Interview with Sofia McConell
Head of Green Gothenburg
Can you tell us a little about Green Gothenburg and talk us through how the project came about?
Gothenburg has a strong cleantech cluster that has very much evolved from our city's and industries’ transformation towards sustainability. As a result, we have always maintained activities that promote cleantech export, although initially we were mainly focused on bringing the exporting cleantech companies to the overseas market.
Eventually, we came to realise that there were massive opportunities for all the delegations visiting Sweden to learn from our environmental journey and experience. We then started to look for ways to take better care of these incoming business delegations who were looking for sustainability solutions, and consider how we could pair them up with companies in our region that could be potential suppliers or partners. This has proven to be an incredibly efficient way of working, since companies are able to take advantage of useful contacts and market knowledge at home without having to travel abroad. Another advantage has been that many companies already have their solutions successfully implemented in the region, and can therefore easily demonstrate these solutions for visiting delegations. As a CEO of one of the region's most successful energy companies said, “Seeing is believing.”
Gothenburg has come a long way from its roots in the shipbuilding industry to become a globalised trailblazer of sustainable development. What are some of the secrets to the city's success, and what have been the most important accomplishments during this transitionary period?
I would like to emphasise three important success factors, and these are: Decisions, Cooperation and Innovation. Gothenburg used to be known as a dirty and polluted region, and in the 80s, when the current Minister of Environment was visiting the city, she said that it was like "hell's waiting room"!
This was very much a watershed moment, prompting a number of important decisions that then led to a wave of new co-operations and innovations. One such example was the first all-encompassing municipal environmental programme, including tasks for our businesses, politicians, academia and the public. Cooperation was necessary in order to help transform those who were originally part of the problem into part of the solution. Companies began to introduce environmentally-adapted products. Municipal companies were used as tools to help create a more sustainable city, while innovations platforms were established to support companies in their transition.
To give you an example of some of the most important accomplishments to date: 90% of the city's apartment buildings are now connected to the district heating system, 95% of public transport runs on renewable energy (per passenger/km) and less than 2% of the region's waste is sent to landfill.
Green Gothenburg focuses on the core competencies of energy, urban development,waste and transport. Why are these competencies valued by the marketplace and important to businesses?
These four areas are crucial for any city aiming to be smart and sustainable and I believe successful solutions in these fields will always have a worldwide market. Gothenburg is at the very forefront in many aspects, with strong companies, a high rate of investment in R&D and a large number of advanced testbeds. Looking at, for example, the transport sector, we are home to the Volvo Group headquarters; we have city-based testbeds (including for electromobility and autonomous driving); and our public transport is widely used (5 out of 10 private journeys in Gothenburg and nearby municipalities are made using public transport.) Also, our Lindholmen Science Park has mobility projects that attract interest from companies all across the world.
A key area of focus at Green Gothenburg is your study tours, which showcase green forerunners in the Gothenburg region. What are some of the main benefits to companies that engage in one of your visiting programmes?
First of all, we put a lot of time and energy into setting up the right type of visiting programmes in order to best suit the needs of our clients, aiming to create tangible results and a positive impact. We want our visitors to be inspired by the fact that it is possible for a city to be transformed. We offer concrete knowledge that enables other cities and actors to make their journey towards sustainability much faster, and we provide useful business contacts that can lead to investments, business deals and/or policy changes.
What, in your opinion, makes Gothenburg the leading destination for sustainable FDI?
Gothenburg is recognised as a highly innovative and globally connected region. It is also growing and transforming rapidly. In order to expand and densify the city, it is expected that EUR 100 billion will have been invested in property development and infrastructure by 2035. There are therefore many opportunities for doing business in Gothenburg.
By investing in our region or setting up your business here, you can benefit from the region's industries' high R&D capacity. Private sector R&D investment is higher than in any other Swedish metropolitan region. We have universities undertaking world-class research, science parks connecting research, industry and public bodies, and research institutes enabling both large and small companies to become more innovative.
Our region also has an internationally-recognised support structure for green start-ups. Our incubators, Chalmers Ventures and GU ventures, have many exciting start-ups on board. One example is the Swedish Algae Factory, which aims at improving solar panels efficiency by their own cultivation of algae with high tech silica shells. Another company which has arisen from Gothenburg's incubator environment is LumenRadio; a world-leading company specialising in wireless IoT-applications that can be applied to environmentally-friendly buildings.
We are home to many world class international companies within the automotive, ICT, urban development and logistics sectors. Environmental focus is a must, not just to meet the strict laws and regulations, but also to respond to consumer pressure, and many companies have already realised the market potential. Essity, Volvo Group and SKF have all been ranked among the world's most sustainable companies (Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI)), to name but a few.
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