As an environmentalist, it pleases me greatly that the Obama Administration has made clean energy one of its top-priorities. This was epitomized during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit when she addressed climate change at an event together with the Swedish Environment Minister, Lena Ek at the Museum of Photography in Stockholm.
Last week I invited four great young minds to the Embassy who recently returned to Sweden after spending two weeks in the United States. These graduate students each visited a different city under a program that we launched under the Swedish American Green Alliance called REACT U.S., or Research on Environmental Action and Clean Tech in U.S. Cities.
I was pleased to hear the students confirm that real change on sustainability mainly occurs bottom-up. That is U.S. cities are leading the charge, often with support of the Federal Government, in deploying green solutions.
Calle Österlin from Stockholm University conveyed to me that strong community involvement in Portland, OR has been key in making the city one of the most environmentally friendly in the United States. Although Sweden is ahead when it comes to district heating and waste-to-energy, Portland can offer a number of green solutions to Sweden.
Portland recently launched a private car pool allowing car owners to rent another person’s car. The city has also launched an initiate named “In My Backyard” that enables people and financiers to donate money to local renewable energy projects.
Sebastian Röstberg, a student at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who visited Portsmouth, NH, also witnessed the strong grassroots movement pushing policymakers into “thinking green.” Sebastian raised an interesting point saying that municipalities in Sweden tend to have greater clout when it comes to environment issues in regards to U.S. counterparts. This leaves a much greater role of the private sector. He mentioned the shoe manufacturer Timberland as a good example. The company is looking at installing an electric vehicle charging pool at its office.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesta hosted Linda Armyr. She even appeared on local TV in Minneapolis to talk about her experiences. She said she was surprised to see an extensive web of bicycle lanes in the city and was impressed how carefully Minneapolis was keeping an eye on how it was doing on living up to the environmental goals that the City Council had established.
Finally, KTH student Linda Elonsson spent two weeks in Boulder, CO. When she arrived the city was in the midst of debating a new tax on plastic bags. This is a trend we are seeing around the United States. Californian cities Los Angeles and San Jose have taken this one step further and entirely banned plastic bags. Linda Elonsson cited this as an example how many decisions that are taken nationally in Sweden are taken locally in the U.S.
I really believe that people-to-people exchanges are the best way to learn about and from each other. Listening to the students brought that point home to me. We are looking at ways to continue and hopefully expand REACT. Here is a link to interviews with the students I conducted after our meeting.