Stockholm is tackling climate change through construction

This article is produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm.

From plus energy houses in Stockholm’s Östermalm borough to retrofitted banks in the heart of the city, the Swedish capital is going green with full force.

  • Photo: Skanska
    Photo: Skanska
  • Photo: Skanska
    Photo: Skanska

Stockholm has long been seen as a pioneer of sustainability with green thinking evident in all areas of society. The city is currently in the midst of a construction boom but that doesn’t mean that Sweden’s construction industry is ignoring its strict climate goals. At Swedish construction group Skanska, the climate challenge is taken into account at every stage of the construction process. 

Two years ago, it was commissioned by Stockholmshem, Stockholm's largest housing company, to bring a unique climate-smart project to life.

“In 2014, Stockholmshem won a competition organized by Stockholm City with a focus on aesthetics and energy consumption with the motivation that their proposal had ‘a holistic approach to energy efficiency and good living environments with an interesting and exciting architectonic expression,” says Niklas Leveau, Green Business Developer at Skanska. “In August 2017, Stockholmshem decided to let Skanska bring their vision to life.”

Earlier this year, the trailblazing development, located in the sustainability pioneering region of Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Stockholm’s Östermalm borough, was completed and christened Backåkra 2. In line with its ambition to optimize quality and execution while also meeting energy targets, the development, which consists of two tenement buildings, is unique in numerous ways – not least in that both buildings feature twisted roof-ridges and produce more energy than they can use.

“Apart from their aesthetic uniqueness and many technical solutions such as garbage disposal and energy recovery heat exchangers, the Backåkra buildings are unlike any other of our prior projects in many respects – for example, they both have indented, glass-encaged balconies to minimize energy waste,” says Leveau. “Thanks to a higher-than-usual share of solar panels (730 square meters), south-facing roofs, and borehole energy storage, the buildings are so-called plus energy houses that can sell some of the energy they generate on the electricity grid.”

According to Leveau, the main reason Backåkra 2 is a success story in environmentally-friendly construction is that it combines many small elements that together make a big difference in terms of energy consumption and carbon footprint.

“Backåkra brings together many energy-saving techniques, some old and some new,” explains Leveau. “But what makes Backåkra unique is the combination of all of these different elements in one and the same building – this is something that had not been done previously.”

‘Prioritizing energy-efficiency and climate-friendly materials pays off’

Another Stockholm developer that believes that small streams make great rivers is JM AB. At the Nordic property developer and manager, which has also recently built single-family housing and apartments in Norra Djurgårdsstaden, the approach to sustainability has been all or nothing since the beginning.

“For us, if we find a viable climate-friendly solution we go all in and have it implemented at all of our buildings,” says Kjell-Åke Henriksson, Head of Energy and senior advisor Installation at JM. “For this reason, all of our climate-solutions have to be scalable and holistic for us to consider them.”

JM started its work with energy-efficiency in 2000, and today their buildings use, on average, 50 percent less energy than they did ten years ago. Today all JM´s ongoing construction projects  are “Svanen-certified” – the construction business’ Michelin recognition for the use of climate-smart materials.

“We have been able to cut the energy consumption of our buildings by half by standardizing and streamlining most of the technical aspects of our projects,” says Henriksson. “In practice, this means that we place centralized orders on everything that is not directly value-creating for the customer including heat pumps, insulation, windows, and energy forecasting systems.”

Henriksson emphasizes that an ambitious climate agenda does not necessarily equal higher costs of construction for developers. Rather, in the long run, prioritizing energy-efficiency and climate-friendly materials pays off.

“Even if an energy-rationalizing measure incurs an extra cost in the short term, in the long run, this usually lowers the operating costs of the building,” says Henriksson. “For example, in the future, when solar panels are even cheaper and more competitive than they are today, it will be more expensive for buildings not to have solar panels.”

‘The most climate-friendly thing to do is not to build’

Elsewhere in Stockholm, the Swedish real estate company Vasakronan is paving the way for a new approach to sustainable construction by prioritizing the remodeling of existing buildings.

“The most climate-friendly thing to do is not to build new but to retrofit old buildings, especially considering the immense climate-impact of concrete,” says Anna Denell, Sustainability Manager at Vasakronan. “This is what we are currently doing with Sergelhuset, the old offices of SEB, in the heart of Stockholm. We decided to modernize and repurpose the shell of the building as well as to add solar panels and rooftop gardens.”

Vasakronan’s Sergelhuset project is not just a one-off but, according to Denell, a necessary step for the company to reach its goal of becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. This applies to both the maintenance and the production of buildings.

“Sometimes there is no choice but to build something new,” says Denell. “But if we are to reach our ambitious climate goals, it is hard to rationalize our main strategy not being to keep and re-envision what's already been built.”

‘Sustainability is a key consideration’

The strict climate standards followed by Stockholm’s construction companies aren’t just reserved for housing. At Stockholm Arlanda, the international airport just north of the capital, and one of 30 airports in the world to have received a top score on the global carbon management programme Airport Carbon Accreditation, the work with sustainability is similarly cutting-edge. The recently-completed Office One, a new office space built for minimum energy waste, is an example of how sustainability can be normalized on an organizational level in the construction business.

“Sustainability is a key consideration for all of Swedavia’s commercial buildings, and Office One is just one example of our BREEAM-certified, the world’s leading sustainability assessment method,” says Stefan Stenberg, CEO Swedavia Real Estate. “Swedavia is very much concerned with sustainability and aspires to reach excellence through state-of-the-art techniques.”