Easy, low-carbon living in chic Stockholm suburb
A chic, high-tech suburb of Stockholm could hold part of the answer to reducing daily energy and waste consumption as part of the global battle to fight climate change.
As EU countries lock horns over a deal to slash CO2 emissions across the continent, the inhabitants of Hammarby Sjöstad are effortlessly reducing their carbon footprint by up to half thanks to state-of-the-art planning and design.
Outwardly, there are few signs that these elegant apartments with their large windows and balconies overlooking gardens and a river have been built with the environment in mind. They bear all the hallmarks of sleek Scandinavian design, with light, open spaces, ultra-modern fittings and wooden floors. But closer inspection reveals solar panels running on the top of handrails and roofs and reflectors used to maximise streetlights.
"You would not know it but everything here has been designed to reduce carbon emissions, down to the very last detail," says Eric Freundenthal, an environmental spokesman for Hammarby.
"The buildings are insulated and triple-glazed to save energy, all the waste is recycled and people don't have to use cars because there is free, public transport into the city."
How to live cleanly
Hammarby Sjöstad aims to emit half the CO2 of other new housing areas thanks to:
Energy: renewable fuels, biogas products and re-use of waste heat coupled with efficient energy consumption in buildings.
Water & sewage: new technology for water saving and sewage treatment.
Waste: material and energy recycling maximised wherever possible.
Transportation: fast public transport, combined with car pools and cycle paths, in order to reduce private car usage.
Building materials: healthy, dry and environmentally sound.
Boats and skis
Taking his young daughter to one of the playgrounds, one resident said:
"We have a really high-quality of life here. We can travel by boat into town for free and live in this beautiful place surrounded by water."
Pointing into the distance to a huge hill which is covered with snow in winter, he added:
"And we even have a ski slope!"
Another man in his fifties boasts that his friends had their heating on most of the year in this Nordic corner of Europe, "but we've only just switched it on here, because our flat doesn't lose heat."
Energy-saving is gearing up to be a key issue in the race against climate change, with some politicians bemoaning that it is still too low on the list of priorities in the EU.
"Our buildings lose at least 40 per cent of their energy, it's a massive waste and it's something we should be tackling first, instead of racing to find new fuels," says Claude Turmes, an MEP from Luxembourg.
EU countries have to agree on an ambitious programme to slash CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 by December, but Poland and other countries are threatening to veto the plans, arguing that the overhaul will be too costly and demanding on industry.
Families instead of gangs
Hammarby currently houses around 11,000 residents but will eventually grow to a community of 26,000, with shops, bars and restaurants and a huge public library open seven days a week. Unbeknown to visitors, it has been built on what used to be an urban no-man's-land, home to gangs and industrial waste.
"This was a real wasteland and we found tons of industrial waste up in the ground. Now it's one of the cleanest places you could wish to be,"says Eric. Walking towards three coloured waste-bins, he explains that the rubbish is first sorted and then sucked through underground pipes to arrive at an incinerator on the outskirts of Stockholm, where it is recycled to produce energy. "We don't look at garbage as garbage, but as a resource to make energy."
The wonder of Hammarby is that no one who moves here is forced to change their habits - all the work is done for them.
"We've installed things that people don't have to think for themselves. The toilets use less water, and all the electrical appliances are energy saving," says Eric, turning on a tap to demonstrate that the water is filled with air. "It gives the impression that more is coming out," he winks.
Hammarby regularly scoops international prizes and urban planners from around the globe come to get ideas.
"It's really become a brand for making a new city area."
However, this clean living does come with a price tag. Monthly rents start at around Euro800 per month, higher than the average in Sweden.