How municipalities can make a difference

Agenda 2030, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted by the world’s leaders in 2015.
“We have to make these disparate goals manageable in practice. Municipalities are extremely important in achieving this”, says researcher Sara Gustafsson.

Thor Balkhed

She is a link between the ambitious, visionary goals of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the practical reality of municipalities. For 20 years she has studied the sustainability initiatives of municipalities, in particular how this work is to be managed.

From words to action

Portrait of a blonde woman in cerise blouse in front of a windowSara GustafssonPhoto credit Anna ValentinssonSara Gustafsson is associate professor in environmental technology and management and newly appointed director of the Centre for Municipal Studies (CKS) at Linköping University. Since she began as a researcher, she has worked consciously to convey her research results to municipalities and regions by creating networks, lecturing, and writing popular science reports. Today she is frequently engaged as a speaker and adviser for municipalities around the country, spreading her knowledge of how they can shift from visionary words to concrete action in their Agenda 2030 work. The aim of the Agenda is to work towards a sustainable world, that is, to meet the needs of today while not jeopardising the possibility for future generations to live well.

Long-term approach essential

“There’s no law saying that municipalities have to work with the UN Agenda, but they all do, more or less explicitly”, she says.
In the 1990s, sustainability efforts at the local level were dominated by environmental aspects, but in recent years economic and social aspects have also been included.
“All the goals need to be adapted to the operations at municipal level. It's there, closest to the citizens, that things really happen.”

Thinking innovatively, doing more

Sara Gustafsson’s many years of research in strategic sustainability management have been helpful to the municipalities in their everyday work.
“My research shows that this work must be done in the municipalities’ existing management systems, if it is to be effective for instance in budgeting, management systems and operational plans. Working with sustainability issues on the margins, for instance in short term projects, will not produce any results.”

Norrköping Municipality coordinates its transports wherever possible. Today’s delivery is received by the kitchen staff at the Söderporten school. Photo credit Thor BalkhedNorrköping Municipality was early to seek collaboration with Sara Gustafsson. This took place within the research programme Sustainable Norrköping, which focussed on urban development. Since then the collaboration has continued in periods. Like most municipalities, Norrköping aims to integrate the Agenda 2030 goals in its day-to-day operations.

Garden plots and solar panels

Jannica Schelin is process manager and coordinator at Norrköping Municipality.
“We just got help with concretising and implementing the global goals – what we should do, how we should think innovatively, and what we should do more of”, she says.

Norrköping Municipality has analysed how the 17 global goals are interconnected with the municipal goals. This work has just begun, and in the first phase, the global goals have been presented on the municipal intranet so that the employees can learn more about them. They also get help to organise their own workshops to find out which goals relate to their particular operations, and how they, in their day-to-day work, can work toward the goals. This is a matter of both small and large measures, everything from garden plots for tenants and free loans of sports and leisure equipment to reducing food waste, energy efficiency, renewable fuels, reduced use of plastic, and more solar panels on municipal properties.

Integrate in day-to-day work

Karin Faxér is investigator for environmental strategy in Norrköping.
The truck’s low clearance height allows it to pass under low bridges, so it can take the shortest route to the various municipal operations. Photo credit Thor Balkhed“The sustainability work must be integrated in the day-to-day work - in schools, in care, in care, everywhere. There are already several good examples in our municipality. Now we have to raise the bar a notch”, she says.

A common language

Sara Gustafsson notes that Agenda 2030 provides all the various actors with a common language, which facilitates the sustainability work.
“It’s important, so that we all pull in the same direction. Even if Agenda 2030 won’t solve all the sustainability problems in full, the work can help people realise that more can be done at home than what they might have thought.”

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