International sustainability efforts – not necessarily a world apart

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Stockholm, Sweden is a deserving recipient of the first-ever European Green Capital designation awarded by the European Commission and celebrated last week during a three-day conference bringing together municipal leaders from across Europe and the U.S. At the event, delegates learned about the city’s impressive efforts to restore water quality surrounding the city’s 14 islands to such a high standard that people can fish and swim in the same water used for drinking; about waste reduction efforts that maximize reuse and recycling while converting remaining materials into energy; and about highly efficient district heating and cooling systems found in buildings across the city. Stockholm truly is a beautiful blue-green city with much to offer others hoping to follow its example.

And despite the unending range of sustainability initiatives and examples, when asked which initiatives or efforts they would consider most important, representatives from both U.S. and European delegations easily identified common ground. Simply put: there is no one thing that makes a city sustainable. Rather, representatives agreed, the key to successful sustainability efforts lie in the combination and integration of sustainability objectives throughout city operations, planning, and development.

Comprehensiveness and integration are important aspects of sustainability too often overlooked in the quest to identify and isolate “low-hanging fruit” and maximize the impact of individual programs or policies (i.e. energy efficiency, waste reduction, water quality, etc). Taking a broader perspective and approach reminds us that far from a collection of separate programs, sustainability is an ongoing process comprised of complementary efforts. When approached in this way, sustainability initiatives highlight connections across issues and sectors (i.e. housing, transportation, land use, public health, buildings, energy, etc.) and offer solutions that bring together resources and stakeholders – both locally and globally.

In this spirit, the U.S. delegation of local leaders set the stage for ongoing information and resource sharing with international counterparts. During the final day of the conference, delegates were invited to the U.S. Embassy to take part in a special session with Swedish municipal leaders where the informal dialogue provided both groups with an opportunity to share perspectives on the roles of local leadership in sustainability and develop a better understanding of common challenges and approaches to a range of issues. NLC is excited to continue working and learning with Swedish municipalities and demonstrated this commitment during a concluding reception where NLC President Ron Loveridge signed a declaration on behalf of U.S. cities and towns to support ongoing dialogue and information sharing through SAGA – the Swedish-American Green Alliance.

NLC would like to especially thank U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun and all those at the U.S. Embassy who not only made this trip possible but who had worked so hard to make it a tremendous success!