Green Highway - a 450 km Nordic Co-operative Project

By Aslı Tepecik Diş

In northern Sweden and Norway, local and regional authorities are co-operating closely with companies and entrepreneurs to create a region where economic growth goes hand in hand with environmental development. They have established the world's first 'green highway', stretching from Trondheim in Norway on the Atlantic Coast, via Östersund, to Sundsvall on the Baltic Sea, along the E6 and E14 motorways. The highway connects a region where green growth is given the highest priority.

'Green Highway' is a registered trademark that refers to a combination of activities with the same goal - a fossil-free green transportation corridor based on local and renewable energy, intended for people who drive eco-friendly vehicles. The project is led by the cities of Sundsvall and Östersund in Sweden and Trondheim in Norway.

One of the unique aspects of the Green Highway project is that it links relatively low-dense, small- and medium-sized towns that have long commuting distances between them. The obvious dependence on private cars in these areas in turn promotes the opportunity of using locally abundant renewable energy to fuel private cars and helps to solve the significant constraint for reducing CO2 emissions in the region. Not only does this provide potential for financial growth, regional development and a more attractive environment, but these could eventually be important components that attract tourists and other local visitors.

Europe sees clean technologies as the future

The Green Highway project is particularly important with respect to the carbon footprint of the transport sector, which is the second-largest energy consumer and the greatest greenhouse gas emitter after the energy sector. In 2009, it represented 23% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Road transport, in particular, is responsible for almost three quarters of transport greenhouse gas emissions by EU countries. Transport is also threatened by energy poverty and is vulnerable to price instability, and in spite of considerable reductions in emissions of pollutants, there are still concerns about its effect on air quality. Thus, there is a growing concern about climate change, public health, depletion of natural resources and security of energy supply.

Accordingly, discussions in the EU focus on a shift from a fossil fuel-dependent economy towards one in which renewable alternatives and new vehicle systems are at the forefront. The EU has set out policy agendas such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) for aviation and CO2 emission targets for cars. Through its recent Roadmap for moving towards a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050, the European Heads of State and Government have decided to extend their commitment to achieving an ambitious target; reducing domestic emissions by as much as 95% by 2050. It is clear that the EU is placing emphasis on green ways of creating a European economy in which environmentally friendly technologies are to be prioritized. In this context, the Green Highway project illustrates how a green economy may become reality.

A road towards a low-carbon economy and better environment

The three Nordic cities set out to create changes in their region through political commitment, extensive co-operation between public and private partners and their ability to realize projects. In addition, the region has potential for green growth in the form of large reserves of renewable energy such as biomass, wind and hydropower. In the region, there are also many R&D activities, industrial establishments and technological developments connected to transport systems as well as energy production. There are a number of climate-smart transport initiatives, renewable energy sources and efficiency measures in place that provide environmental as well as economic benefits. These provide the cities with unique potential and an advantageous starting point.

The pioneers of the Green Highway project have partnered with other actors who share the cities' ambitions and see the potential future economic growth of their businesses that would result from a focus on climate and environmental issues. The other key regional actors are energy and high-tech companies, Trondheim Airport Værnes, Åre Östersund Airport, the region's colleges and universities as well as local and regional authorities.

Kjell I. Stellander, Project Manager for the Green Highway project from the City of Trondheim, says "We call it Green Highway; not necessarily for what it represents today, but for what we are going to create in less than 10 years' time: A fossil-free transport corridor across Mid-Scandinavia by 2020; a corridor and region that will contribute to the creation of business opportunities, sustainable economic growth, reduced greenhouse effects, and be attractive to local people as well as tourists."

A fossil-free transport system is an ambitious goal. However, the vision for the project reveals that this is a step towards green growth, where environmental gain is strongly connected to economic and social development. Initiating such a project creates opportunities for eco-innovation in businesses and gives the region the opportunity both to promote itself in terms of green tourism development and to sell its know-how.


Map showing Green Highway/

Achievements so far

All activities of the project are well co-ordinated and focus on the main goal of a fossil-free transport corridor in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. So far, the project has achieved the following goals:

  • Construction of the world's longest main road system, where people can charge their electric vehicles; there are 94 charging stations and more than 240 charging points (slow charging, 230V/16A) along the 447 km main road system.
  • Construction of quick-charging stations for electric vehicles in municipal centres along the Green Highway. The first quick-charging station in Northern Europe was opened on the Green Highway in Östersund in April 2011. The second station opened at Trondheim Airport Værnes in January 2012. Four more quick-charging stations along the Green Highway are already under construction.
  • Establishment of a filling infrastructure for biofuels: biogas, biodiesel (RME) and bioethanol.
  • Promotion of the use of electric vehicles in fleets as well as by private car owners.
  • Performance of a large test program for electric vehicles, including long-term performance testing in the winter climate in Östersund.
  • Development of a prototype electric snow scooter. The technology used in the scooter is easily adaptable to other transport platforms, including electric alpine hill piste machines.
  • Development of internet-based communication systems through which travellers can plan routes using public transport, including details of the carbon footprint for the different routes.
  • Development of a meeting planner that provides optimal meeting locations to minimize time, costs and emissions.
  • Publication of a complete 'Buyers Guide for Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Cars', which is updated annually.
  • Establishment of a taxi project with electric vehicles in Trondheim.



Electric snow-scooter: example of a new technological solution./

An overall evaluation of the project regarding total energy is intended for the later stage of the project.

The road to results

An important principle for the Green Highway project is that the development should be based on a range of operations and solutions. Certainly, it is not possible to claim that one specific fuel, means of transport or change in attitude alone is required to achieve the ultimate goal. The truth is rather the opposite - the inclusion of and competition between solutions and technologies will catalyse development, according to the project managers.

Some of the conditions that have made the Green Highway possible are the following.

  • A high capacity for renewable energy from wind, water and biomass in the region.
  • A vast potential for production of renewable energy sources.
  • A strong will and interest from local and international investors to invest in the region.
  • Two large plants in Östersund and Sundsvall that produce biogas for transport purposes from recycled organic waste. A production facility in Trondheim using raw material from the salmon industry is planned.
  • Comprehensive and systematic accumulation of competence in low- and zero-emission transport solutions such as electric and biofuel vehicles.


Close co-ordination and communication between ongoing projects and operations are also of utmost importance. Stellander emphasizes that the Green Highway has proven the strength of cross-border collaboration between cities, municipalities and countries in working towards common goals.

The project management focuses on an action-oriented approach: "We do not go through long strategy processes and plans; we move quickly into operations and harvest results along the way, which act as fuel and energy for further operations. This has also been proven to attract private partners and collaborators. Thus, organization and methodology is for us the road to success."

But is action alone enough? Mr. Stellander says: "No, evidently it is important to build your actions on sound strategies and plans. However, the duration of the project is only 3 years so we cannot initiate new strategies or plans but we try to build on already existing plans."

In conclusion, the three most apparent factors for reaching results in the project have been the region's favourable conditions, the establishment of a joint platform to facilitate close collaboration between key stakeholders (public authorities, private enterprises and high-tech companies), and the action-oriented approach whereby several projects are initiated by the municipalities and/or partners and collaborators and co-ordinated by the project organization.

The future of the Green Highway

From the project management's point of view, the political dimension is very important. An absence of political commitment to a low-carbon economy endangers the project. Political leadership is seen as essential for the long-term engagement of the cities, and for the development of institutional capacity across national borders. This is especially important for life after the project: What happens once the project is finalized? Will the cities be ready to take the project further by themselves?

"We want to be a part of the future. To become an integral part of long-term local and regional development plans and strategies we need political commitment to the project and to a low-carbon economy", says Stellander.

In conclusion, single projects grow when they involve other actors and projects and when they are all well co-ordinated. The platform for the project has boosted interest in involvement from other actors, which has raised the profile of the Green Highway further. Such an expanding platform and network will make faster development possible, with bottleneck effects eliminated through new technology and increasing competence. Inclusion of new participants will therefore create potential for more and faster results.

For the future, the Green Highway project aims to not only generate business opportunities and sustainable growth, but also to reduce the climate impact and further increase the attractiveness of the region for tourists.

Back to Nordregio News Issue 1, 2012