the coming year. The ICLEI is a global network of more than 1,750 governments committed to sustainable development.

Malmö Mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh said: “Malmö is a young and global city, located in the biggest labour market region of the north. We have made a journey from an industrial city to a modern, climate-smart university city, during a short period of time, and I believe that the challenges that we face are relatable to many cities around the world.”

In 2015, Malmö was the first city in Sweden to fully embrace the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with politicians confident they could run the city on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. As a result, Malmö has won several awards, receiving national and worldwide recognition for its record of sustainable development.

According Mayor Stjernfeldt Jammeh the secret to Malmö’s success, and Sweden’s creeping power in the sustainability market, has been a healthy collaboration between the corporate world and the climate lobby, and the idea that sustainability and profitability can walk hand-in-hand is a concept that has grown in popularity following the pandemic. 

“The pandemic has changed the perspective on what types of buildings are necessary,” Mayor Stjernfeldt Jammeh admitted.

One of Sweden’s greatest eco-success stories is the rehabilitation of Hammarby Sjöstad in the inner city of Stockholm. In the early 90s, the district had a reputation for being a run-down, polluted and unsafe industrial and residential area. Today it is one of Stockholm’s stand-out residential areas and one of the world’s most successful urban renewal districts. In fact, it is so successful, a replica Hammarby is being constructed in Yantai, in China’s Shandong province.

White Peak – the largest European residential developer in China – is the force behind the scheme. Essentially a fund manager, the company is the epitome of Swedish corporate commitment to climate change solutions.

For CEO Jesper Jos Olsson, China’s growing realisation of what green building should actually look like, coupled with a hygiene hangover from the coronavirus, is what is now driving the surge in demand for sustainable housing throughout China.

He said: “Before Covid, people thought that better energy efficiency was a great idea, but they weren’t so keen on paying for it. After Covid there was a dramatic shift in customer behaviour. People are now taking more care not only about the air they breathe, but also the water they drink, and what used to be a middle-selling project has ended up being our best-selling project in this city.”

The award-winner developer, ranked Number One in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark for the past five years, has been building residential developments in China for fifteen years and is currently active in ten cities across three provinces in the north east. With roughly 15,000 apartments in production on an annual basis, Olsson says he has learned over the years not to rely on intuition, but on data.

He said: “We have a strictly data driven approach and China has a vast amount of data. So, we take all of this data and put it into systems and try to analyse markets and product design.”

Having analysed the data, Olsson said he was still surprised by the sudden uptick in White Peak’s eco-friendly properties post-covid. “But it makes sense,” he said. “We have always had more energy efficient buildings than the national standards and we’ve always utilised environment technology in our building from heat exchangers to materials with less energy leakage. Yantai takes this commitment to the next level, with more insulation, more European technology, solar technology and underground garbage systems to deal with bacterial issues.”

The Hammarby Eco City Yantai will eventually be home to 20,000 Chinese living in a Swedish-style community, and will be rolled out to more urban developments in the coming years. And Olsson also fully expects other developers to follow where Sweden leads.

White Peak CEO Jesper Jos Olsson.

He said: “Globally, it’s becoming clear that if everyone wants to meet their carbon targets, there is going to have to be a drastic change in property development and urbanization, making these spaces more energy efficient. And if you want to be a developer in these markets you will need to understand your footprint.”

Malmö and White Peak’s happy marriage of corporate ambition and environmental responsibility is a common theme that runs through much of modern Sweden. In their book ‘Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming your Company, your Industry and the World’, Henrik Henriksson, CEO of Scania, and Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, founder of the AI Sustainability Center, argue that corporate sustainability is no longer a philanthropic nod to the green lobby, but rather a necessary and mutually beneficial relationship between corporations, society and the health of the planet.

Based on climate science and global trends, the authors believe the mark of true leadership is an ability to find solutions that create value for companies and society “by minimizing corporate negative impacts and maximizing its positive social, environmental and economic impact while creating long-term value for all stakeholders.”

During the past two decades, Malmö has acted as Sweden’s eco guinea pig; a testing site for sustainable solutions such as holistic development, climate adaptation, green regeneration and smart energy solutions. In a year’s time – covid allowing – Malmö will offer ICLEI members a chance to see how they made sustainability work for the good of everyone, including big business.

Mayor Stjernfeldt Jammeh said: With courage, creativity and curiosity, the city tests the solutions of tomorrow. That’s how we turn sustainability into reality and inspire others to follow. We are confident that we can make a difference as a city, in a national and international context.

“As we in Malmö accelerate the climate work further, the World Congress is an excellent opportunity to show what the city and business, civil society and academia do locally, while we at the same time get the opportunity to learn and refine new ideas to move forward.”

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