Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by M Hjälm

Dreaming of being redundant

Heidi Neilson is the environmental manager at the Port of Oslo. Heidi is sure that her job will be redundant one day. At that point, she will find a new company with environmental challenges to work on.

"At the Port of Oslo, we have an ambitious, but very much realistic goal to become the world's first emission-free port. We have an advantage over many other port cities because we have both the funding and the political support to carry out our plans and ambitions," she says.

Heidi feels a great responsibility to succeed in this: "If we accomplish this in Oslo, others will also see that it is possible. However, if we do not succeed, no one else will succeed either, precisely because we have such good conditions in Oslo."

The work must be done now

Heidi has a degree in geography and has previously worked at the Rainforest Foundation and the Eco-Agents. Her commitment to the environment is obviously strong. She is curious, experienced and determined. Without hesitation, she says that she is an optimist when it comes to the environmental work in the Port of Oslo. However, she is also concerned that work must be done right now, and that we do not have time to hesitate or wait, because otherwise we would create a world we do not want to pass on to our children.

Heidi Neilson at the traffic centre at Sydhavna, the Port of Oslo, together with colleagues Ruben Aarseth (traffic inspector) and Jens Petter Christensen (traffic manager).

"My girls usually ask me what I'm actually doing down at the harbour? I answer them that at the port, I and many others are working to make Oslo a better city to live in, that we take care of life both on land and in water, with cleaner water in the fjord, and that we ensure the city air is clean to breathe."

A good day at work

Heidi herself says that she is bad at small talk. She's too impatient for that. She likes to get straight to the point and talk about what's important. A day at work with Heidi at Sydhavna confirms this claim. The conversations she has with colleagues and clients are about what they are working on and what the needs are right now; what challenges they face, and what they want to achieve in the short and long term.

"I have a good day at work when I hear our customers in the ports, politicians, and others who work on urban development in Oslo promote the same simple message as us, that transportation by sea is the greenest option. Then I know that steadily more of us are moving in the same direction, and that we can help make Oslo a better city to live in together. Marine traffic is clearly the best alternative for shipping goods over both long and short distances."

One ship equals four hundred semi-trailers

Heidi understands that container ships, cargo cranes, oil tankers and huge silos that extend to the sky can look like dirty, unwanted elements in a modern fjord city.

There are probably still some who think that a port this close to the city, such as Sydhavna, is bad for the environment. Do we really want large cargo ships so close to our city?

"The answer to that is yes. One container ship has the same capacity as four hundred cargo trucks, and it removes ten kilometres of traffic jams on the roads through Europe, all the way to Oslo. An urban harbour therefore prevents huge amounts of exhaust fumes from being emitted into the environment, while at the same time contributing to the city's growth and ensuring that the inhabitants of Oslo and other parts of eastern Norway can get the goods they need."

Big changes

The Port of Oslo operations are complex, and the port has undergone major changes in connection with the development of the Fjord City. A few years ago, the E18 highway went where the Opera is today. Now Oslo has a harbour promenade that is accessible to the city's population, and we have two swimming spots inside the city.

"The Port of Oslo is in the process of streamlining land use, using new technology and building vertically to accommodate all of the goods that come into the city by sea. At the same time, we are preparing infrastructure for shore power for the boats that come to Oslo while they are at the dock."

Common solutions

During 2019, Oslo is the European Green Capital. As part of its year, the Port of Oslo has invited European ports to Oslo to exchange experiences, learn from each other, and find common solutions to global problems.

"Sometimes I feel that we are alone in the realisation that sea transport is the smartest way to transport goods into the city. It is just as obvious that ships should be used to transport goods over long distances as one should use public transport to travel to the city centre. It is about space, it is about fuel consumption, and it is about the sum of the emissions in the end."

Port cities in Europe and elsewhere in the world need to cut their emissions by more than half in the next decade. That can only be done if goods are switched from the road to the sea.

"We must collaborate and create common solutions across national borders and continents. Oslo is well placed to succeed in becoming a zero-emission port. If we accomplish this, it is possible for others as well."

Great support

For now, the environmental manager at the Port of Oslo works towards the goal of the port being emission-free, but she does not disregard that she will one day become redundant in her job.

"We have so much support for our project from customers, politicians and the people of Oslo in finding and choosing environmentally-friendly solutions, that it is only a matter of time before I become redundant in my job."

What will Heidi do then?

"Then I want to find a new job in an organisation with environmental challenges."