Besides basic challenges such as poverty, infrastructure, health care and education, India also faces severe environmental challenges. These environmental challenges, like water and waste water clean-up, improved waste management, air quality and renewable energy generation are not only intimately related to other basic needs, but combating them are of fundamental importance for the sustainable development of the country. Large sums of money are now invested by the Indian government not only to resolve its most immediate environmental problems, but also to develop smart, green cities and infrastructure.

In order to come to grips with the environmental challenges the world faces new technology and technology development is important. However there is often an over-reliance on technology and an underassessment of the importance (and power) of comprehensive public management, which hampers the implementation of new technology and leads to a wastage of resources and prevents goals being achieved.

Sweden is generally perceived as being at the forefront of environmental and sustainable development, and although there is still much to accomplish, Sweden can offer some valuable experiences from its development towards a more sustainable and resilient society.

Sweden’s Journey towards Sustainability

In the period after the Second World War right up until the early 1980s, Sweden was the fastest growing economy in the world after Japan. Between 1965 and 1974 it had one of the most intense urbanisation programs in the western world. During these 10 years, one million new homes were built for a population of eight million people, which represents over double the rate of China’s urbanisation today.

Initially, this rapid period of industrialisation and urbanisation took its toll on the environment with Sweden being the most oil dependent industrialised country in the world in the early 1980s. However things have since changed and today, 51 per cent of all Sweden’s energy is renewable. Locally produced biofuel is the single largest source of energy, constituting 32 per cent of Sweden’s energy mix. Furthermore, 25 per cent of North America and Europe’s geothermal storage capacity is in Sweden. Not only that but the water in central Stockholm is so clean that you can drink it, swim in it and eat the fish from it. Sweden was also recently internationally acknowledged for recycling 99 per cent of its waste.

How did this happen? Were these massive improvements in the environmental status of the country due to some new technological breakthrough? No, it was down to what Sweden now refers to as Public Eco Governance, a holistic and inclusive approach to society’s environmental challenges that takes into account the social and cultural aspects of environmental change whilst focusing on finding synergic solutions. Three of the world’s most renowned sustainable urban developments, located in Stockholm and Malmo and visited by tens of thousands of inter national experts every year, are excellent examples of Swedish Public Eco Governance.

In April 2010 Vice President Xi Jinping visited the world-renowned eco-city project, Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm studying environmental solutions like Envac’s underground waste transportation systems.

Public Eco Governance

Public Eco Governance is a process management philosophy, which identifies overall goals based on input from all stakeholders and ‘end users’ and then formulates this into an integrated action plan with open and interactive meetings that aim to fine tune the plan as it evolves. It focuses on identifying synergies, in order to maximise value through the sharing of knowledge between industries and companies, as well as spurring innovation through promoting openness and a collaborative approach. This open platform generates new ideas from a wider pool of expertise that, in turn, has the potential to affect positive environmental change.

Urban development is a complex task and it will become even more complex in the future. In order to master the challenges ahead of us, not the least the environmental, we need to challenge our processes and organisational structures. We need new methods of collaborating across sectors and new process management tools.

Many cities around the world would score much better on their environmental agendas if they would take a more holistic and collaborative approach to their challenges, looking for synergies rather than obstacles, being inclusive rather than exclusive and being challenging rather than protective.

India has achieved a significant amount in only a few decades; however the challenges the country faces today with regards to improving its sustainability credentials will not be met by technology alone. It is here where Sweden, its industries, governments and research & education institutions can offer inspiration and assistance to the Indian society.

Jonas Törnblom is Senior Vice President at Envac AB and Board member of Malmberg Water AB.