Category Archives: Featured article

No011 Peas, Love and Bumblebees in the secret gardens of Edinburgh


The harbour community in Edinburgh, Leith, is cultivating a new breed of people.They get together and grow stuff and get excited about it. People are reconnecting to nature.  They call themselves “Crofters” and are finding secret spots in the densely populated city to grow their own food!  By Domi, Tellus Think Tank 2016-01-28

Beautiful Edinburgh

Most visitors love the Scottish capital Edinburgh and so do the inhabitants of Edinburgh! It is easy to see why!

Beautiful Edinburgh! Photo: AnnVixen
Beautiful Edinburgh! Photo: AnnVixen

The city, with its sandstone buildings, is just south of the mouth of the river Forth. It is built on, and between, breathtakingly beautiful rock formations like the rocks of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat.


The bustling city life in combination with the closeness to the sea and the magnificent nature of Scotland has, according to Wikipedia, an official population of almost 500 000 persons. All in all the South East Scotland City region holds a population of 1.3 million.

This is my third visit to Edinburgh, or “Din Eidyn” which was the city’s Brittonic Celtic name prior

Drizzling rain on Princess Street, Edinburgh. Photo: AnnVixen
Drizzling rain on Princess Street, Edinburgh. Photo: AnnVixen

to English and Germanic language influences! This time, weather-wise, is the worst ever! The rain is drizzling and sometimes pouring and it is hard to keep my city slicker shoes dry!

We reach Edinburgh, after an unexpectedly long two-hour bus trip, as traffic was disturbed due to the findings of a Second World War bomb on the development site of the new Queensferry Bridge!

Leith Community

Leith walk during tough times. Picture from Leith Walk Exhibition, October 2015.
Leith walk during tough times. Picture from Leith Walk Exhibition, October 2015.

I shouldn’t have worried, as our fantastic host and guide, Edna, gets us to the city and the harbour community of Leith in time for the interview! The densely populated Leith is located just North of Edinburgh city center.

Due to a severe economic decline in the shipping industry, around the Second World War, the area glided into poverty and deprivation and gained a reputation for roughness, drugs and prostitution.

However, in recent years the community of Leith has regenerated and the shore of the harbour is now a charming pub and restaurant area that attracts visits from both tourists and inhabitants of Edinburgh.

Leith Queens and Crops and Pots

Looking as far back as the 1500’s Leith was the home Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland, and her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots.

Today we have the pleasure of meeting the Queen of the secret gardens of Leith, Evie Murray!

Evie is the founder of the urban gardening organisation, Leith

Let the bees live! Picture: Leith Community Crops in Pots
Let the bumblebee’s live! Picture: Leith Community Crops in Pots

Community Crops in Pots. Crops in Pots encourages and supports the inhabitants of Leith to use urban spaces to grow their own vegetables for food and flowers for the well being of the bees! The organisation’s aim is to improve health and well being of individual lives and Community life in Leith.

Crops in Pots, the beginning!

Life piled up on Evie, being a single mother of four and also a foster mother of two traumatised children. She felt she was raising them in ways she didn’t like.

The available playing areas consisted of grey, dull, concrete backyards of the dense city. The available food was the normal plastic packaged mass-agriculture industry food, often shipped from far away. This, in combination with media reports on crisis in banking, pesticide poisoned food and the death of bees made Evie

The raw beauty of beetroot and Kale! Photo: AnnVixen
The raw beauty of beetroot and Kale! Photo: AnnVixen

wonder about the meaning of it all.

-Right, let’s do something healthy, Evie said and her counter-reaction was to start an urban farming site in her own backyard.

Evie’s teenage children offered to care of their younger siblings as she laid the foundation of their garden. She soon became totally smitten with the quality of the soil, setting the right crops, attracting bees and feeding her family with nutritious, home grown food from her hidden backyard.

Evie’s children loved being a part of the farming activities and the family started turning up at

Taking care of each other in the Community of Leith. Photo: AnnVixen
Care for each other in the Community of Leith. Photo: AnnVixen

school in boots and with the children riding in their wheelbarrow, with big smiles on their faces. This attracted attention from teachers and other parents, wondering how they could join in!

So, Evie started Crops in Pots as a charity and began growing food in the backyard of the Leith

Stanwell Nursery with the aim to connect the city children to the new beautiful and green habitats. A surprising amount of the children did not know where their food came from. Initially, a common answer to the question would be “from the supermarket” and the children considered the persons helping them to grow vegetables in their schoolyard to be magicians!

-The children were so disconnected from nature and farming, says Evie. Soon some of the parents

joined in to do the gardening at the nursery and the word spread.

Crops in Pots today

One of the secret gardens of Leith! Photo: AnnVixen
One of the secret gardens of Leith! Photo: AnnVixen

Today, Crops in Pots have several garden sites in backyards around the community of Leith. Passersby on the street would never guess that behind this sandstone wall or house lays a fantastic green garden filled with kale, carrots and flowers that feed the city families and even the bees!

Evie’s hobby has transformed into a full time job and

Beetroot and kale! Photo: AnnVixen
Beetroot and kale! Photo: AnnVixen

the organisation has received funding from Edinburgh City Council and is now employing four persons to keep the gardens and hold educational sessions on climate change and farming for children in the schools and nurseries of Leith.

The organisation was also recently appointed access to a two acre / 8000m² plot of land located centrally in the Leith Links Park. The large farming plot goes by the name “the Croft”!

Evie shows me the bundle of keys to all the gardening sites!

Evie with the keys to the Community Croft and the all the other secret gardens of Leith! Photo: AnnVixen
Evie with the keys to the Community Croft and the all the other secret gardens of Leith! Photo: AnnVixen

How big is the community engagement around Crops in Pots?

-Suddenly we had hundreds of people engaged in growing food in sporadic locations all over Leith, says Evie.

The Leith urban farmers all gathered for the same reasons; being a part of the community, providing healthy food for themselves and their children, growing flowers for bees, wanting their children to connect more to nature, having a healthy outdoor lifestyle and free play as opposed to the more supervised play that children tend to receive in the school and in cities in general.  

-After a gardening afternoon in the Croft parents have had time to meet and work side by side in the outdoors with their neighbours and kids leave, covered in mud, after a complete adventure and are having a life where they are not being heavily monitored by adults a 100% of the time, says Evie smiling.

The garden effect on the community of Leith

Evie talks about “a new breed” of people in Leith, they call themselves ”Crofters”. They get together and grow stuff and get excited about it. People are reconnecting to nature. The people of the United Kingdom waste 50% of their food, but in Leith

Crofters Julie and Donald are defying the rain and working the Croft in Leith Links Park! Photo: AnnVixen
Crofters Julie and Donald are defying the rain and working the Croft in Leith Links Park! Photo: AnnVixen

there has been a large change and they are now reducing the amount of food waste and also composting scraps.

Later Eric Swanepoel, Administration and Policy Officer at Crops in pots, takes me on a tour of the

secret gardens of Leith. On the way I learn that not only are people reconnecting to nature but also there has been a remarkable difference after having set up the community garden of the Croft.

Often people didn’t know their neighbours and they might have passed them on the street for years, still hardly knowing of each other’s existence. Gardening at the

Eric shows how urban gardening can lift a concrete backyard! Photo: AnnVixen
Eric shows how urban gardening can lift a concrete backyard! Photo: AnnVixen

Croft has connected people to become friends that might have a barbeque and are thinking of other fun things to do together!

Also, the children of Leith are connecting to nature, learning where their food comes from and living lives with free play outdoors!

What will Crops in Pots be in the future?

Crops in Pots are aiming to continue as a social enterprise and are hoping to start a cafe, a seed

hotel and a plant nursery to mention some ideas. They want to continue working, in a holistic way, for the benefit of Leith Community.

Evie says: It is not sustainable if it is not fun! Photo: AnnVixen
Evie says: It is not sustainable if it is not fun! Photo: AnnVixen

Crops in Pots often use the phrase: “Peas, Love and Bumble Bees” and on the question why, Evie smiles and answers:

-It’s not sustainable if it’s not fun! 


Next week: Tellus Think Tank meets a Swedish company, with a very strong connection to one of the North American tribes of native Indians,  aiming to feed city dwellers of the world with locally grown food, read more here!

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No010 Urban Foresight – driving urban planning towards Electric Vehicles


Urban Foresight is a “make-the-future happen” consultancy firm focusing on the transformation of cities towards sustainable transport systems and electrical vehicles. The company published “50 big ideas shaping the future on electric mobility”. Tellus Think Tank meets managing director David Beeton to learn more about the ideas that will form the transport systems of the future. By Domi, Tellus ThinkTank

Urban Foresight is one of the first company tenants in Science Central, the largest

Science Central in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: AnnVixen
Science Central in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: AnnVixen

regeneration project in the United Kingdom aiming to move the Newcastle region:

  • Towards smart specialisation in business where the region can be comparatively strong.
  • To mitigate effects of increased urbanisation, people continuing the move into cities.
  • To mitigate effects of global warming, such as floods, storms.

Read further about Newcastle and Science Central in the earlier TellusThinkTank articles:
No007 – Introducing Newcastle upon Tyne – city of sustainability
No008 – The University of Newcastle upon Tyne – innovations hub for sustainability in the urban future
No009 – Science Central – Newcastle upon Tyne laying a golden stepping-stone to the future

What kind of a company is Urban Foresight?

David Beeton was alone when founding Urban Foresight in 2011 and today the team includes over

David Beeton, Managing director and founder of Urban Foresight. Photo: Urban Foresight
David Beeton, Managing director and founder of Urban Foresight. Photo: Urban Foresight

10 employees. It is not by chance that Urban Foresight is one of the first tenants in Science Central, as it seems to be a “make-the-future happen” consultancy firm.


Urban Foresights main focus is on the sustainable transformation of cities, communities, businesses and industry and the company has partnered with a range of different bodies, from Governments, Businesses and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). What I find exciting with Urban Foresight is that they might not be the organisation that gets the public or media credit for implemented changes but they could be very much at the heart of the change.

Urban Foresight has a vision. Photo: AnnVixen
Urban Foresight has a vision. Photo: AnnVixen

When asking about Urban Foresight’s mission statement, David explains:

-The urban part is recognising that we are all about communities and cities, the foresight part is that communities and cities can be made smarter and more sustainable through strategy, making the right investments and changing business models.

-The people working at Urban Foresight like ideas and looking into the future to try to understand what the transformational business models might be – and we develop strategies. It is first when we introduce the ideas to cities that we make the ideas happen, he says.

David continues to explain Urban Foresight by saying they are not traditional consultants but rather a “consultancy-think-tank”. Many of the projects that Urban Foresight is working with only happened because Urban Foresight have partnered with businesses, NGO’s and governmental agencies, and work a bit “beyond profit”, not expecting immediate income from a project.

Most of the projects aren’t the type that a city would procure because they wouldn’t know where to start. Urban Foresight works with them by supplying “big ideas” and then helping the cities further by building alliances, forming contacts and obtaining funding to turn these ideas into actions.

Cities are continuing to grow – what can be done to mitigate problems with growing cities?

Cities continue to grow as more people are living in urban areas. Today approximately half of the world population lives in cities and according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) 60% will be city dwellers by 2030, rising to 70% by 2050.

The rapid increase in the number of urban inhabitants will be among one of the most

Fossil fuelled cars are polluting the urban air. Photo: AnnVixen
Fossil fuelled cars are polluting the urban air. Photo: AnnVixen

important global health issues of the 21st century. The WHO foresees various problems as a result and declares that air pollutants in particular already are already a of major public health concern. Transport is a significant contributor to air pollution, accounting for nearly one-quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

David tells me that even diesel fuel has been found to be highly dangerous and is now classed as carcinogenic, causing cancer, and placed in the same category as asbestos and mustard gas.


-We cannot afford to not explore electric vehicles, or EV’s as David Beeton calls them.

The future of road transport is not fossil fuel based and there is a consensus in society that we should be transforming to EV’s. However, this transformation will not take place overnight and a lot of infrastructure is still needed for EV’s to work for the general public, he says.

According to David one could drive from Newcastle to London (280 miles / 450 kms) in an electrical vehicle today, and find EV-chargers all the way. The United Kingdom has one of the most extensive rapid charger networks in Europe at the moment only Norway is doing better.  

A rapid charger can load 80% of an EV-battery in 20 minutes and can be found at petrol stations along motorways and by shopping malls. People will usually charge their EV at home and 99% of the journeys, to and from work etc, do not need more charging than that!

David says that there is still a need to solve charging possibilities for residents of multi-unit buildings and also to encourage companies to provide chargers in the workplaces for their employees.

-The Science Central employee car park has a couple of chargers, he smiles!

Phoenix Taxi supercharge parked at the university of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen
Phoenix Taxi supercharge parked at the university of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen

When heading towards this interview I passed through the University of Newcastle area only to find several visible rapid EV-chargers in different locations. I even spotted a Phoenix taxi “charge-parked” by one of them. Phoenix Taxi’s run EV and hybrid vehicles and have the largest low carbon emission fleet in the UK.

Also, all transports to and from the University of Newcastle are channelled to an outskirt warehouse, reloaded to electrical transportation vehicles and then moved to the right location within the University. The University of Newcastle is “walking the talk”!

Check out the TellusThinkTank-article on the University of Newcastle 

-The car industry is doing a lot of research in the electrical vehicle area, including hydrogen cars – which is really just a type of electrical vehicle, it stores the energy in hydrogen instead of in a battery, says David.


He explains that, one problem, when planning transportation of the future is that different city service agencies work in their own bubbles, “in silos”. When looking at smart systems for future transport agencies can not work in isolation but need to cooperate with other parties.

-The need for cooperation is very apparent when working to increase the use of electrical vehicles and smart transportation systems, says David.

He explains that electrical vehicles, or EV’s as he calls them, start many different conversations naming future transport, future energy, future of public service, behavioural change for travel around the city and the use of energy while doing so.

What kind of projects is Urban Foresight participating in to solve problems with high carbon emissions in cities?

Since a couple of years, Urban Foresight has an office in Belgium in favour of running the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities – organising the collaboration of the 50 organisational members from over 15 countries – that are actively promoting EV’s as an enabler of smart cities.  

“The Mill”, Mobility Integration Living Lab, is another interesting project that Urban

The Mill-project in Scottish Dundee, aiming to turn the city into a game. Photo: AnnVixen
The Mill-project in Scottish Dundee, aiming to turn the city into a game. Photo: AnnVixen

Foresight is involved in, based in the Scottish city of Dundee. Dundee is one of UK’s forerunners in the computer gaming industry residing 10% of UK’s digital studios.

“The Mill”-concept is looking at how to use gamification to encourage people to a more sustainable behaviour. By turning the city into a computer game, expectations are that people would be “incentivized” to act in a more sustainable way.  

Instead of banning cars in the city at times of high pollution the city game could incentivize people to take a better route by encouraging them to explore another part of the city. One way could be by rewarding change to the suggested route with local street acting – a concept invented by the National Theatre of Scotland and Abertay University in Dundee.


The TEVproject pictures from Youtube.
The TEVproject picture found on Youtube.

Urban Foresight is also in partnership with the TEV-project – looking into the area of electrical highways of future transportation. It is one of the most interesting ideas I have found so far, when it comes to mid distance future transport. When the driver enters her vehicle into the TEV-system the vehicle goes into central control, which enables convoying of vehicles and allows travel at much higher speeds and safety compared to our current car set-up. The system also has a greater passenger carrying capacity than the current cars-and-roads system.  Vehicles would be powered with electricity during the TEV-journey so there would be no limit to how far they can drive without recharging and vehicles will not burn any form of fossil fuel or produce any local emissions.

The TEV-project and partners foresee, pointing at OECD-findings, that passenger transport volume in developed economies will increase with 50% by 2050.

What is Urban Foresight foreseeing?

In daily life Urban Foresight collects inspiration from partners across the globe and pioneering cities that are early in adopting electric vehicles and the needed charging infrastructure, and promote these experiences by producing interesting reads on

Urban Foresights 50 big ideas on the future of electric mobility.
Urban Foresights 50 big ideas on the future of electric mobility.

electrical vehicles and electric mobility.

The latest publication, “50 big ideas shaping the future on electric mobility”, holds just what the title promises. Let me comment on the fact that it shows cities all over our globe plugged into the same sustainable song, to mention some ideas:

– Ultra low emission zones (nr 1) – 200 cities in 10 European countries have established Low Emission zones or are preparing to do so – London (UK) is mentioned as a forerunner, already having several schemes in place and more in the planning.

Transport poverty (nr 4) – Lower fuel and maintenance costs of EV’s provide an opportunity to offer more affordable transport – in 2017 the city of Manila, capital of the Philippines, will be offering 100 000 electric three wheelers (e-trikes) to low paid taxi drivers with a very affordable financing model – reducing millions of tons of CO2 emissions annually.

EV Vending Machines (nr 31) – Electrical vehicles don’t solve congestion and parking but new car sharing models are being developed. In Chinese Hangzhou users are offered to hire fully charged electrical vehicle’s, from vending machines. The car range is 75 miles / 120 km’s and it can be dropped off at another station close to the user destination.  

The other 47 ideas, that Urban Foresight are writing about, are also already bringing the world forward to lower emissions from transport. With so many interesting and impressive initiatives already on the roll, one could say that the world already is our living lab of the future!

This all brings me to wonder what my own city of Stockholm is doing on the electrical vehicle front. I am guessing you are asking the same question about your community?

I thank David Beeton and for taking his time with TellusThinkTank readers this beautiful sunny October morning and head out for a brisk walk through the lovely city of Newcastle upon Tyne!
Next week: We get the opportunity to visit the secret gardens in the densely populated community of Leight, Edinburgh! Join our newsletter and we will let you know when the article is available!The Crops in pots bee

No009 Science Central – Newcastle upon Tyne laying a golden stepping-stone to the future.


Newcastle upon Tyne is regenerating a large, central part of the city and making it a golden steppingstone towards a sustainable future, interlacing business, university research and inhabitants in a creative hub , a unique living laboratory. By Domi, TellusThinkTank 2016 Featuring photo: AnnVixen


  • Science Central is the name of a plot of land in one of the most central parts of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
  • The size of the city center plot is 24-acre /100 000 square meters and it is currently the biggest regeneration project in the UK.
  • The Science Central development is the result of a unique collaboration between Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University
  • Science Central is aiming to be a creative hub for businesses, university research centers, students and inhabitants of Newcastle city to meet and jointly develop sustainable solutions for urban life of the future.

Having visited the North East of England in the United Kingdom many times before, this journey brings not only fun but also fun and interesting business! To get to my early morning meeting at the largest sustainable urban regeneration project in the UK I enter the city center and pass the empty, 50 000 spectator, Magpie football stadium, St James Park, imagining the bustling life around a game between Newcastle and neighbour city Sunderland!


Just a block away I reach the 24-acre /100 000 square meter development site of Science Central.

Today, in October 2015, the majority of the site is at first site just a stony hill, wedged between older sandstone

Elswick, Science Central and The Core. Photo: AnnVixen
Elswick, Science Central and The Core. Photo: AnnVixen

blocks of workers quarters and a modern glass-high-rise area of office buildings.

The first building, The Core, is already on site. This morning it is brightly lit up by the rays of the sun and pulls me in. The phrase ”a golden stepping stone to the future” pops up to mind.

I meet Ann Bridges, Senior Specialist Communication and Policy, and Kit England, Policy and Communication Business Partner, of Newcastle City Council and we sit down in the lobby looking out over the stony field and the old sandstone houses of neighbouring Elswick.

The Tyne and Wear City Region holds 1.1 million inhabitants, and the capital of Newcastle itself contains about 280 000 persons. The city history dates way beyond 2000 years and its economy was built on, among other things, natural coal resources, engineering, the shipping industry and innovations in all.

Also read: Introducing Newcastle – city of Sustainability

The history of the site and an opportunity for Newcastle

Ann Bridges tells the Science Central site history – once starting off as the Elswick Colliery (coal mine) and later becoming the home of one of UK’s most famous breweries, the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery, who produced Newcastle Brown Ale!

The Science Central site used to house the Elswick Colliery and the brewery of Newcastle Brown Ale. Photo: AnnVixen
The Science Central site used to house the Elswick Colliery and the brewery of Newcastle Brown Ale. Photo: AnnVixen

I look, once again, at the stony field – now with a very impressed gaze and remind myself that first impressions never last: The history of these grounds! I can just imagine the olden days’ smell of the Newcastle coal fires mixed with a sweet, yeasty one from the brewery.

The colliery built long mining shafts underground, sometimes all the way down to the river. When the Newcastle City Council took over the site in 2005 old mine workings had to be cleaned out and over 40 000 tonnes of coal was removed and recycled. The mining shafts were filled to stabilise the site and make it suitable for development.

In the days of the colliery and brewery, the gigantic site was fenced in and closed off to the public. It divided parts of the city from each other, cutting off the densely populated and once very deprived Elswick from the city center.

The brewery moved out in 2005 and this huge piece of center-city land presented an opportunity – just a stone’s throw from the train station and the large Eldon Square shopping centre – Newcastle City Council must have wondered what to do with it? Maybe supply more housing, or let the city office area swell?

What path did Newcastle City Council choose? What will Science Central be?

The Science Central site brochure says that the site will be ‘an innovation hub where investors, businesses,

A map of the future site. Photo: AnnVixen
A map of the future site. Photo: AnnVixen

scientists and citizens collaborate to form solutions for tomorrow’s cities.‘

The site will constitute an innovative hub and builds on previous collaborations to create a “living laboratory”, meaning that in-real-life, real-time research can be performed here and that research findings can be demonstrated to the public.

The brochure is everything a great marketer can produce and uses words like “fantastic” or “nurturing ideal climates for business success” and even “places for children to play and explore” etc.

It hits me right in the chest – be it that I am a sucker for inspiring visions of our future!

Two driving organisations behind Science Central

Science Central is a development taken forward by collaboration between Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University. The two organisations have a very positive and mature relationship in taking forward developments in the region and this isn’t a new occurrence in their relationship. Newcastle University often works closely with the Council to support in the regional development and urban planning of greater Newcastle. What’s different this time is that both organisations are directly delivering the site.

The University of Newcastle is world-renowned for its research excellence and wants to continue on this path by attracting more companies and research partners to expand their reputation and attract even more students, says Kit England.

Also read: University of Newcastle- UK innovations hub for sustainability for an urban future

-The partnership between the Council and the University works really well as they have complementary objectives and want the same thing, Ann continues. The interests of the City Council are in achieving sustainable economic growth, creating new and better jobs and retaining students in the Newcastle area.

Newcastle moving towards smart specialisation

“New and better jobs” are what runs a big part of larger Newcastle’s economy today, in areas such as digital,

A modell of a market square to-be. Photo: AnnVixen
A modell of a market square to-be. Photo: AnnVixen

gaming, energy, engineering, bio medicals etc. I feel a bit old school but follow my urge to ask:

-What will the working class do, what will workers from the brewery and collieries be working with in the future?

Ann is understanding and keen to address my concerns, and says that Newcastle has continued to diversify as the local industry always has had, and continuously has been nurturing, a strong culture of innovation. The region needs a balance between many different sectors Ann firmly conveys.

Newcastle’s economy is already moving into “smart specialisation”, looking to develop the economy based on an analysis of the regional strengths and weaknesses, emerging opportunities and market developments. This work has shown the region’s existing and potential competitive advantages and business areas in which the region can excel, compared to other regions.

The Council is working to build supply chains and get businesses within identified areas of competitive advantage to co-locate to larger Newcastle. Ann Bridges mentions offshore and subsea technologies, life sciences and biomedicine, digital and creative industries. The businesses within the regions smart specialisation will, in their turn, build a further demand for:

  • Professional business services, such as legal and accounting.
  • Professional services, such as leisure activities, hotels, restaurants and shops.
  • Construction jobs.

The North East region of England already also holds a large manufacturing industry. Ann mentions the large Nissan assembly plant in Sunderland, which builds Nissan’s flagship electric vehicle, the Leaf.

-There will be a place for everyone, she summaries.

Newcastle upon Tyne by night. Photo: David Thomson
Newcastle upon Tyne by night. Photo: David Thomson

I understand that the Newcastle City Council is on a mission to take constructive and smart steps towards the future by adapting to the changing prerequisites of business and society.

How can we expect Science Central to enhance the region?

The Core, being the first building on site, opened at the end of 2014 and is already 100% occupied. It already houses science- and technology innovators and smart city consultancy services focusing on a sustainable future

-Read Tellus Think Tank’s next article about one of exciting organisations at Science Central. Sign-up for our newsletter to receive a notification! .

The next, but temporary building on the site, is a University building. It will be ready to move-in December 2015 and replaced in 2018 by the University’s Urban Science Building (USB).

The Urban Science Building will house both the Institute of Sustainability and the School of Computing Science with its unique cyber-physical laboratory – jointly the two organisations will aim to becoming leading in Urban Innovation.

Plans further include a public performance space, an urban observatory and decision theatre where real time data

The Core. Photo: AnnVixen
The Core. Photo: AnnVixen

from the city can be visualised, analysed and explored to improve understanding of the interaction between Newcastle city’s energy, water, transport, waste and digital control systems.

These tools will bring policy makers, companies and researchers together to explore possible scenarios of city development. Kit England gives some possible examples of urban planning that the Decision Theatre could look into effects of implementing:

  • Setting roof-top gardens on all buildings in the city.
  • Pedestrianising parts of the city or the whole city centre.

Ideas like these are explored with the help of data-models and show possible outcomes from an implementation on a community’s economy, sustainability and social life of the residents.

Also to be found in the USB will be an urban farm, a rooftop wild-flower meadow and an array of research disciplines all with the common focus of digitally enabled urban sustainability. The setup of the Urban Science Building aims to create prerequisites needed for a living laboratory – one can see it will take a very strong and inspiring leadership to get the lab started and running according to plan. 1,500 people will be working and studying here. The idea, it seems, is for all to work together to create sustainable solutions for the future, using every possible asset available from the city infrastructure and environment to even the building itself!


Just the Urban Sustainability Building is budgeted to £58 million and will be financed by the University.

Ann and Kit also tell me how the site was the first in the UK to use “Tax Increment Financing”, an approach that has been used in America and which has helped finance the first parts of the Science Central site. The approach lets the Science Central LLP, borrow money from the Central Government Treasury at a lower interest rate and hold future growth in business rate income as a guarantee.

The Core and its green wall, and the white roof of the Key - first university building on site. Photo: AnnVixen
The Core and its green wall, and the white roof of the Key – first university building on site. Photo: AnnVixen

This is based on the idea that Science Central will bring growth to business in the region and hence more taxes / business rates. Ann and Kit are both convinced that if this arrangement had not been made the site would not be planned in the dynamic and sustainability center form that is being built today. At one point it was put into jeopardy following the closure of One North East, the former governmental Regional Development Agencies that was taking forward the site as a tripartite partner of the Science Central LLP. When national government abolished the Regional Development Agency and its funding in 2010, it was only strength of the partnership between the Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University that allowed the development to proceed, through buying out the government’s stake.

The rest of the development on the Science Central is still in the planning phase and dependent on successful funding from different organisations, especially EU is mentioned. Looking at published plans the site will hold at least another 15 buildings for even more companies and housing developments. Ann also mentions that establishments from IBM or Microsoft or both would be welcome.

Walking the walk of sustainability

Science Central is not just talking but also already walking in a sustainable way – exploring possibilities of renewable energy by first trying a geothermal borehole, transporting natural ground heat into buildings with help of air pumps. Heat is not created, only transported and very “renewable”.

However a borehole was not technically possible on the site and so there are plans to deliver an energy centre to power District Heating, as well as a smart grid demonstration facility to test electricity storage and management.

District heating is a system for distributing heat generated in a centralised location and according to some research, district heating with combined heat and power is the cheapest method of cutting carbon emissions.

The green wall on The Core is also a home of a bumblebee hotel! Photo: AnnVixen
The green wall on The Core is also a home of a bumblebee hotel! Photo: AnnVixen

The Core building starts off in a good way with a rooftop garden and even a side of the building covered with the largest green wall of the UK. During my visit to Science Central earlier in the week Brett Cherry from the University of Newcastle and I gazed up the green wall and happily explored different kinds of plants that could be found there including baby strawberries and even the bumble-bee hotels! Also to be spotted was the self planted winding twig of a hazel tree – it is lovely to see natural life in action!

Aiming for the vision of Science Central

At the rate of carbon emissions growth of the world, the Science Central inhabitants will have their work cut out for them when planning low carbon urban developments and also when mitigating problems from a planet out of balance, caused by disasters such as floods or storms.

Read more: Is Earth doing alright? 

Science Central might just be one of those shining stepping-stones that are dearly needed to help form the sustainable future of urban cities.

Having built an organisation or two I can tell it will be challenging to build Science Central in a political sense (the university versus council and region versus government and EU etc.). To lead the site development in the right direction, not sliding from the original intent will need very strong women and men in the roles as Generals. If the challenge can be mastered, the rewards will be fantastic!

TellusThinkTank is excited by the idea of a creative hub in the midst of Newcastle, fully focusing on improving the sustainability of urban lives and societies. We especially believe that the collaboration between the University, the Newcastle City Council and Businesses in finding sustainable solutions for the future will show very interesting solutions indeed!

Next week: Tellus Think Tank meets Urban Foresight regarding transports of the future! Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get a notification on when the next Tellus Think Tank is available!


No007 Introducing Newcastle upon Tyne – city of sustainability



Childhood memories of Newcastle on Tyne, from two generations

Introducing Newcastle upon Tyne’s transformation from a traditional industrial region towards becoming a modern, successful and sustainable urban area. This is the first of four publications on the development, organisations and business in Newcastle upon Tyne, all with focus on a sustainable urban future. Text: Domi, TellusThinkTank 2015. Featuring photo: David Thomson.

As a child I would visit Newcastle where I have a dear family on my mother’s side. It was always like entering another, and very different world, compared to the rather quiet suburb of Stockholm that I grew up in.


The first thing that would hit me was the smell of the coal fires; all houses were heated by coal in those days. The feeling it brought was an entangled one of love and fascination, of the soon familiar, coal dirt.  

Also read: The University of Newcastle upon Tyne – innovations hub for sustainability in the urban future

Newcastle and Wallsend upon Tyne and the surroundings were to me always myth stricken as my mother’s reality based bedtime stories covered the daily life in her childhood, Charlotte street, gathering shrapnel after the night’s bombing during the Second World War, the mothers running the household and keeping family culture alive.

Angel of the North and the valley of river Tyne. Photo: David Thomson
Angel of the North and the valley of river Tyne. Photo: David Thomson

The fathers were working in the shipyards and mines during the day and on duty as Air Raid Wardens at night. The dancing and happiness of the British people when the Second World War ended!

As I grew older I found that not only was my Mother’s childhood stories entertaining but that the north of England has a very diverse and

Hadrian Wall. Photo: AnnVixen
The Hadrian Wall by Housesteds, Northumberland. Photo: AnnVixen

interesting history.

Introducing Newcastle upon Tyne’s urban area transformation

The history of the area runs all the way from a native population to the Romans (who built Hadrian’s wall), the French and the Vikings (the later mainly represented by the Danes) to mention a few.  

When I walk the streets of Northern England and Scotland I sometimes play a secret game of ”what-people-the-person-passing-me-on-the-street-might-be-descendant-of”. I could, probably in vain, point out a Roman descendant on Newcastle’s Northumberland Street any day of the year!

The people of Newcastle found, maybe as early as the 11th century, that they were living upon a huge amount of the natural resource of coal. “Kitchen-mines” might have been some of the earliest kind of mines where residents dug pits in their own kitchen floors to supply their homes with coal heat and cooking fires!

Later mining was expanded to the countryside and riverbanks and coal soon became Newcastle’s main export commodity. The need to move the coal combined with the closeness to the sea lead to the development of the Newcastle shipbuilding, which took off in an engineering sense and played an important role in Newcastle’s part of the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 1800s.

The River Tyne and shipyards. Photo: AnnVixen
The River Tyne and shipyards. Photo: AnnVixen

Shipbuilding, the engineering of freight ships, shipyards and repair dry docks were very important stepping-stones to the prosperity of Newcastle and the Tyne area.

Some claim that the Industrial Revolution began in English Manchester, and it might then have been the biggest city that helped spark the revolution with its 300 000 residents in the year of 1801. However, Newcastle was probably igniting simultaneously with its 30 000 residents in the year of 1801. Both cities had their large, natural coal depots in common.  

During 1970 – 1990, when I was still a child, and in awe by Newcastle’s bustling, friendly and canny ways, the industry started slowing down. The densely populated Newcastle and northeast bank of the river Tyne, Northern Teesside, were challenged with unemployment as the coal- and shipbuilding industries phased out.

The Newcastle’s Councils initially offered inhabitants employment in government and council schemes. However, this not being a sustainable business model they soon in parallel started cooperating with researchers at the University of Newcastle when developing the urban area and business.

The Millenium bridge of Newcastle on Tyne. Photo: David Thomson
The Millenium bridge of Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Thomson

During the years the bond between the greater Newcastle’s councils, jointly representing 1.7 million inhabitants, and the University of Newcastle has helped develop the area from an industrial region and commence the journey towards,  a hopefully, successful future urban region.

The cooperation between university, researchers, council and entrepreneurs seems at a first glance to be unique and will definitely give the North East of England a good chance of entering the future in a prosperous way. Read more about this is in Tellus Think Tank’s next three articles where we met with the University, the City and a company, all focusing strongly on sustainable futures in different ways.

Read Tellus Think Tanks first article about Newcastle upon Tyne: The University of Newcastle – UK innovations hub for sustainability in the urban future!

No008 The University of Newcastle upon Tyne – innovations hub for sustainability in the urban future


The University research at the University of Newcastle is strongly focused on sustainable future. Domi, Tellus Think Tank 2015

Not only does the United Kingdom and England, where I am this particular morning, live up to its reputation of being a rainy island but also I start my day with two pieces of lovely English toast and then get to take a double-decker-bus into the Hay Market City Centre of Newcastle together with my English cousin and neighbourhood friends. It all gives me the feeling that I am lucky to be able to try out the British way of life “for real” and not as a tourist this specific morning!


Read Tellus Think Tanks introduction to Newcastle upon Tyne – city of sustainability!

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Brett Cherry, the Science Communications Manager at the University’s Institute for Sustainability at the University of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen
Brett Cherry, the Science Communications Manager at the University’s Institute for Sustainability at the University of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen

The morning commuter journey brings me to the University of Newcastle, established in 1834 and early recognised for its medical and surgery education. Starting out by providing lectures and surgery demonstrations to about 25 students it has grown and presently, annually, attracts 20 thousand students from over 100 countries.

Teaching, research and undergraduate degree programs are held in academic schools and research institutes spread across three faculties:

-the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

-the Faculty of Medical Sciences

-the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

Tellus Think Tank meets Brett Cherry, the Science Communications Manager at the University’s Institute for Sustainability. He greets me in the uniquely formed, modern looking steel frame of the Devonshire building in the University area and we soon sit down over a cup of English tea!

I learn that the Institute for Sustainability, within short, is moving to a greener pasture by the name “the Key”, now under development on the Science Central site (would you like to be notified when the next article in the Tellus Think Tank series on Newcastle upon Tyne is published, sign up for the weekly newsletter here

What does the Institute for Sustainability do, and what is its message to the world?

-There is a common understanding within the University of Newcastle and the Institute for Sustainability that the current level of climate force is taking place because of the amount of greenhouse gases that are generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, which is throwing the planet of balance, says Brett Cherry.

-We do sustainability because we want to find that balance again, Brett Cherry continues.

The Devonshire building. Photo: AnnVixen
The Devonshire building. Photo: AnnVixen

The Institute for Sustainability doesn’t hold educational sessions but funds researchers and works on driving the sustainability research forward within the University.

By gathering persons from multiple disciplines for research and projects of different kinds, the University solves problems with the purpose of creating a more sustainable future!

Brett Cherry smiles and likes the Institute for Sustainability to a science Pangaea, referring to where all the land-masses of the world once geographically lay together.

The institute works with “an holistic approach”, a necessity in the world of sustainability. Tellus Think Tank recently visited the sustainability center, CEMUS, at Swedish Uppsala University, also working with what they called an “interdisciplinary” approach (read article).

The Institute for Sustainability at the University of Newcastle is interested in both the science itself but also how the science can be used for practical solutions.

By taking a holistic approach, combining disciplines in research projects, ranging from engineering, social science, physical science, humanities etc, a project solution is not compartmented from a real world working solution.

So, what kind of research is the University of Newcastle up to?

The Rising Sun Nature Park on Northern Teeside, Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen
The Rising Sun Nature Park on Northern Teeside, Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen

Brett Cherry gives me the “intel” in a fast pace.

  • Urban Sustainable Farming, Anaerobic digestion and more
    The University of Newcastle does Agricultural Urban Farming research and have two ecological research farms connect to it and they run research in areas such as:

    • Rural Energy, the making of energy on farming estates, winning methane gas from breaking down biodegradable material such as food scraps or animal and other organic wastes.’
    • Comparisons between low-input, organic farming with traditional farming and investigating if pesticides are always needed when growing crops, how to avoid soil depletion and how to better care for farm animals.The research farms give students on all levels an understanding of how farming works in a go-see manor but also make interesting findings such as that the grass feed cows produce very good milk, high in omegas.Another finding is that when putting green waste back into the land it not only avoids soil depletion but restores soil and generates the soil’s water holding capacity which is important also to cities living down stream when looking at flood mitigation. This is a good example of a holistic view when mixing different disciplines in the world of academia!
  • Ocean freight being one of Newcastle’s traditional strengths during its industrial era is still one important area of research at the University.

    The Harbor of Newcastle on Tyne. Photo: AnnVixen
    The Harbor of Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: AnnVixen

    Researchers work with reduction of transport time, leaner and cleaner power sources, the cleaning the hull of ships with help of energy-saving underwater cleaning robots and designing ships to use less fuel.

    Maybe it is in this area that “sustainable” is very clearly also linked to economic productivity. The connection being worded, brings both Brett Cherry and myself to nod in agreement.

  • Flood mitigation & Water engineering is a threat towards communities in many urban areas on our globally heated planet (read the article Is Earth doing alright?)

    The University is in this area highly interlaced in urban developments of larger Newcastle and work together with the city in avoiding future flooding disasters by planning city developments and infrastructure of the city in a flood mitigating way.  

    As an example Newcastle was hit hard by the “Toon flooding” in 2012, causing a lot of physical damage and transportation problems, some people even brought out their canoes for transport down their home streets.  (See films on Youtube)
  • Business models for sustainability. There is a need for business models to support sustainable ways of living and the faculty of Business Studies part in sustainability research often comes in forms of possible business models – one example could be how to incentivize people to consume electricity during low-usage hours or use alternative traffic routes to avoid congestion.
  • Cyber Physical Systems is also known as the “internet-of-things” and is an area of growing importance according to Brett Cherry. He
    IoT - Monitoring me. Photo: AnnVixen
    IoT – Monitoring me. Photo: AnnVixen

    tells me that without them a smart sustainable future would be hard to achieve. The academic description isn’t that easy to grasp, but the examples are:

    • Smart buildings with automatic, monitored and optimise heating, humidity, security and energy consumption.
    • Environmental and Transportation monitoring systems
    • Industrial process control systems
    • Smart utilities, that is smart energy grids and water and waste monitoring of trash in a city.
    • Health & fitness systems, such as self-monitoring wearable’s such as Fitbit’s, Runkeeper’s and smart watches.
  • Smart Grids & Energy Storage. At this point in time of Earth human life is emitting far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the eco system of Earth can handle and hence we have “Global Warming” with extreme weather, drought, floods and storms. Learn more in the Tellus Think Tank article with sustainability expert Niclas Köhler.

    A lot of the carbon dioxide is emitted from heating and electrical systems, a sustainability problem that needs to be tended to promptly.

    Photo: AnnVixen
    Photo: AnnVixen

    One way of emitting less is to not produce more power than needed and using renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines, solar cells etc. to the furthest extent.

    The University of Newcastle have far developed research on Smart Grids and Electrical Storage and offers its own Smart Grid Lab to both researchers and enterprises for testing of their energy-storing devices.

    Energy storage possibilities, says Brett Cherry, will be important in the future so that low-carbon energy can be stored for peak-demand periods in the energy grid.

Entering the University of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen
Entering the University of Newcastle. Photo: AnnVixen

Tellus Think Tank feels highly inspired by the University of Newcastle’s large amount of research areas with focus on sustainability. This and the fact that the University is also involved with the urban planning of Newcastle makes us feel the need to return to Newcastle upon Tyne soon!

The Institute for Sustainability at the University of Newcastle’s view on sustainability is that “humans can act as stewards of sustainability rather than exploiting agents”, and those will be the last inspiring words that we will quote Brett Cherry on until next time!

Also read: Read about Newcastle upon Tynes development area “Science Central” – creating a living laboratory to enhance sustainability in urban societies.

Contact us: Tellus Think Tank is hoping to return to Newcastle during the year to come so if you may have any hints on interesting sites to visit or if you have any questions that would like to have answered – please let us know.


Understenshöjden – One of Sweden’s first eco villages! No006


Tellus Think Tank meets Mathias Edstedt, chairman of the housing society of Understenshöjden in the Stockholm suburb of Björkhagen. Understenshöjden is one of Sweden’s first eco villages!
Domi, TellusThinkTank

It was a snowy winter day in 2012 when Mathias Edstedt and his family moved into the eco village in Björkhagen. They had decided to move out of Stockholm city center and the densely populated area of Södermalm. The family hoped to find the perfect compromise between the joys of city and nature!

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

The perfect compromise between city and nature is exactly what hits me when I step into the village. It is obvious that the green patches in the area, consisting of uncultivated woods, are generously laid out between the houses.


The estheticly iron-vitriol painted houses with large windows, stand in harmony with their surroundings. I feel at peace when walking through the area.

Below the southern slope of the eco village one can also find Kärrtorps sports field and entrances to Nacka Nature Reserve.

Stockholm Central train station is reachable by a combination of a 10-minute walk to the subway and a 15-minute tube ride. It is also possible to reach the central station by bike within 30 minutes.

According to Mathias Edstedt, it is totally silent in the eco village at night. What else could you wish for when living in a city? It is understandable that an area like this is popular.

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

One of the area neighbours that I run into in the eco village playground reveals that it is currently is very popular to live here. Maybe it is because urbanisation daily feeds Stockholm with 55 new inhabitants.

The latest townhouse sold in the eco village, 158 square meters, changed owners for the price of eleven million Swedish krona (€1,17 million / $ 1,29 million). Mathias Edstedt estimates that about 125 persons live in the village and that there are seldom more than one or two townhouses for sale per year.    

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

Beautiful and ecological housing

The eco village was opened in 1995. A group of driving spirits formed a society in the beginning of the 90’s and joined forces with the Swedish building company HSB and the Swedish designer and builder of family houses, SMÅA. The trinity applied for, and was rewarded with, a building permit for the land.  

The society wanted to realise their joint vision of a beautiful, social and ecological form of living in the southern suburbs of Stockholm. A high level of resident influence was also a factor that the society strived for. Most of the society members lived in the suburb of Björkhagen and had architecture or sustainability as special interest. Many of Understenshöjdens initial inhabitants still live in the eco village!

The eco village of Understenshöjden was one of the first of its kind and the public interest has been high from the beginning. The eco village often receives delegations from near and far, one of the latest was from Japan!

What did an “eco village” mean in 1995?

Understenshöjden was originally intended to be an eco village that lived in harmony with the surrounding nature.

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

Every house was built to fit the geography of its placement and the same was done with the car-free transportation paths within the village.

The houses were built on stilts to minimise damage on the land and to give good ventilation pre-requisites under the buildings to avoid damage from damp. The airiness under the buildings doesn’t affect the heating as the floor insulation is thick enough.

Every building was built of the same environmentally friendly materials. The wooden facades have not yet needed repainting. Wood, according to Mathias Edstedt, is not maintenance-free. On the northern side of the townhouses the wood-facades still look new while the wood on the sunny side of the buildings is definitely more worn.

The outside of the window frames are also unevenly worn, also depending on what point of the compass they are facing and have in general more often needed repainting.

The walls on the inside of the houses have first been covered with plaster and then painted according to every townhouse owner’s preference with either linseed oil paint, egg tempera or glue paint.

The bathrooms are built in beautiful, red brick. Mathias Edstedt tells me about the fantastic breathing qualities of brick, avoiding damage caused by damp. The bathroom walls, if constituting outside walls, are insulated in several layers of insulating material – brick – light clinker marbles – brick.  

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

The eco village heating

The original 1995 heating setup of the eco village consisted of rooftop solar panels on the 44 townhouses combined with heating culverts leading heat to the townhouses from the eco village’s central pellets furnace.

Unfortunately the inhabitants of Understenshöjden had a freezing first winter as the pellets furnace was new, and at that point in time, also an untried technique and turned out to be not strong enough.

To solve the winter heating problem the eco village plugged into the City of Stockholm’s new district heating and also upgraded their pellet furnace. Problem solved!

Since then solar panels and district heating are used in warmer periods of the year and heating from the pellet furnace are added when needed during the winter.

The eco village still has 1995-year’s solar panels in use, however in 2011 a new solar panel system was added onto the

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

village community building. It became very obvious that solar panel techniques had developed a lot and the new solar panel system was totally maintenance-free, which has decreased work for the eco village inhabitants.

The inhabitants use a lot less energy today compared to 1995.  The incrementally built heating system, with its combined energy sources, is getting old, worn and far from maintenance-free.

The eco village inhabitants considered what kind of system they should change to and had an independent contractor investigate alternatives. The eco village has not yet decided to go ahead with the investigator’s recommendation of boring 22 holes in the hill of the eco village and an investment in a geothermal heating pump.

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

Mathias Edstedt debates different kind of energy sources, that could be considered the most environmentally friendly and which decision criteria should be taken in consideration:

  • Pellet furnaces need more tending to from the eco village inhabitants, as they constantly need to be filled with more pellets.
  • The geothermal borehole and pump solution demands a rather large initial investment and the heat energy carriers uses a lot of artificial substances.
  • Wind turbines are still a pretty noisy alternative, not yet suitable to be built close to residential areas.
  • Does the eco village prefer heat compressors inside the residential buildings or outside, causing noise in the otherwise quiet village?
  • Would it be sufficient to only build a solar panel solution?

Mathias Edstedt tells me that the eco village society, according to its tradition of high inhabitant influence, will continue to investigate several alternatives. Discussions will be held and decisions made in the eco village housing society meetings, open for all of the eco villages inhabitants – which is Understenshöjdens decision model and one of the founding ideas of this particular eco village society.

One of the areas dams. Photo: AnnVixen
One of the areas ponds. Photo: AnnVixen

Sewer and drainage in the eco village

Stockholm, and other densely populated areas in Sweden, have high demands on water purification, so as not to risk polluting the land and the village had to be connected to the city sewerage system. Understenshöjdens eco village was initially granted a unique exception from the rule and allowed to build its own sewer system. The system included a cleaning system by Bioclere connected with a streamlet to several small ponds for the purpose of cleaning the water in several steps before the water was led out into the nature surrounding the eco village.

The village still cares for its surface and stormwater in this way but the residential water outlet had too high levels of nutrients for the dam-system to clean, risking pollution of the land around the village. If there had been more room to add a couple of cleaning dams in the system it could have been possible to manage the cleaning of household sewer water with the eco villages own system, but there was not. Consequently the eco village connected their housing sewer to the Stockholm city central sewerage system.

Cooperation of the residents of Understenshöjden

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

The eco village housing cooperative at Understenshöjden have had a very strong influence on how the area was built, later developed and run. A collective decision-making has always been the reigning decision model and is always performed in large resident meetings. Mathias Edstedt says that the eco village attracts a lot of idea-borne persons and that strong matters of opinion are often shared at the lively meetings.

The eco village housing cooperative is in many ways just like any other Swedish housing cooperative, being one of the most normal types of housing societies in Sweden. It organises annual meetings, communal cleaning days and owns a communal building containing the communal heating system furnace, washhouse and meeting facilities. The meeting facilities are used for the annual meetings but are also let out to members for individual celebrations or activities such as dance classes.

Apart from two small allotments, the eco village doesn’t have any urban farming possibilities.

-I am sure that there is an interest in growing one’s own crops, says Mathias Edstedt, however he believes that a lot of residents handle this urge at their summer houses. Further, he doesn’t believe that urban farming automatically needs to be a function in an eco village. I note that this at least is not the case at Understenshöjden.

The self-management of the eco village

Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

The eco village inhabitants run most of the ground management including maintenance of nature areas, roads, bridges and fences. The eco village also owns a tractor so that members can clean walkways from snow. Mostly the inhabitants also run the electrical and heating systems.

What lesson can be learnt from a 20 year old eco village?

Mathias Edstedt summarises some lesson learnt:

  1. Technical heating- and sewerage systems should be built as simple as possible. The combination of, for instance, different heating systems are far from maintenance-free and should be avoided.
  2. New housing areas should be built not only for families but also for old and young people. Old people want fewer staircases and young people want cheaper and smaller housing possibilities.
  3. Understenshöjden eco village was built to be effective from a resource perspective and many townhouses were built with many rooms. The inhabitants now prefer larger living space and fewer rooms, consequently there has been a lot of rebuilding of the interior structure during the years.  
  4. The planning and building of the eco village has been positive and successful from a geographical and in-harmony-with nature perspective, even the heating- and sewer culverts have been placed not to disturb the eye.
  5. By building the townhouses on different levels throughout the hilly woodsy eco village the Stockholm’s natural wildlife feels welcome including hares, deer, woodpeckers, nuthatch, tits, jays, bullfinches, salamanders and even sometimes frogs!
Photo: AnnVixen
Photo: AnnVixen

What will the eco village look like in 10-15 years?

Mathias Edstedt believes the eco village will look similar to today as the facades of the townhouses won’t change that much. Most of the technical systems will have been replaced with more modern solutions. He also mentions that the eco village has discussed the possibility of adding houses within their boundaries. Time will tell if the adding of further houses will be possible to realise, however the rapidly growing city of Stockholm does need more living quarters!

Also this week: Do It Yourself, save the planet!

Next week: Tellus Think Tank is taking the seasonal mid-winter holidays off to contemplate on improvements.

We are back again in January, with a serie of articles about an European city that is laying the foundation for a sustainable future. String along and meet Newcastle upon Tyne!

Also, sign up for our newsletter and you will receive an email when the next Tellus Think Tank article is published!

22 voices – Do It Yourself – Save Earth No005

Thank you for contributing to the Tellus Think Tank quest of sharing ideas to inspire others!
We gathered 22 voices on Doing It Yourself – Saving Earth.

Can we continue living in this way?

In the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, about 1815, Earth was inhabited by one billion people.
Two hundred years later, there is currently seven billion people on Earth, a number still increasing.
Humanity is using more and more of Earths resources in not altogether constructive ways.

The current human way of life is causing problems such as “Global Warming” but also decreasing the diversity on our planet. Many animal- and plant species are already extinct and many more are on the road towards the same unfortunate future.

Read more about causes of Global Warming in the Tellus Think Tank article: Is Earth doing alright?

In December 2015, at the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris, an international environmental agreement was reached. It shows that our politicians are working on finding environmental solutions. However, they are often also part of the vast amount of environment problems we need to tackle:

  1. Green house gas emissions are still increasing:
    Peak hour traffic Photo: AnnVixen
    Peak hour traffic Photo: AnnVixen

    -The amount of fossil fuelled transports causing massive carbon dioxide emissions.
    -The growing market for beef and lamm meat are causing massive methan emissions.

  2. The lacking of clean, natural land and nature, that give people, animals and plants the possibility to thrive and grow.
  3. The pollution of our lands and oceans because of waste and toxic contamination.
  4. The Depleting of agricultural land, allowing the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
  5. The list goes on…

22 voices
What if it’s up to You and me? Not everybody can do everything, but together we believe we can save our planet!



Join in – Save Earth by sharing ideas!

Send us your contribution:

1) What you are doing to save the planet
2) your name
3) your age
4) your country of residence
5) picture

Understenshöjden eco village! Photo: AnnVixen
Understenshöjden eco village! Photo: AnnVixen

Read about one of Swedens first eco villages, Understenshöjden! Built by people that actively have chosen to live in a more sustainable way!

Let us notify you when Tellus Think Tanks next weeks article is available!



Tellus Think Tank
Tellus Think Tank

Sachiko and CEMUS want to save the world! No004


October 1st, 2015. Tellus Think Tank is happy to meet Sachiko Ishihara, recent graduate and now Course Coordinator, at CEMUS in Uppsala University. I have already checked out the CEMUS website where they proclaim wanting to save the world! This makes me very curious!

Sachiko Ishihara coordinates Global Challenges & Sustainable Futures at CEMUS.
Sachiko Ishihara coordinates Global Challenges & Sustainable Futures at CEMUS.

I meet Sachiko Ishihara an October day in the CEMUS-library of Uppsala, just north of the capital of Stockholm. It is perfectly beautiful, but unnaturally warm for Sweden at this time of year. Tellus Think Tank is bustling with questions.


I learn that CEMUS stands for “Centre for Environmental- and Development Studies”  and that Sachiko Ishihara grew up in Tokyo, Japan. She is one of four siblings, has lived in Sweden for two years and is currently employed by CEMUS to coordinate the course “Global Challenges and Sustainable Futures”.

What is CEMUS and what is its educational scope?

Sachiko Ishihara describes the educational scope of CEMUS to cover almost anything that has to do with sustainability.

The center interdisciplinary courses in the sustainability area, broadly covering development in society with courses like the more theoretical “The Global Economy” and like the more hands on “Urban Agriculture”. 

Culture Carnival, held annually in May! Photo: Henrik Axelsson
Culture Carnival, held annually in May!     Photo: Henrik Axelsson

The center also organises practical courses such as “Project Management”, with an initial theoretical base and then letting the students plan, run and assess their own sustainability projects. Sachiko Ishihara tells me about a couple of the student projects:

  • Race for the Planet Board game – the project is creating a board game where the players need to collaborate, instead of compete, in order to increase sustainability.
  • No-Waste Cooking classes.
  • The Latvia and Sweden re-use project.
  • The Culture Carnival – now an annual May happening in Uppsala and open to the public.
Guest professor Doreen Stabinsky filling re-built car with gas. Photo: Isak Stoddard
Guest professor Doreen Stabinsky filling re-built car with gas. Photo: Isak Stoddard

At this point the acting Program Director of CEMUS, Daniel Mossberg, enters the room to say hello! He adds another inspiring student project to the list and tells us that one student project rebuilt an old Volvo car to run on gas instead of petrol!

Sachiko Ishihara didn’t take the specific Project Management course, however she did start her own world improvement project with two fellow students.

In all modesty, Sachiko Ishihara tells me they called it

Ekolibria - a world improvement project.
Ekolibria – a world improvement project.

‘Ekolibria’ and they organise visits to schools to educate children of all ages about sustainability. Talk about walking the talk!  

The center of CEMUS was founded in a special way?

Sachiko Ishihara happily exclaims:

Yes it was! Two students, Niclas Hällström and Magnus Tuvendal, founded CEMUS over 20 years ago!

The two students were given the opportunity to discuss the lack of interdisciplinary educational possibilities with the president of Uppsala University with the result that the University asked them to organise an interdisciplinary course on the subject “Humanity and Nature”. The fellow student interest was so large that 400 students signed up for the course. 

Since then CEMUS has developed into a university center at the University of Uppsala, annually offering 20 interdisciplinary sustainability courses. Sachiko Ishihara tells me that 50 % of these are held in English and that CEMUS attracts about 50% of its students from countries other than Sweden.

Project Management and Sustainability course at CEMUS.
Project Management and Sustainability course at CEMUS.

What makes CEMUS unique as a pedagogical institute of Sustainability?

Sachiko Ishihara proudly tells me that CEMUS-courses are not coordinated and put together by professors, but by students or recent graduates that are employed in the role as Course coordinators.

The Course Coordinators have the official university title “Amanuensis” which normally is a student that is also employed to do administrative work for the university. However, at CEMUS, employed students are given far more responsibility.

What are the Course Coordinators responsible for?

Sachiko Ishihara gives me a picture of an important role where the course coordinators:

  • Develop the courses.
  • Choose the course contents.
  • Run the courses.
  • Make sure that the red thread of the subjects and contents are held.

The course coordinator gathers a knowledgable work group of specialists, such as professors and research students, for feedback on the content of their course. When the course content is ready the course coordinators organise the course by inviting speakers, facilitating student discussions, projects and assignments. Depending on the individual, some even hold educational sessions for fellow students.  

What does CEMUS mean by interdisciplinary?

The Global Economy an interdisciplinary CEMUS course.
The Global Economy an interdisciplinary CEMUS course.

A discipline is another word for subject, according to Wikipedia (2015-10-02). An interdisciplinary course at CEMUS means creating an insight, by crossing subject boundaries.

Sachiko Ishihara says that the CEMUS interdisciplinary courses help students to understand the dynamics and processes of the world, how they are created and have influenced present settings. Subjects that might be combined in their inter-disciplinary courses span widely from for instance Environmental Science, Democracy, Ethics, Business, Biology. 

The CEMUS course coordinators invite speakers from many different areas, not just professors but also non-academics, business people, entrepreneurs, engineers, activists and representatives from non-profit organisations, to mention a few. All with the purpose of helping their students understand how the development of our world works.

Sachiko Ishihara mentions speakers like the writer and singer Alan AtKisson and the Swedish politician, Gudrun Schyman.  I also read on CEMUS homepage about open lectures with activist Polly Higgins and US Professor in Systems Management, Dennis Meadows.

What kind of people seek educational possibilities at CEMUS?

CEMUS students identified some challenges in the world.... Photo: AnnVixen
CEMUS students identified some challenges in the world…. Photo: AnnVixen

We take a walk through the building and find an early assignment on sustainability issues where students identify problems in their hometown. I can see Colombia, The US, North Korea, Japan, Australia and Sweden on the board, to mention some.  

Students come from different majors and academic disciplines, for instance, Engineering, Art, History or Business and have a strong interest in improving the world and learning more about sustainability. Sachiko Ishihara, also concludes, that some students are totally new to sustainability and are curious to learn more!

CEMUS student lounge. Photo: AnnVixen
CEMUS student lounge. Photo: AnnVixen

What does sustainability mean for the people at CEMUS?

Sachiko Ishihara looks slightly troubled by this question at first, and frowns in thought before explaining:

-The people that meet at CEMUS have a diversity of views, she says. Rather than one common approach the people of CEMUS range on a wide spectra from radical- to mainstream thoughts, just like the general public.

Sachiko Ishihara concludes that there is a common basic understanding among all students and staff of CEMUS and that is: Life on earth needs to change to be more sustainable.

What is the overall message that CEMUS is sending to students and society?

Sachiko Ishihara explains what makes CEMUS such an interesting institute in a university setting:

-Society needs to change and CEMUS holds criticism towards inequality, waste, non-sustainable use of the resources of earth. There is also a unique belief in young people and the questioning of normative values and traditional experts.

How can students and society notice the core beliefs of CEMUS?

Student assignment on issues in home country. Photo: AnnVixen
Student assignment on sustainability issue in home country. Photo: AnnVixen

According to Sachiko Ishihara, the first thing you would notice is that CEMUS, by putting students in course coordinator roles and other responsible positions, breaks the norm of the academic hierarchy.

-Secondly, you would see the active and structured encouragement of students to discuss and question normative beliefs.

-Thirdly, CEMUS is all about activating people and doing things differently to improve results, Sachiko Ishihara continues.

I also learn that the active student pedagogy encourages

Student assignment on sustainability issue in home country. Photo: AnnVixen
Student assignment on sustainability issue in home country. Photo: AnnVixen

students to work in diverse and internationally mixed groups. The mixed groups give different perspectives on issues and enhance student motivation and understanding.

When debating and exploring contradictions in the needs of the world, students easier understand why trade-offs are made.

For example, students from the so-called “developed” countries may argue that Earth doesn’t need any more growth, and call for “de-growth”. Students from the so-called “less-developed” countries might, in their turn, question this statement.

-CEMUS does not run a one-way education, Sachiko Ishihara concludes.

How is CEMUS helping to save the world?

CEMUS wall decoration says more than a thousand words! Photo: AnnVixen
One of the CEMUS wall decoration says more than a thousand words! Photo: AnnVixen

Sachiko Ishihara is firm when stating:

-CEMUS education will make a difference, by activating individuals with an educational process that plants seeds by education, training of critical thinking, diversity and training in proposing solutions.

Sachiko Ishihara and I are back in the CEMUS-library and thank each other for an interesting meeting. I can conclude that her creativity, courtesy and knowledge have been really inspiring!

NEXT: Tellus Think Tank find is it good to see that at least Swedish Universities are taking Sustainability seriously. We are curious as to what other countries are doing so we book a meeting with the University of Newcastle. However, next week we will be visiting the first Eco Village of Sweden to learn from their learning!

You just have to love Uppsala, says Domi! Photo: AnnVixen
You just have to love Uppsala, says Domi! Photo: AnnVixen

NEWSLETTER: If you have signed up for our weekly newsletter we will send you a note when the article is available!

IDEAS: Do you feel inspired, or curious? Is there anything you would like the Tellus Think Tank team to cover or investigate? Let us know!


Sustainability in Swedish schools No003


September 2015, Stockholm, Sweden. Tellus Think Tank wanted an insight into how the sustainability approach in schools can differ and met with Lars Benon, Headmaster of Enskede School. He is also former headmaster and founder of the  Global Gymnasium (Globala gymnasiet) in Stockholm which was built from scratch on a foundation of human rights. By Domi, TellusThinkTank, November 2015

Since the autumn of 2014 Lars Benon is currently headmaster of Enskede School, located in the Stockholm suburb of Enskede. However, his career started as a teacher and later as Chief Information Officer at WeEffect. Lars Benon was also one of the founders, and the first headmaster, of the Global Gymnasium on Södermalm in the center of Stockholm.

ABOUT TELLUS THINK TANK….read more here 

City of Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen
City of Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen

The Tellus Think Tank team finds Lars Benon’s career to have been very interesting;  first designing a school based on ideas and then taking over an 100-year old school with old traditions, is a special and unique combination. The red thread through the career of Lars Benon seems to have been to Human Rights and Sustainability!

Lars tells us about the Global Gymnasium

‘Gymnasium’ in the Swedish world of education, could be compared to an English Upper Secondary School or an American Senior High School. A gymnasium educates people between the ages of 15 and 20 years.

The idea that led to the Global Gymnasium came from a group of six people, one of them being Lars Benon. The group had an idea of starting a school with focus on global human rights. All members of the group had backgrounds either in teaching or working with global human rights issues.  

The Global Gymnasium, Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen
The Global Gymnasium, Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen

The group met with representatives of the City of Stockholm to tell the city what they where planning. The  city liked their ideas so much that it asked the team to open the school within the domain of the city.

The specially designed Global Gymnasium opened for students in 2004 and Lars Benon became its first headmaster.

The initial guiding human rights principles were soon broadened from “Education for a more equal society” to “Education for Sustainable Development”.  The school was placed within the city, in the middle of the densely populated island of Södermalm.

One of the first projects that the new pupils got to work with went under the name “The Glocal Project”. The assignment was to perform a life-cycle analysis on a product of the pupils choosing. The analysis showed:

  • The origin of every component in the product.
  • How and by whom the components had been produced and assembled.
  • How all the components and assembled product had been transported.
  • How the product had been packaged and sold.
  • How the product had been used.
  • What finally happened to the product after it had been discarded.
The Global Gymnasium of Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen
The Global Gymnasium of Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen

The Glocal project often became an immediate eye-opener for the pupil, linking production and consumption with the unsustainable use of the resources of our planet.

The pupils of the Global Gymnasium were offered many possibilities that normal Swedish gymnasiums don’t provide:

  • A strong cooperation was developed between the gymnasium and the Stockholm Resilience Centre
    – a Swedish government research center on social-ecological systems.
  • A strong cooperation was built around student study materials with the WWF (formerly World Wildlife Fund).
  • Co-operations were also formed with the Universities of Södertörn and Stockholm, which gave third year pupils of the gymnasium, the possibility to also take Climate and Environment courses at both universities. The Global Gymnasium acted as guarantor to ensure that the pupils were prepared both mentally and knowledge wise.   
School lunch at Global gymnasium. Organic chick-pea beef. Photo: AnnVixen
School lunch at Global gymnasium. Organic chick-pea beef. Photo: AnnVixen

The Global Gymnasium was early to advertise for a lunch chef with an interest in running an organic school kitchen. It was soon identified in the pre-planning of the kitchen that to be able to be sustainable the kitchen needed to serve organic and mostly vegetarian food.

The vegetarian lunch soon became a natural part of the pupils normal school day.
The few occasions that lunch contained either fish or meat were met by strong pupil protests because of the unsustainable food (note: due to transport, carbon- and methane emission surrounded by these foods).

After seven years, as the founding headmaster, Lars Benon left Global Gymnasium and re-entered the school world, first as a consultant and later as headmaster for elementary schools, with pupils from six to fifteen years of age.

Enskede School by sunrise. Photo: AnnVixen
Enskede School by sunrise. Photo: AnnVixen

About Enskede School

Enskede School is located in the middle of one of Stockholm’s garden suburbs and was build over 100 years ago on ground that had previously been agricultural land.

The early inhabitants of Enskede initially experienced living in the countryside but as Stockholm has grown a lot since then Enskede is now one of the closest suburbs to the city. Up until the 1980’s, however, there were still farming plots and allotments on the grounds of the school.

The number of pupils of Enskede School has constantly increased. In the 1980’s the school annually educated about 550 pupils a year, to be compared to 2015 when the school educates about 1000 pupils with the help of a staff of 125. The gardens and allotments on the school grounds have had to be removed to be able to house more educational buildings.

Lars Benon, you have been the headmaster of Enskede School for just over a year. What was your first impression?

-There are many really capable pupils and well educated teachers at Enskede School. The pupils are mostly happy, healthy and have good parental support. The school also has a tradition of encouraging healthy living among the teachers.  When I first started I could see many inspiring pedagogical initiatives from many of the teachers, Lars Benon remembers.

Did you identify any challenges for the school during your first year?

-The school had many able teachers that worked individually with different inspiring projects but they were not coordinated centrally, Lars Benon says.

He further describes that the school lacked a common approach to pedagogics and learning and that pedagogical activities were not run from a common idea of practise or vision.  Lars Benon also describes the school buildings as not being properly suited for the activities of the school.

-During my first year we started a couple of improvement projects.

He tells med that the staff of Enskede School are very committed and tells us more about the projects:

  • Photo: AnnVixen
    Photo: AnnVixen

    Identifying and launching a joint vision and basic principles for Enskede School.  -Participation in the Stockholms Prio-project, aiming at strengthening the faculty cooperation and developing working procedures so that school management can steer resources to where they are needed best.

  • Developing articulated expectation documents to show what expectations pupils and parents may have from the school and vice versa what the school expects from pupils and parents.
  • Taking the competence of teachers to the next level by participating in national Swedish Mathematics leverage- and Teacher leverage programs.
  • Developing methods for the staff to support pupils physical and social health by working with so called “Student Health Teams”.
  • Developing the buildings of the school so they are better adjusted to school activities.

Lars Benon tells med that currently all school staff is intensely involved with these improvement projects and running the school and education in parallel. He looks a bit worried about the school staff workload and explains that it is a vast amount of work that has to be handled. I understand him as he has an ambitious program going on!

How have you noticed the environmental policy of the city of Stockholm? And is it difficult to live up to?

Autumn leaves in Stockholm. Photo: AnnVixen
Autumn leaves in Stockholm.
Photo: AnnVixen

The City of Stockholm is certified according to the IS0 14001 environmental quality system that demands for instance: a process for constant improvements, following environmental legislation and keeping track of the organisation’s impact on the environment.

Lars Benon says that he has not yet noticed much of the city’s environment policy. The most apparent directive has been that all the city’s school vehicles should be electrically powered. Enskede School, however, doesn’t own any cars.

Another directive from the city is that 25% of all food served at schools should be organic. Enskede School has no problem with living up to that standard.

How is Enskede School involved in environment work? How can this be noticed?

Work with sustainability within Enskede school is currently driven by individual initiative among the staff but really needs to be co-ordinated. However there is only so much a team can do at once. Lars Benon holds the improvement projects as a priority before moving on to focusing more on pedagogics within sustainable development.

Do you find that Enskede School currently distinguishes itself in any way in the areas of environment and sustainability?

Patchwork art from Enskede Schools 100-year jubilee. Photo: AnnVixen
Patchwork art from Enskede Schools 100-year jubilee. Photo: AnnVixen

Lars Benon looks as if he feels a bit guilty and says:

-So far Enskede School has not denoted itself especially but I would love to mention that the school has set a higher target for the amount of organic food than the city of Stockholm. The aim is to reach 40% and the school is already serving food with an organic ratio of up to 30%.

Lars Benon would love to see a stronger focus on Sustainability in the future, but first he wants the school to reach the goals of the ongoing pedagogical projects to take the schools pedagogics to the level where they should be.

Further, Lars Benon proclaims, sustainable development within a school with an already ongoing educational effort has to be run according to a process, one step at a time.  

Does Enskede School have the prerequisites that are needed to work in more sustainable ways?

Lars Benon smiles:

-Yes, absolutely! The best thing going for the school here is the strong commitment from parents, pupils and teachers. I would love to see the school kitchen and the cooking of school lunches become a part of the sustainability education. The school kitchen needs to become even more organically profiled and serve not only “healthy food” but “healthy and organic food” which demands a higher ratio of organic food products and the decreasing of food waste.

Lars Benon also believes that the school will introduce inter-disciplinary work, over school subjects, with focus on sustainability. The pupils could from a relatively early age start looking at the origins of their food, clothes and local prerequisites from a sustainability perspective.

Is there something you think I should have asked you?

The School yard of Enskede School. Photo: AnnVixen
The School yard of Enskede School. Photo: AnnVixen

Lars Benon tells med that he would have loved for the school to be involved in a manifestation on sustainability during the UN Climate meeting in Paris, Cop21, in December 2015. The school had plans to involve all students in building an ice sculpture on the schoolyard, under the leadership of a famous artist. When I meet Lars Benon, in September, the school recently had to discard this specific idea. However, Lars Benon hopes some other idea will be performed instead. It will be exciting to see what the school comes up with!

TellusThinkTank realises that every school has its own prerequisites when it comes to sustainability. The City of Stockholm’s support of the Global Gymnasium plus the fact that the city once again has hired a human rights and sustainability agent, that we can find in Lars Benon, seem like constructive steps in the right direction!

The Tellus Think Tank team looks forward to following the sustainable progress of Enskede School! We also probably share the same curiosity as You do, if there are any other schools in the world that distinguish themselves more in sustainability than the Global Gymnasium or Enskede School. Maybe you know of one, please let us know!

Next week Tellus Think Tank meets a representative from a distinguished University of Sweden, namely Sachiko Ishihara of CEMUS, a sustainability faculty of Uppsala University. Sign up for our newsletter and we will let you know when the article is published! 



Is Earth doing alright? No002


How is Earth doing? Many contrary impressions are given both from people in our surroundings and through different media channels. Let’s find out what is correct.
Domi, TellusThinkTank 2015-11-12

Stockholm November 2015. Outside the window a few leaves can still be spotted in the trees, soon about to join the thousands of fallen maple stars on the black tar sky. People are walking over them on their way to work, just as usual. There is however an important difference this year: the average temperature is 5 / 12 °F warmer than normal.

November 1-11, 2015. Sweden is 3 to 5 degrees celsius warmer than normal, according to
November 1-11, 2015.
Sweden is 3 to 5 degrees celsius warmer than normal, according to

Tellus Think Tank has spoken to many different persons about sustainability and about the environment, a wide array of people from environmental specialists to urban farmers and to people like ourselves, that is people who don’t normally work with the environment.


It was in the conversations with the latter group, normal people in several different European countries, that we heard the same type of phrase:

-I don’t believe in Global Warming. The natural processes of Earth would have heated the climate anyhow, they said.

I am surfing the internet to try and find explanations and graphs for the warm weather of November. Even on the internet I find many different groups with contrary messages:

  • Human emissions of carbon dioxide and methane are the cause of Global Warming.
  • Global Warming is a part of Earth’s natural processes.
  • Earth is not warmer that usual.

What is really true about Global Warming?
To get an answer to this question we turn to Niclas Köhler, expert on sustainable development, working as a communicator at the Swedish construction company NCC. With a background in journalism and biology he has been working as an environmental reporter for over 20 years. He lays it out for us:

Niclas Köhler.
Niclas Köhler.

-The Earth’s natural processes can be the cause of a certain variation in the climate but Global Warming that we are experiencing now is indisputably created by humankind, Niclas Köhler says.

Niclas Köhler continues to tell me that scientists were in disagreement/at odds during a period but today 99% of the scientists are in agreement. More than 800 scientists have written a report for the United Nations climate panel (IPCC – International Panel On Climate Change) about how the heated climate is a direct effect of the emissions from human activity. They are calling the phenomenon “Global Warming”.

What have humans done to cause Global Warming?

So, I summarise, Earth is in the beginning of a period of unusually high average temperatures and these temperatures are caused by human emissions. What kind of emissions are we talking about here?

Niclas Köhler tells me that scientists first believed carbon dioxide emissions were the main cause of the climate heating, but that they have now also understood the vastness of the methane gas emissions.

When people increase the amount of carbon dioxide and methane, the so-called greenhouse gases, they retain the heat radiated from Earth itself and keeps it in the atmosphere of Earth. With more molecules like these in the atmosphere of Earth the climate becomes warmer.

The sun heats Earth. Earth then radiates heat into the Earth atmosphere. If the atmosphere contains more carbon dioxide- and methane molecules more heat will stay within the atmosphere. With less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere more of the heat easily bounces out into space. Illustration: AnnVixen
The sun heats Earth. Earth then radiates heat into the Earth atmosphere. If the atmosphere contains more carbon dioxide- and methane molecules more heat will stay within the atmosphere. With less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere more of the heat easily bounces out into space. Illustration: AnnVixen

Carbon dioxide has always existed and is created when biological material is disintegrated / decomposed, for example when a tree falls down and starts rotting. When a new tree grows it instead binds carbon dioxide in its wooden fibers. De unhealthy carbon dioxides are created when we burn the so-called fossil fuels: diesel, oil, petrol and coal.

Niclas Köhler tells me that fossil fuels were created millions of years ago when biological material such as dead animals, brackens and micro algae sunk to the bottom of a lake, where covered up but not decomposed fully but instead were formed into a layer of, for instance, coal.

Methane emissions are created when organic material, that is everything that grows in nature, is decomposed in a environment with a low level of oxygen.  According to Wikipedia  (2015-11-12) humans are responsible for 60 percent of the methane emissions, when allowing leakages extracting oil or gas or coal. About 17 % of the methane emissions come from the human livestock production of cows and sheep – the methane comes mainly from the animal’s digestion and faeces.  

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, in the beginning of the 1800s, the methane content in our atmosphere has doubled and the carbon dioxide content is not far behind.

What happens when the climate of earth becomes warmer as an effect of the emissions?

As an answer to this question Niclas Köhler quotes Sten Bergström, former Head of Research at SMHI, Sweden’s Expert Authority on Meteorologi, Hydrology, Oceanografi och Klimatologi:

-There will be more action in the system, he quotes.

Niclas Köhler explains that heat is energy and that more action in the system means:

  • More forceful storms.
  • More water when it rains.
  • Higher peaks and lower valleys on the temperature curve.

Niclas Köhler calls this “Extreme Weather”. Global Warming will bring more Extreme Weather.

What signs can we see that Global Warming and its extreme weather is already taking place?

Many parts of the world have already been hit by the climate change extreme weather in form of heavy storms and rainfall causing major damage. Gothenburg is one city that experienced this.

A Cityplanner scenario that puts Gothenburg under water.
A Cityplanner scenario that puts Gothenburg under water.

Just recently the city presented a “skyfall model” to simulate different scenarios with heavy rain, with the urge to be able to plan for coming storms and soften the consequences. The scenario model tool is open for the public on the city internet, and when trying a couple of different scenarios one can see that the City of Gothenburg might be standing before some really major challenges.

I recently visited my English cousins and they showed me a picture from a helicopter tour over the Hoover dam in the US state of Arizona. The photo pictures a white layer above the water all around the mountains around the dam, showing where the normal water level used to be. The water reserves, meant for drinking and farming, are considerably lower than earlier.

The Hoover Dam Photo: Victor Jackson
The Hoover Dam Photo: Victor Jackson

Niclas Köhler also mentions similar problems in the neighbouring state of California. The inhabitants there are living in a permanent state of drought, causing problems with farming and drinking water resources.

NIclas Köhler also says that many European countries have felt the effect of the Global Warming.

The United Kingdom, for example, has been hit by heavy rainfalls. One spectacular example is “The Toon Monsoon” in the metropolitan area of Newcastle on Tyne, a city that has not earlier been hit by floods.

In Lonely Planet’s book “Morocco” by Paul Clammer a description can be found of how the Northern parts of Africa are slowly drying out. I remember a documentary in Swedish SVT’s show “Vetenskapens Värld” (World of Science) that showed how ten of twelve rivers had dried out in the Southern parts of Morocco and it had forced the inhabitants to move to the Moroccan cities.

Sands of the South. Photo: AnnVixen
Sands of the South. Photo: AnnVixen

I might be coming to some very fast conclusions, it is possibly drought in the middle east that is forcing its inhabitants to flee north to land areas with a cooler climate. Europe, is as it seems, very close at hand. The people of the middle east would not seek refugee in the south with even higher temperatures, would they? Thermometers in the Arabian peninsular show summer temperatures of almost 50 / 122 °F.

Summarizing: Humankind emits too much carbon dioxide and methane which leads to the heating of the atmosphere around Earth and is the cause of Extreme Weather –  drought, storms and rain that cause problems for farming, damage to infrastructure and the major movement of people.

And according to the scientists we are only at the beginning of this unnaturally warm period.

What can we expect from the future? Is there hope or is Global Warming the end of humankind as a species?

Currently Earth holds 7,3 billion people, according to the United Nations. This number of inhabitants can be compared to the one billion people that lived on earth at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, only about 200 years ago. I ask Niclas Köhler if he sees any possibility of having so many people on Earth and at the same time living sustainably?

-Yes, we can [loooong pause] but we need to reconsider our life styles. We have a lot of technique and knowledge to our help but we really need to put it into practise.  

He ascertains that humanity has had a fantastic development and economic growth built on access to cheap coal and oil but that we have used more of nature’s resources than nature has had time to re-create.

What hands-on arrangements do we need adopt, now that we need to reconsider our lifestyles?

Niclas Köhler talks about two groups of activities needed simultaneously. The first is to mitigate the risks and soften the damages of the climate change and the second is to  decrease emissions.

Two roads forward. Illustration: Ann Vixen
Two roads forward. Illustration: Ann Vixen

Decreasing risks and damages caused by climate change can for instance be activities such as handling the larger amounts of water expected in some parts of the world.

Niclas Köhler has some examples of what the building company NCC are working with and mentions a tunnel that is soon to be built under the Danish City of Copenhagen for Hofor, with the purpose of leading away excessive amounts of water and leading it out to the harbour.

In this context The Tellus Think Tank-team also brings the Emisor Oriente-tunnel to mind. The tunnel was built under Mexico City for the same reasons.

NCC has also developed a special asphalt that lets through water much faster than traditional asphalt. The company is also looking into how their residential building projects shall handle the expected increase in water, so that damage by dampness can be avoided.

Illustration: Hofor
Tunnel under Copenhagen. Illustration: Hofor

We can do a lot of work with mitigating the damages but is is much cheaper and considerably less risky to work proactively to avoid the problems, Niclas Köhler says.

That is why it is more important to reduce emission. By reducing emissions the effects of Global Warming can reach a problematic stage, instead of the catastrophic level that we are heading towards now.

Use renewable energy sources and reduce beef in your daily diet, is the short advice that Niclas Köhler offers. He soon continues with an array of activities that could help us reduce the effects of the Global Warming:

  • Phase out the coal plants! Consumers can help by choosing an electrical company that offers green, environmentally friendly electricity.
  • Heat your house with district warming, pellets or a heat pump.
  • Kiruna. Swedens most northern Passive house, built by NCC. Photographer: Joanna Redman/NCC
    Kiruna. Swedens most northern lowenergy Passive house, built by NCC. Photographer: Joanna Redman/NCC

    Build low energy houses – that is buildings that do not leak heat through walls or windows and that contain all heat brought into the house. Old houses can become energy effective by renovation. NCC works with both low energy houses and sustainable renovations.

  • Don’t knock down old concrete structures but re-use them, as the process of making new concrete emits large amounts of carbon dioxid.
  • Decrease your rides with the car as far as possible, at least until you can afford to buy a car that runs totally without fossil petrol and diesel. Electrical Vehicles, driven by batteries or fuel cells, will probably soon take over the market.
  • Car production is also has large emissions of greenhouse gases and every family might not need a car of their own, most cars stand parked most of the time. Instead a family could take a cab, use public transport, walk, take the bike or join a car pool.
  • Eat less beef and lamb and replace it with chicken or vegetarian food if possible.
  • Decrease the number of journeys with aeroplane, until the renewable fuels that researchers are working on are taken in use.
  • In regions where biogas is an alternative these should be exploited as much as possible. It is not practically possible to transport biogas so far, so it has to be considered as a local propellant.
  • In countries where the sun is an asset, investments should be made so that solar cells can replace fossil fuels. The energy from the sun is also good for countries closer to the poles, such as Sweden, but the sun produces more energy than average in the summer and less than average in the winter.
  • Even industrial processes need to save heat by insulating and taking advantage of waste heat.

So it is not too late to turn the Global Warming process around?

No, not yet but we really need to rethink how we live and decrease the use of fossil fuels and eating less beef. Change our lives and introduce hands-on activities as a way forward.

There are examples of other environmental problems where we have been very successful and changed a destructive trend. Niclas Köhler mentions the replacing of freons in our refrigerators letting the ozone layer around Earth regenerate. Another example is when Sweden successfully reduced sulphur emissions when burning fossil oil, which was causing acidification of Swedish woods and waters.

I thank Niclas Köhler for his pedagogical description of the present situation of Earth, and for sharing hope for the future!   

Now that the Tellus Think Tank team understands a bit more about Global Warming we are wondering how this information is being spread in societies and we are also wondering what young people are being taught about it in schools today. Next we investigate how a Swedish school handles environmental questions and meet with with Lars Benon, who has worked as headmaster at several schools in the Stockholm region. Check it out!

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