Exploring a Global Leader in Sustainability

May 28th marked the beginning of our time in Lund and Malmö. We were based in Lund, a small university town, but our field school focused on Malmö, a global heavyweight with regards to sustainability that has undergone tremendous transformation.

But first, a little background; Malmö (and Southern Sweden in general) was originally a Danish settlement, which has played a role in both the culture and dialect of Swedish in Malmö. The city was a strong industrial centre during the 19th and 20th centuries, but experienced massive decrease in industry and employment in the 1970's. Later on, in the mid 1990’s, in an effort to revitalize its stagnating employment numbers, the city switched its economy away from industrial jobs through an ingenious top down approach. Malmö created the University of Malmö which now works in tandem with neighbouring Lund University as both universities have different focus’. But the main aspect of their dramatic transformation was the building of the Øresund bridge. This bridge connects Malmö to Copenhagen, Denmark, both physically and economically. Due to this change in economic priorities, Malmö has become one of the most sustainable cities in Europe, boasting a variety of environmentally friendly practices and developments. 

Walking through the city

Malmö’s public transportation is incredibly reliable, and a large majority of their buses run on biogases from waste within the city, or purchased from other cities. They have a goal to make all of the city buses run on bio-gas in the near future.

Biking in Sweden

Another great piece of the city is the huge biking infrastructure. The city has around 500km of bicycle paths, making it very convenient to cycle to most destinations within Malmö. The city also prioritizes bicycle lanes over car lanes during winter storms due to the large percentage of transportation being bicycles – with the exception of emergency routes.

The city's downtown core consists of a large car-free zone where pedestrians can enjoy food, entertainment, and shopping. This allows pedestrians to feel safe and comfortable without worrying about motor vehicles or breathing in heavy fumes. While this type of infrastructure may be hard to implement in already made car-zones, it can end up being beneficial to businesses while creating a strong social environment. As a result, these pedestrian streets seem to be constantly crowded, but in a good way. Despite potential long lines at restaurants and stores, residents do not seem to be bothered by this and are generally happy enjoying the car-free neighbourhoods. 

The Turning Torso

Another prime sustainability feature of Malmö is The Western Harbour, a large sustainable development project. This waterfront development is home to the Turning Torso, a large sustainable building and Malmö’s most recognizable landmark. The Turning Torso and the surrounding buildings are equipped with garbage disposals, which are labeled to separate waste from recyclables and compost and have many energy saving features. There is almost everything one could need within walking distance. There is also a car share program, reliable public transportation, and bicycle lanes.

The Western Harbour

Along the waterfront and surrounding areas of the development, all the buildings are painted in gray colors. But within the Western Harbour the buildings are bight colors, especially in the public spaces. The developers wanted to create a sense that the grey buildings represented a safety barrier from the harsh weather, while the colors represent a safe calm place where one can be protected from the strong winds and rain and create a relaxing, comforting feeling. Within the courtyards and public space there are gardens specifically designed to attract wildlife and to prevent flooding. Some of the developers decided to put in bat boxes, which has helped to create biodiversity within the green space and the wildlife.

Although the city has great initiatives to move forward within the field of sustainability, there are social issues that should be addressed. For example, while walking the streets, it was easy to observe a large number of homeless residents in the city. Many of these seemed to be immigrants as well, which could hint at further underlying social issues that need to be addressed in this growing city.

Despite a gracious social or welfare equivalent income, there is little provided social housing and developers only need to provide a certain amount of affordable housing in their upcoming developments. Even when housing does become available, all units are sold very quickly due to the high demand of living space and long wait lists. This high demand for housing has created an expensive housing market.

Looking at these social issues can raise the question of whom sustainable development is for. In this case, it seems that these developments are mainly local wealthy citizens due to the high prices.

As noted before, this amazing place does have issues that need to be fixed before becoming an “utopia” of sustainability, but developers from around the world can still become inspired by its sustainable development projects, amazing bicycle and transit infrastructure, and its sheer drive to become one of the most sustainable cities in the world. 

Group potluck birthday celebration at our accommodations in Lund

For further information, make sure to check out information from the city of Malmo on their website: Sustainable City Development . And if you are looking for more things to read about the trip then make sure to check out Adventures With A Deaf Guy, a blog written by one of the students on the field school! 


Lilla Varvsgatan 14
211 15 Malmo


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