Grow Smarter

Årsta, Sweden

SDG 7: Affordable and clean energySDG 9: Industry innovation and infrastructureSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 13: Climate action
Grow Smarter (GS) was initiated in 2015 by the Environmental Department of the City of Stockholm to use the opportunity renovate existing buildings and areas into models for more energy efficient, smart, and sustainable communities.



Following the Paris agreement in 2017, cities all over Europe have set similar corresponding goals for sustainable development, including a heavy reduction of fossil fuel emissions. By 2040, the City of Stockholm aims to become fossil free and the world’s smartest city, next to its general ambition to be a city “for everyone”.

Stockholm has been reducing its fossil fuel emissions since 1990. Realising the ambitious goal of zero emission is, however, steadily becoming more challenging because previous achievements can be classified as “low hanging fruits”. Reaching zero emissions requires both innovative and large-scale adjustments of housing, transport, and infrastructure systems.

Many cities launch innovative sustainable urban development programmes to solve these issues, such as Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Stockholm (as, in previous decades, Hammarby Sjöstad). To accelerate this effort, however, cities experience a need to team up with industrial actors in targeting the already existing housing stock. Stockholm’s building boom during the 1960s generated many apartments that are now in need of renovation, as is the case in other European cities. Grow Smarter (GS) was initiated in 2015 by the Environmental Department of the City of Stockholm as an opportunity to renovate existing buildings and areas into models for more energy efficient, smart, and sustainable communities. These models are then meant to support a “Full roll-out in European cities” of successful solutions.

Project manager Lisa Enarsson at the City of Stockholm Environmental Department has previous experience from a similar pilot project in Järva (Hållbara Järva) in north-west Stockholm. Together with Jonas Eriksson, contributing previous experience in EU development and a holistic perspective, a 1.5 year long EU funding application process began and eventually yielded a substantial sum for a 5-year project. The project involves partner cities Cologne and Barcelona because they share a similar outlook and problem formulation.

The goals of GS include creating 1,500 new work opportunities in Europe while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 60% in each testbed area.

Good Practices & Solutions

“We at the [Stockholm] Environmental Department … are driven towards bringing Stockholm into a more sustainable future – even though we don’t have any resources! We are not the ones building houses … Therefore, we are rather good at applying for money.”

A local housing cooperative in Årsta participated in testing solar panels and an energy measuring device designed to reduce housing electricity use and costs. Members of the cooperative shared their experiences and the value provided by the solutions within GS with other residents and cooperatives in the area, for example, during GS’s “Recycling Day” event.

Although Stockholm did not join this initiative, Cologne introduced a community reporter, meaning a local citizen reporting on the progress of the solutions being tested.

It is also important to note that the EU commission has been a target for GS because part of the project has been to try to scale and spread its good practices. A policy-driving aspect has been central to the project, possibly contributing to its success.

Outcome & Opportunities

“What we do is not ‘rocket science’, but rather doing all parts at the same time, that is both [that we] supplement insulation, change windows, check the ventilation system, get a system together, and [adjust] heat pumps to recirculate the heat … Not just taking one part by itself if you are going to reach the whole way up to 60% [emission reduction].”

GS has generated a package of 12 “smart solutions”, divided into the main areas of low energy districts, integrated infrastructure, and sustainable urban mobility.

Examples of solutions include:

–  Low heat loss windows.

–  Isolating water pipes to reduce heat loss.

–  Recycling drain water.

–  Energy-efficient apartment lights.

–  Energy-efficient elevators.

–  A logistics centre to reduce transports.

–  A “leaving home button” reducing energy output in apartments.

–  Outdoor lights dimming in response to human presence, also turning off completely during low-activity hours of the day.

–  Sustainable Delivery: all deliveries are stored in a designated room in every house, which recipients can enter using a unique code through an app.

–  Cameras and sensors anonymously monitoring movement during large-scale events at the adjacent Tele2 Arena in order to improve available data for event attendants when searching for efficient travel home.

–  Providing traffic priority to organic fuel-driven trucks.

–  Smart traffic solutions: a device informs drivers of private cars which speed they should maintain in order to avoid having to stop for red lights.

–  Improved infrastructure for electrified cars.

–  Developing a universal sign for e-car charging, bicycle rental, and organic fuel stations.

GS is being scaled, and 12 similar projects are now initiated, coordinated, and collaborating throughout Europe. This may be due to GS demonstrating its solutions in many cities and exhibitions across Europe.

Lessons learned & Recommendations

GS is the first example of the Environmental Department working this closely together with private companies. The project has thus evolved into a learning process, discovering synergies between these sectors. Furthermore, IESE Business School has provided many companies with new insights from a scientific, interdisciplinary point of view. It is noted and acknowledged, however, that the project overall lacks much of a social approach, although this is not completely overlooked.

The fact that the project had access to a substantial amount of funding early on seemingly made it appear more credible to partners, partially explaining the high number of participating actors in the process.

However, with some solutions having been successful, new challenges have arisen in their wake; an example has been the newly installed heat-saving windows being unable to relieve the outside windows of frost during the long and cold winter, thus reducing visibility and light inflow.

Another example of the challenges of producing solutions within a wider and complex system is that of waste management. Envac introduced a new local waste management system using bags of different colours separated optically in order to increase efficiency of waste sorting. However, the nearest waste management station with the capacity of optically sorting these bags is currently located in Eskilstuna, approximately 110–120 km from Årsta. This naturally calls for introducing equivalent stations closer to the local area, which is currently being looked into.

Initially, some protests occurred due to the announcement of rent increases in the area. While the local rents were indeed substantially lower than those of other adjacent areas, and the renovation in itself being the main reason for the raise (rather than the GS project), this might have contributed to a reluctance towards participation in GS on behalf of local residents.

Related SDGs
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Project: Stockholm Co-creation