Boosted by plenty of morning coffee and pastry, the attendees sat at a semi-circle of tables facing the podium, panelist table and the screen for a day of facts and fascinating comparisons.
Karin Widegren, Sweden’s Science/Technology Attaché in San Francisco opened the program by explaining that in the 1970's Sweden was one of the most petroleum-dependent countries in Europe. But as Sweden became aware of the toll this was taking on the citizens' and country’s environment, Stockholm was chosen to host Europe’s first Conference on Climate and the Environment in 1972. Today Sweden is the only OECD country with less than 50 percent of its energy demand supplied by petro-fuels.
While maintaining a high energy consumption, Sweden has reduced its petroleum dependency by more than 70 percent, with 25-45 percent being generated by sustainable products and processes such as hydro-power, windmills, biomass and alternative fuels (ethanol and bio-diesel). Part of this clean energy is supplied by their ten nuclear plants, which they have decided to retain.
Another fascinating aspect is that Sweden is switching from taxing labor to taxing energy consumption, which began with its Green Tax in 2001. The new goal for 2020 is to generate 25 TWh (terra watt hours). For the future they will follow the EU energy goals: eco-sustainabillity, secure supply, competitive.

Panel of cities
Another part of the Sustainable Innovation Conference was an interesting panel of cities’ comparative practices.
Caroline Dahl from Skåne’s administrative board described her province and the vibrant Örresund region comprised of Copehagen and Malmö, made possible by the Örresund Bridge. Now there is a free flow in both directions, with Danes coming to live in Skåne and Swedes commuting to work in Copenhagen. With a country about the size of California but a population of nine million (the size of Los Angeles), only half of Swedes live in cities. She also noted that Sweden went from total oil dependence in the 1970s to a reduction of 90% at present. But the real change has been its emphasis upon SymbioCity, which is Sweden’s term for today's symbiotic and holistic perspective to view waste itself as a resource. Malmö’s first efforts of SymbioCity were supplying exhaust from factories to heat homes throughout the city.
Garrett Fitzgerald, speaking for Oakland, California — the fourth greenest city in California (San Francisco ranks first in both state and country for sustainability and for keeping waste from landfills) — told how his city is implementing sustainability. Among these implementations are: electric cars and encouraging battery swapping stations for them; creating light rail routes elevated above existing roads (but with many small pods, rather than large trains, zipping through the system); reusing all materials from deconstruction; providing green workforce development (though quickie learning is not sufficient); offering energy efficiency financing programs; and planning for transit-oriented, dense mixed-use development. Concerned about possibly incentivizing waste by generating energy from waste, Oakland is carefully redesigning its zero-waste system.


Keynote by Commissioner Boyd
The conference's keynote speaker was Commissioner James Boyd, Vice Chair of the state’s Energy Commission. His comparison focused on California as the eighth largest economy (California = $1.6 trillion GDP; Sweden = $385 billion); with 27 million motor vehicles for 37 million people. And whereas California is the nation’s green leader — the state has the lowest per capita energy use in the U.S. due to its efficiency standards — in contrast to Sweden’s carbon reductions, California is increasingly reliant on foreign oil and is the second largest emitter of green house gasses (GHG) in the U.S. (12th largest in the world), releasing 500 million metric tons per year. At 40 percent of the state total, the transportation sector is the single largest source of GHG emissions, with buildings accounting for another 20 percent (which is why retrofitting may be one of the easiest fixes). Right behind the U.S. and China as the largest gasoline consumers is California.
Like the science attaché, the commissioner also referred to the Memo of Understanding (MOU) between Sweden and California in June 2006, which focuses on: jointly pursuing climate friendly fuels for transportation; cooperative R&D for renewable energy; pursing fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrid electric vehicles; and developing biogas technologies to bridge vehicle fuel to hydrogen.
Boyd noted the multiple common interests between the two peoples as the basis for collaboration. Both economies are heavily dependent on energy for its peoples, goods transport and industry. Each places a high policy priority on sustainable energy supplies, fuel diversity and energy security. Both have a heavy reliance on petroleum-based fuels in the transportation sector. California can learn from Sweden’s example of waste biomass resources from agriculture, forestry and urban waste streams. But both committed to develop renewable energy sources, particularly hydroelectric and biomass.
Boyd then spoke about California’s multiple policy objectives and specific policies and laws, after which he reviewed the opportunities for collaboration between the two peoples. California can learn from Sweden’s experience in travel reduction in the following areas: using congestion taxes, park-and-ride and public transportation; eco-driving practices and land use models. He pointed out the joint pursuit of renewable power and alternative transportation fuels: Sweden’s policy to become “oil free"; biogas development in Sweden; State alternative fuels and bio-energy action plans; and advanced technology (plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles). And California is now offering $120 million per year to incent alternative fuels; state businesses can either apply for outright grants or low-interest loans.
Boyd summarized the multiple state policy drivers. He pledged that the Energy Commission intends to promote energy security through efficiency and fuel diversity while addressing global climate change. California remains committed to a diverse portfolio of transportation fuels and vehicles. The state’s investment in energy efficiency as well as alternative and renewable energy remains a high priority, but many new and existing programs will benefit from the collaboration between Sweden and California. We could learn from them ways to meet our bio-energy goals by creating energy from agricultural field waste, waste food, manure methane and urban waste. He noted, however, that Californians are averse to burning municipal solid waste due to a misperception about air pollution. Above all, Sweden is superior to us in land use planning.

Green building
Following a networking lunch, the afternoon’s sessions were equally specific and helpful, focusing on statewide industry insights in the areas of green building (featuring Dan Geiger, Executive Director, of Northern California’s chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council), solar (Kristina Peterson, VP-SunTech America), bio-fuels (Jonathan Wolfson and Mark Bünger), and waste management from the perspective of Honorary Consul for Sweden in Ontario Lars Henriksson. Concrete advice was offered to attendees about funding: how to take advantage of stimulus funds as well as the perspective from venture capitalists.
Attendees went away with many ideas from a sterling lineup of speakers and an enjoyable opportunity to ask them questions as well as network with others. With clean tech and climate change perpetual topics for the longterm, there may be a demand for such an annual sustainability innovation conference if the quality of speakers can be matched. All appreciated the work of Charlotte Danielsson, who produced this excellent forum.
Submitted by Ted Olsson, SACC-SF/SV