Rapid environmental degradation and consumption of natural resources is a growing global concern, leading to the awareness that environmental sustainability is a critical new strategic objective. Local authorities are important actors when it comes to energy efficiency and improve environmental sustainability. One important tool to promote this work is implementing a local energy and/or climate strategy. How such local strategies are and could be designed in order to make a difference and promote sustainable energy solutions will be in focus for this paper. In order to promote strategic energy work at the local level, the, Swedish Energy Agency initiated a program called Sustainable Municipalities. As a part of this program participating local authorities were mandated to develop local energy and climate strategies.
This paper aims at creating a general overview of approaches to, and uses of, local energy strategies among the participants in the Sustainable Municipalities program. This overview includes: analyzes of whether energy plans or strategies are present, which issues these plans address, what actors that are included, and whether follow-up is pursued.
Healey (2009) emphasizes that strategic work aims to change the direction of an activity, open up new possibilities and potentials, and move away from previous positions. With this as our starting point we will elucidate local energy strategies from a management perspective, and discuss if and how the composition of actors influence suggested goals and measures, if there were plans for implementation and follow-ups.
Document studies and structured telephone interviews with representatives from 60 municipalities were used to collect data. Around 75 percent of the local authorities in the study had adopted local energy strategies. This figure is surprisingly low; given that participation in the sustainable Municipalities program required energy strategies. In general, processes to develop a strategy included different parts of the local authority, and resulted in concrete measures. There were no correlation between included actors and measures suggested and themes in the strategies differ. Most commonly occurring were strategies related to public buildings and other buildings owned by municipality owned companies. The most common suggested measures were related to transports. Almost all respondents claimed that they performed follow-ups and that this was planned for already in the set-up phase.
Ten out of sixty respondents, who mainly were manger or strategist, meant that they were they alone were the main pushers in strategic energy issues. Most common was a combination of officials and politicians taking lead in the work.
The studied local authorities had not adopted energy plans or strategies to a higher degree compared to other Swedish local authorities. Cooperation is often broad within the local authorities but limited when it comes to external actors. The content of the energy plans do not always reflect the content of the measures and goals. The rather limited participation in the process could affect the impact and legitimacy of the strategies in the organizations.