Unlocking synergies for sustainable urban living.

The Approach

Interact and benefit

Symbiosis is the integration of two or more organisms in a mutually beneficial union. For us, symbiosis means finding synergies between urban systems. An approach that saves natural resources and gives us more for less. 

Providing a healthy and livable city environment for growing urban populations while reducing our ecological footprint is a global challenge. We need to develop urban areas in a way that saves resources, drives sustainable growth, enhances human capital and alleviates poverty. 

This challenge demands smart solutions today if we are not to compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs tomorrow. 

An integrated and holistic approach – from planning to post-implementation – is our key to success. Unlocking the synergies between urban systems opens up a wealth of benefits – environmental, social and economic. Stakeholders can achieve remarkable results in their cultural context by working together across boundaries to create better cities. 

It’s time for new actions!

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Taking the Approach into a new phase

Since 2010, SKL International has used the SymbioCity Approach (SCA) as a concept and a platform to support sustainable urban development around the globe. The overall objective is to contribute to improved health, safety, comfort and quality of life for poor people living in urban areas.

With continued support from Sida, SKL International now takes the concept into a new era integrating a stronger focus on poverty reduction and gender equality. From December 2015 the SymbioCity Approach 2.0 Programme is off the ground and will last until December 2020.

Main components of the programme:

1.       Advancing the SymbioCity Approach, is a way to take advantage of the strong SCA platform and networks that have been established during the first programme and use it as leverage to impact international, regional and national arenas in the field of sustainable urban development, with emphasis on practical ways to move forward.

2.        City projects are designed based on experiences obtained in previous pilot projects in Europe, Asia and Africa, and on the needs of the targeted cities. By applying the SCA, capacity of urban development stakeholders in the cities will be built to plan, manage and develop urban areas in a sustainable and participatory manner

 - with support provided through local and international expertise, practical work, training and peer learning.

3.      Targeted Capacity Building, supports capacity development for urban development professionals in local, regional and national governments, in order to strengthen their capacity to effectively deal with urban development.. The component will focus on Myanmar, in order to generate a critical mass in the country of influential and strategically placed representatives from urban development institutions.. The targeted capacity development will be based on the SCA as a methodology for sustainable and inclusive urban development.

The versatile way to build a green future

SymbioCity is a dynamic concept that offers something for everyone. You can apply it from single blocks to entire urban areas. From regions to countries. From redevelopment schemes to greenfield initiatives.

SymbioCity works regardless of whether you’re in a developed, developing or transitional economy. 

Simply take it with you, adjust it to suit your local 

parameters and find your own entry point. Cherry-pick the ideas and components that work best in your context and use them to benefit your community.

And there’s more. SymbioCity can be used by public and private actors alike. By local government, utilities, private business and other stakeholders. An approach that is open – and beneficial – to all.

Building blocks for sustainable cities

Grow with the flow

SymbioCity pinpoints key urban systems – from energy to IT and water to waste – that are the foundation for good living conditions, prosperity and welfare in any city. Unlocking the synergies within – and between – these systems can make all the difference as cities strive to curb environmental impacts and deliver social and economic benefits to citizens.


That was then...

Sweden has come a long way in a short time. Half a century ago we were struggling with chemical contamination, industrial pollution and acid rain. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, mercury, DDT and other toxins were killing our birds and polluting our rivers. Factories spewed tonnes of untreated effluent straight into our rivers and streams. Finally the penny dropped. We needed to act. But how?


...and this is now

We responded by becoming the first country in the world to create a state environment agency. In 1969, we achieved another first: a national Environmental Protection Act, putting pressure on companies to clean up their act and curb their emissions. We also hosted the world’s first UN environment conference – in Stockholm in 1972. Our journey to a sustainable, eco-friendly future had begun.


Carrot and stick

Tough regulations do not have to mean lower creativity. Quite the opposite. When Sweden introduced the Environmental Protection Act in 1969 it also launched a system of incentives for eco-friendly technology. This carrot-and-stick approach helped nurture companies that today have earned us global renown for our expertise in clean technology. A great example of regulation and innovation – hand in hand.





Watershed carbon cuts

In the last 15 years we have cut CO2 emissions by 9 percent while still enjoying economic growth of 44 percent. Setting tough targets and encouraging energy efficiency are just two of the measures that have helped us break the link between economic growth and carbon emissions. We know modern consumption patterns result in carbon emissions. But we also know that carbon dependency can be cut while still enjoying growth. We are eager to share our experience as you fast-track to sustainability. Fifty years of trial and error have taught us a great deal. Try us and see.


Municipal maestros

Back in the 1950s-1970s Sweden underwent a far-reaching decentralization process that saw key central government powers devolved to municipal councils.

Moving power to where it can achieve the most ­­ – on the ground –proved a masterstroke for the environment. Buoyed by their newfound independence, which included the ability to drive environmental policy and raise local income taxes, municipalities embarked on a flurry of green initiatives.




Making it happen

They built communal district energy networks now regarded internationally as a model for energy-efficient heating and energy recovery.

They also championed environmental actions that have delivered real change at local level. All municipal councils have implemented Agenda 21, the UN action plan for sustainable development agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992.

SymbioCity helps municipalities and local authorities everywhere to seize the initiative where it matters most – on the ground, in their towns and cities.


Eco history

This is the story about how a small country became big in cleantech.

SymbioCity Approach projects

SymbioCity in practice

Since 2010, SKL International has supported cities in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe to enhance their capacity to plan, develop and manage urban areas in a more sustainable direction through the SymbioCity Approach.  The projects have mainly been subsidised by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and have been carried out in cooperation with Swedish and local partners.


The right decisions – at the right time

Good urban governance and effective institutions are key to sustainable urban development and achieving long-lasting change. 

Decentralization means cities are gaining greater control over their own affairs – and facing new challenges in balancing environmental issues, social policy and economic factors. 

Urban development is never the work of one person. Boundary-spanning collaboration and effective partnerships are vital to identify the best and most sustainable solutions.

We share this task across society. SymbioCity emphasizes a participatory and inclusive approach involving multiple stakeholders. An approach geared to your local context and where local authorities have a core role to play.

We offer guidance and input on:

  • Legislation and policies
  • Capacity and decision-making powers for urban management and leadership
  • Spatial/urban planning and land management
  • Organization, communication and coordination
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Public and private sector awareness and participation


Here are some hands-on examples of where the SymbioCity approach has made a difference. A difference to people’s lives and city environments. The case studies highlight numerous entry points for enhancing urban landscapes and harnessing synergies to build a better future.