Her work affects the daily lives of almost everyone in Gothenburg. As environmental strategist at Västtrafik public transport services, Hanna Björk is working to get us to travel more together – and to see its advantages.
“My motivation is to make the world a better place,” she says.
The twittering of birds and the sound of footsteps and chit-chat. In central Gothenburg – in the year 2037 – it’s rather quiet. Noisy buses have been replaced by self-driving vehicles powered by electricity, and the few cars that drive through the city are also electrically powered. Air quality is significantly better than today and the noise level has dropped dramatically. Electric buses from Kungälv and other surrounding municipalities have their own raised platform in the middle of the motorway and quickly whisk commuters to and from the city centre. These buses can also adjust their size according to the number of passengers by coupling on extra carriages during rush hour. It has also become easier for residents to live farther from the city because driverless cars or electric bicycles replace buses on the last leg outside urban areas.
Is this futuristic vision of Gothenburg too good to be true? No, not if you believe Hanna Björk.
“Threats to the vision? No, there can’t be any,” she declares. “There is no other alternative than to travel together more and to electrify traffic. We want to have cities where you can stroll and sit down for a cup of coffee, of course, not a city drowned by noise, roads and car parks.”
Electrification of public transport is one of the biggest challenges that Västtrafik faces in the coming years. It affects traffic planning in many respects and entails a whole new way of looking at traffic. Where will vehicles be charged? How should the routes be laid out so that the charge is sufficient? Where will the terminals be located? Where will the vehicles park? And not least, there’s the question of who should build and own what? These are some of the questions Hanna has on her desk and is working on resolving right now. The United Nations’ sustainable development goals are a key guiding principle here. The global goals are included in all of Västtrafik’s work, and goal number 11 in particular – Sustainable Cities and Communities – is central. This goal includes public transport and reducing the impact on climate and health.
“It’s not just about the concrete steps being taken by Västtrafik, but also about getting people to put aside their cars and travel together. We are actively working on this, and our campaigns to let people ride free for a few weeks to give it a try usually produce great results.”
As environmental strategist at Västtrafik, Hanna has a lot of long-term projects in the works, but she also has many projects that are more short-term. These can include everything from new procurements of vehicles with a focus on sustainability to seeing that coffee purchased for Västtrafik’s workplaces is eco-labelled. In addition, she collaborates closely with her colleagues at the regional public transportation authority in Skåne county and Stockholm Public Transport as well as their counterparts in the other Nordic capitals.
“We’re not competitors but rather share experiences and learn from each other,” says Hanna. “This job really is incredibly varied and exciting.”
What motivates you?
“Going to work every day and striving to make the world a better place. It’s amazing to be able to work with something that affects so many people in their daily lives,” Hanna says. “People also have many different points of view about Västtrafik, both positive and negative criticism, which shows how important we are in their lives.”
Today it is hard to imagine a Swedish company, regardless of industry, that does not have the environment and sustainability on the agenda. It has not always been that way. When Hannah Björk first became aware of the subject, environmental issues were, somewhat jokingly, left to field biologists and tree-huggers.
“I didn’t belong to those groups. But I did a project on the greenhouse effect when still in secondary school and became very interested in how people are impacting nature and the consequences this brings.”
After that, her path was clear. After social science studies in upper-secondary school and a technical foundation year at Chalmers, Hanna received a master’s degree in environmental sciences at the University of Gothenburg. Via work at a logistics company, a post at the Traffic and Public Transport Authority in Gothenburg and work as a consultant, she came to Västtrafik in 2008, first as an environmental coordinator and then in 2012 in the role of environmental strategist.
“For me, it’s important to do things that feel right. I’m motivated and goal-oriented and like collaboration, sharing and being inspired by others. In the future, it would be great if I could also have some kind of mentoring function.”
Hanna practises what she preaches. She rides public transport, sorts household waste for recycling, tries not to waste food and avoids flying as much as possible. While she protects nature, she also takes advantage of opportunities to enjoy it.
“I grew up in the country and also live in a quite rural area now. Going out for a walk in the forest is really my waterhole. Last summer my whole family went mountain hiking and camped in Abisko. It was absolutely fantastic!”
Occupation: Environmental strategist at Västtrafik.
Education: Master’s degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Gothenburg.
Place of residence: Ytterby.
Family: Partner and three sons.
Leisure time: Spending time in nature. I love everything from hiking in the mountains to going on walks in the forest and picking mushrooms.
Travel: Always on public transport. I ride the train to work and the train to Stockholm and Malmö. I like riding the train.