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Sweden’s Region Gävleborg Making a Sustainable Impact

June 2019 / 3 min 30 sec read
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About an hour's drive north of Stockholm on the coast of the Baltic Sea lies Gävleborg County, one of 21 counties in the country and home to 287,000 Swedes. The local governing authority known as Region Gävleborg, a William Blair institutional client since 2015, oversees healthcare and public transportation. It also leads green initiatives to improve the quality of life and sustainable well-being for all.

Bo Svedberg, Region Gävleborg's chief financial officer for the past 14 years, has seen a significant boost in sustainable development in recent years. That includes an emphasis on embracing sustainable investment strategies for its 4.9 billion SEK employee pension fund and pushing its suppliers to adhere to the same sustainability principles that it embraces.

Sweden has long focused on equitable and sustainable global development, Svedberg says, pointing to the United Nations statement of 2030 social goals.

"The 2030 Agenda is a very important document for us and guides our sustainability policies," he says. "It is important for us to conduct our corporation in a way that supports sustainable development."

Recent projects observing the guidelines within the region include the expansion of its railway system, increased broadband access to rural communities, and the development of the world's first electric road that allows vehicles to charge batteries while traveling.

Region Gävleborg rail
Region Gävleborg rail

Scaling up sustainable investing

Svedberg sees sustainability as a commitment not just in the way you look at your own organization but in the way you look at others. It's looking beyond your door in your office in your organization to the wider world and realizing it's not just your future at stake in your decisions, he says. So Gävleborg is determined to make a maximum impact by encouraging others to follow its values.

Take its investment philosophy as an example. Svedberg says that over the past few years there has been a stronger emphasis on investing in sustainable companies, which is a goal of Region Gävleborg's elected council.

"More specifically, we are not allowed to invest in funds that include companies involved with the production of weapons, tobacco, alcohol or gambling," Svedberg says. "But it's also looking at companies that are making changes with how they do business and making a positive impact while being successful doing that."

Svedberg cites Sweden's steel industry, a huge consumer of energy. But he sees them working very hard to minimize energy consumption and pollution.

"My view is that it has no negative effect on revenues. I think in the long term it's better to be invested in companies with a sustainable business because otherwise they won't survive. That's a belief," he says.

Flag of Sweden

Supply chains also adapting

In a similar way, Region Gävleborg is scaling up its sustainable initiatives through its own supply chains, demanding suppliers of products, services and materials become sustainable and socially responsible.

Region Gävleborg, in collaboration with the other regions in Sweden, is following a rigorous procurement policy to make sure goods and services used within the country are both sourced and manufactured under sustainable and responsible conditions, Svedberg says.

It's important to take an active role to change behavior. Even if our impact on the whole world is small, we have to have this philosophy.

BO SVEDBERGCFO of Region Gävleborg

"We have agreed on this code of conduct. The base for that is the United Nations universal declaration of human rights that includes the rights of children, eliminating child labor and guaranteeing minimum wages. We also follow our suppliers to protect the environment."

Gävleborg makes it the responsibility of companies within the supply chain to share the commitments and document that they are meeting the standards in their operations.

That said, he cautions that imposing sustainable standards on either investing or operations takes time. You can't change your way of doing business overnight or even in one year, he says. You've got to integrate the policy over time, have a practical view and begin working in the right direction.

"Start small, scale, and learn," Svedberg advises municipal strategists on sustainability goals. "If you step up sustainable targets I think you can be successful."

What really matters is standing by the principles of sustainability, he says.

"It's important to take an active role to change behavior. Even if our impact on the whole world is small, we have to have this philosophy."