A university in the Swedish city that calls itself the “greenest city in Europe” will travel to Savannah next week seeking partnerships with local universities. 

Växjö University has been in talks with the Savannah College of Art & Design, and representatives from Växjö will meet with deans of two SCAD schools during the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce‘s Entrepreneurial Days conference in Savannah April 20-22.

Roger Lindqvist, external affairs director for Växjö University, told GlobalAtlanta that the university will be part of a broader Växjö delegation that will include representatives from the city government as well as local companies.

He hopes to find exchanges like the one that emerged from an eDays conference in Washington in 2005.

There, Växjö representatives met educators from Northern Michigan University, and a fruitful exchange program has developed, Mr. Lindqvist said.

Alisha Hammill, an exchange student from NMU, said she has enjoyed studying Swedish language and international relations in Växjö. She learned about the Växjö program from NMU’s student affairs office.

“I didn’t know much about the university, and when I came I found that there were 500 exchange students here,” she told GlobalAtlanta in Växjö. She now shares international student dormitories and classrooms with students from all over Europe and Asia.

Student exchanges aren’t the only opportunities for collaboration, though.

Växjö University is in a growth mode. By 2010 the school will merge with Kalmar University – about an hour away by train – to create Linnaeus University, which will have a combined a total of 25,000 students, said Anna Carlström, international liaison officer for Växjö University.

The school will be named after Carl Linneaus, a botanist born and raised in the Småland region, where Växjö is located. Mr. Linneaus lived in the 17th century and is credited with kick-starting the process of taxonomy, the science of categorizing organisms.

Located in a city that finds its identity in its environmental savvy, Växjö University also presents opportunities for U.S. companies interested in bioenergy, Mr. Lindqvist said. Växjö hosted part of eDays in 2007, and GlobalAtlanta sent a reporter along to cover the conference.

Växjö has plentiful forestry resources, and the city’s government has taken a posture of environmental responsibility, specializing in energy-efficient, all-wooden housing and other green areas, Mr. Lindqvist added.

“You could say that that there is unanimous decision [to undertake green reforms] based on the city of Växjö’s efforts 40 years back starting to take care of the pollution in the city’s lakes, and the success of that work has made politicians very much aware of the pollution of CO2,” he said.

In the mid-1990s, Växjö politicians vowed to make the city “fossil-fuel free.” They have enjoyed some successes, cutting per capita emissions by 32 percent since 1993, in large part because of the use of renewable energy sources to power 90 percent of the city’s heating.

Växjö officials hope to reduce transportation emissions even further by using incentive programs to get consumers thinking about buying cars powered by renewable fuels.

Mr. Lindqvist, who drives a Swedish-made Volvo that can run on regular gasoline or E85 (a fuel blended with a minimum of 85 percent ethanol), said that enviromental aspirations don’t necessarily have an inverse relationship with economic prosperity.

“We’ve managed to reduce CO2 emissions and at the same time improve the standard of living,” he said.

With its forestry resources, Växjö has a long heritage in the furniture industry. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Swedish furniture and home products giant IKEA, grew up near the city, and the company’s world headquarters is still in the Småland region.

A few years ago, IKEA selected Savannah for a large distribution facility that takes advantage of the port there.

Mr. Lindqvist hopes to explore synergies in industrial design with SCAD and said his university welcomes interactions with Savannah companies and city officials.

The cities of Växjö and Savannah have discussed the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding that would move them one step closer to a formal sister city relationship.

In 2007, delegates from Savannah traveled to Växjö to take part in an entrepreneurial pipeline that was being developed between the two cities.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...