Overtornea: The first eco municipality

THE SMALL northern municipality of Overtornea was the first to adopt the concept of "eco-municipality" in Sweden.

The concept focusses on the relatively undisturbed environment, the local structure of trade and industry and the local lifestyle, but with job creation as the driving force. Overtornea's 1986 action plan states: "Economic development and ecological balance will be united in one and the same development strategy. We see this as the best way of utilising what this municipality has to offer in order to promote regional development".

Overtornea is sparsely populated and there is large-scale migration to metropolitan areas. In the 1960s and 1970s, unemployment increased and many people, especially youngsters, moved south to the bigger cities. As the traditional means of solving problems had failed in Overtornea, the municipality was tempted to try an unconventional approach.

Although the development work carried out in Overtornea has not yet been thoroughly evaluated, it is clear that things are brighter today than in 1983, when the municipality formally declared its eco-municipal status. The municipality is revitalised now and many new small businesses have been started, creating hundreds of jobs. "Alternative farming" has become very popular, an experimental eco-village and a health centre have been established. Regional culture is experiencing a renaissance and this is boosting local self-confidence and self-respect.

Above all, the spirit of pessimism has been reversed in Overtornea and the social climate is far more positive than it was. It is, of course, difficult to distinguish between cause and effect, but there is no doubt that the eco-municipality concept has provided Overtornea with a collective developmental force.

The concept has been emulated in other parts of Sweden and now a network exists linking the 15 municipalities and cities who are its members.