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Why Aalborg’s triple helix works?

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 11:03

Aalborg has been historically involved in championing sustainable development in Europe. Having launched the European Sustainable Cities & Towns Campaign in 1994, the city has played a key role in defining what a sustainable European city should look like. In an exclusive interview with Government Gazette, Thomas Kastrup-Larsen, Mayor of Aalborg sets out the city’s sustainable commitments and offers best pathways to create resilient and sustainable cities

Internationally, cities and businesses pose a significant challenge to sustainable development, both environmentally, socially and economically. In the future, up to 70-80% of the world population will live in cities, and thus it is important to handle the challenges they pose. How can European cities become smart and sustainable?

To us, sustainability means balancing the needs of the city and the citizens with responsible use of available resources. We wish to ensure that our children will have the same standard of living that we have, which means that the fulfillment of our own needs should not come at the expense of future generations. Therefore, we strive to create strong links and partnerships from all across Aalborg Municipality to make the city more efficient, thereby minimizing our resource consumption.

In general, I think that a strong focus on creating a “circular” city is of immense importance for European cities. To become “circular,” we need to be able to redevelop our city systems in partnership with the different sectors in our city. The redevelopment of the systems has to be designed so that they can deliver integrated and holistic solutions. Our smart city initiatives are designed to support this.

As Aalborg is one of the cities having a great influence on the European cities’ work with sustainability, can you elaborate more on the city’s sustainability strategy?

Aalborg’s sustainability strategy is based on the “green transition” while also focusing on education, business and social actions. We believe that only strong policies, which combine and integrate policy areas, will help develop lasting sustainable cities – where people thrive. Aalborg is known for its strong collaboration between education, business and government (triple helix), which leads to innovation, growth, prosperity and more jobs. Aalborg, for example, has a very strong position when it comes to renewable energies (wind, biomass and solar) that create green jobs, reduce the climate impact and create a strong economy in the municipality. Another focus this year is to create more green social enterprises where people outside the labour market will have a chance for a job within the green transition. This includes the waste area where waste products are recycled, up-cycled and included in the circular economy.

The municipality has set up a Centre for Green Transition with the main purpose of creating a green transition in cooperation with citizens, companies, NGOs, etc. Some examples of projects are the Network for Sustainable Business Development, our yearly Sustainability Festival and our Green Agents. The latter is a project designed to engage citizen involvement by making it easier for citizens to be greener in their daily lives, supporting them with their green ideas.

What are some of Aalborg’s newest pathways to create productive, resilient and sustainable cities for an inclusive Europe?

We want cities, companies and individuals to endorse the newly adopted Basque Declaration on Sustainable Cities & Towns and want cities to use our common platform,, to share their transformative actions and through them inspire others to engage in the green transition.

This campaign will continue on the path that was laid down in 1994 with the Aalborg Charter and continued in 2004 through the Aalborg commitments.

Locally, we have – among other things – established a council for Green Energy with the purpose of setting up strategies on becoming CO2 neutral and we are currently working on creating the framework for an integrated energy system entirely based on renewable energy sources.

How can smart city concepts enable reducing the divide among citizens, and address the challenges posed by the escalating refugee crisis?

As a social democratic city for more than 100 years and an active player in the development of the Nordic welfare model, the city has a long and strong tradition for prioritising welfare policies, activities and city planning styles that minimise the divide among citizens. With the development of the “smart” city activities in Aalborg, the city council has decided to focus on sustainability, job creation and engagement of us all. Therefore, I believe that our “smart” city activities give us an excellent opportunity to maintain a strong focus on decreasing the divide between our citizens.

We need to think outside the box and find innovative ways to engage our civil societies in sustainable actions.