The story of Sustainable Sweden is closely linked to the story of its founder, Torbjörn Lahti, and is in the continuation of previous projects and organizations. Here are some key-events that preceded the creation of SSA, as well as some that marked the evolution of SSA.
1983 : The Birth of the first Eco-municipality, Övertorneå
In 1983, Torbjörn Lahti was offered a job as project leader for the “Municipalities and the Future” project in Övertorneå. The city was then suffering economic crisis, depopulation and strong pessimism among its inhabitants. Inspired at first by a Finnish city that called itself an ecomunicipality, the members of the projects progressively developed that concept, and created circles of discussion in each village to find solutions in collaboration with the citizens. In the efforts toward sustainability, a lot of projects flourished in Övertorneå and deeply revitalized the city and its inhabitants – until nowadays.
1990 : “The Ecological Future Society” Conference
On January 18-19, a Conference, organized by Owe Thörnquist and Torbjörn Lahti, was held at Orsa to show the initiatives that existed in Sweden on the issues of sustainable development and ecovillages. The conference gathered 400 participants, which was much more than expected ! This event was an epochal for many participants who began to work on sustainability after that, especially municipalities and villages – that would become ecomunicipalities and ecovillages.
1990 : Creation of Esam
Torbjörn Lahti established Esam short before the conference in Orsa, quickly joined by Gunnar Brundin. The main business of the consulting company at first was the launch of pilot ecomunicipalities and environmental education. It played an active role in sustainable development in Sweden, often pre-empting public actors. The company then shifted to environmental management systems for the business sector. Today, the company gathers 19 consultants specialized in different aspects of sustainable development and has become a solid business.
1995 : Creation of SEKOM
In May 1995, the Swedish municipalities that had converted themselves into eco-municipalities since 1990 finally gathered in one and unique network : the National Association of Swedish Ecomunicipalities – also called Sekom for Sveriges Ekokommuner. Thus, they became independent from any government agency or other organization, and strengthened the concept of Eco-municipality as well as their collaboration toward sustainability. Today, 107 ecomunicipalities are part of this network.
1997 : The First Sustainable Sweden Tour
In 1997, after a series of lectures and seminars in the US, a Tour was organized around Sweden to show the accomplishments of the eco-municipalities to American participants who were very eager to learn more about sustainability in Sweden. The enthusiasm was surprisingly strong from both side – the Swedish eco-municipalities and the American participants -, this experience had to be renewed.
2000 : Creation of SSA
As a second trip – with American and Japanese participants – was planned for 2001, Torbjörn Lahti decided to create an organization dedicated to those Tours and to “building bridges” between Sweden and other countries, in order to spread the ideas, connect the interested actors and thus accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. So was born Sustainable Sweden Association !
2001-2007 : Sustainable Robertsfors, the first Eco-Municipality 5.0
Robertsfors was an average little Swedish municipality when the project “Robertsfors Municipality – a pilot municipality for sustainable development” was launched, following a seminar at the Environment Forum in Västerbotten. With all the experience accumulated over the past twenty years, a new generation of Eco-municipality was gradually created : the Eco-municipality 5.0.
2008 : International Conference on Eco-municipalities
In May 2008, SEKOM, Natural Step and Sustainable Sweden organized the first International Conference on Eco-municipalities in Helsinborg, Sweden. This event gathered 100 participants from 14 countries, including two mayors from Ethiopia. This Conference, which was a success in spreading the concept of Eco-municipalities and connecting actors from around the world, marked also the starting point for the pilot-project of ecomunicipalities in Ethiopia.