There is a certain irony that at the first ever European Green Capital Conference the delegation of U.S. local leadership has garnered just as much attention and excitement as the European contingents. The U.S. delegation began the first full day of the conference with a private welcome from Ambassador Matthew Barzun followed by a press event where delegates showcased the range and depth of sustainability initiatives occurring across U.S. cities and towns. The diversity of efforts – ranging from energy efficiency in Cambridge and increased bicycle infrastructure in Portland, Minneapolis, and Boulder to smart grid integration in Tallahassee and open space preservation in Lawrence Township – discussed by the delegates demonstrate not only the unifying commitment of U.S. local leaders to sustainability but also the breadth of issues, challenges, and opportunities found across cities and towns of varying geographies and population sizes.
News of U.S. leadership at the local level on sustainability has apparently caught many European cities by surprise. While local leadership on these issues is widely recognized within the U.S., acknowledgment on an international level tends instead to focus on the lack of national commitment thus overshadowing the success at the local level. The need for greater sharing of information, resources, and opportunities among U.S. and European municipalities has been an overarching theme strongly emphasized throughout the conference. There is an eagerness and openness among delegates from all countries towards sharing experiences and learning from others. Even representatives from Stockholm, the winners of the inaugural European Green Capital award, acknowledged that they still have much to learn and continue to look for opportunities to work with a range of partners towards common solutions. In his keynote address Mr. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment recognized the importance of the U.S. presence at the conference. “We are proud to have the Americans with us fighting for the same sustainability goals as we are” said Potočnik.
To facilitate and encourage information sharing and catalyze the implementation of sustainability solutions at the local level the U.S. Embassy in Sweden has launched the Swedish-American Green Alliance – SAGA – earlier this year. The name SAGA, as explained by Ambassador Barzun is especially appropriate as a major goal of the Alliance is to share stories and begin a dialogue with U.S. and Swedish stakeholders to find opportunities for collaboration and solutions to common challenges. A list of partners and collection of updates can be found on their website, http://sagastory.blogspot.com/.