In 1991, the southern Swedish city became the first in the world to declare its intention to become fossil-fuel free. So how much progress has been made, and does Växjö offer a blueprint for bigger cities too?
Within minutes of meeting the mayor of Europe’s self-proclaimed greenest city, it is clear where he draws much of his inspiration from.
It’s not just the fact that 61-year-old Bo Frank is wearing a black Beatles T-shirt and has a Beatles badge pinned to the lapel of his jacket. When he shows me into his office on the ground floor of Växjö city hall, Fab Four memorabilia is everywhere you look – along with photos of Sweden’s king and queen, Barack Obama, and a black-and-white sketch of himself with long hair and a flowered shirt from when he was first elected to Växjö (pronounced Veck-Ruh) city council 41 years ago.
The flowing locks are long gone, but Frank has lost none of his Beatles-era idealism as he steers this small southern Swedish city (population 89,000) to becoming fossil-fuel free by 2030 – a target the council, led by Frank, agreed as long ago as 1991, becoming the first city in the world to do so.
Frank signs off his emails with the final lyric from The End on 1969’s Abbey Road: “The love you take is equal to the love you make” – and the line also appears on some of the council’s green bumpf. “Each citizen must contribute,” he says by way of explanation. “You can’t just blame others and expect them to do something. You have to start with yourself: the way you purchase, the way you live, the way you drive, the way you use transport, heat and electricity. Demand is very important to making change.”
And the change so far has been impressive. CO2 emissions per resident were 2.4 tonnes last year, among the lowest in Europe – a 48% drop from when city started measuring its emissions in 1993. And it has done so without sacrificing growth: between 1993 and 2012, GDP per capita increased by 90%. A BBC documentary in 2007 labelled Växjö the “greenest city in Europe”, and the city has clearly worked hard to live up to the accolade – although there is no official way to compare cities’ “greenness”. […]