Eco-Municipalities case study


About Eco-Municipalities

Nowadays, eco-municipalities can be found in many parts of the world. Often, people do not know that these eco-municipalities and eco-villages have adopted the principles of The Natural Step for the participatory dialogues and actions within their cities and towns.

On top of the various developments and networks of eco-municipalities described here, The Natural Step also helped various national and local governments and communities with their strategic sustainability plans.



The eco-municipality concept was first introduced in 1980 by the Finnish local authority, Suomussalmi. Torbjörn Lahti who just started a job as project leader for the “Municipalities and the Future” project in Övertorneå, Sweden, was inspired by the Finish city and introduced it to the Övertorneå local council. They decided to adopt the concept as the first eco-municipality, or eco-village. More on the history can be found on Sustainable Sweden Association website (in English).


As the eco-municipality model spread to various cities and towns throughout Sweden, a network was created as a way of providing support and assistance to cities and towns undertaking ecological community planning. The organisation was formalised in 1995 and took on the name “Sveriges Ekokommuner” (Sekom), in English “The National Association of Swedish Eco-municipalities”.

Currently, the association has 107 members, which means that more than one third of the municipalities in Sweden are Eco-municipalities! The Sekom head office can be found in Karlskrona, a city in the South-East of Sweden.

The guiding principle of Sekom is to encourage development towards a more sustainable society, where we have a sound environment while at the same time, people have a high quality of life.


Sekom Criteria

Sekom has set criteria to become an eco-municipality and join the network. The municipal council or the executive committee must pass a resolution to apply for membership. The local authority must also adopt a strategic plan and program for achieving local sustainability that is in line with the four sustainability principles developed by the Natural Step Framework. Sekom has updated the Eco-municipalities in line with the latest developments:

In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing …

1 … concentrations of substances from the Earth’s crust;

2 … concentrations of substances produced by society;

3 … degradation by physical means;

4. and in that society, there are no structural obstacles to peoples health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning-making.

Finally, the political resolution to apply for Sekom membership must be submitted to the organisation’s head office along with the adopted plan for addressing environmental and sustainability issues.

Other criteria

Other international eco-municipalities and eco-villages may have different criteria, or procedures. Some have not yet adopted the latest version of the above social principles.


For the transition to Eco-municipality to be efficient and sustainable, all the actors of the local community must be involved. Not only it meets the above mentioned social sustainability principles, but it also ensures the vitality and efficiency and the eco-municipality process. The most successful Eco-municipality projects are the ones that have been able to involve the community (citizens most of all, but also local business, associations, schools, etc.) through participatory and democratic processes, like the Future circles in Övertorneå (study circles created in every village of the Övertorneå municipality in 1983, that soon became more action-oriented).

International community

Sekom Criteria

Currently, eco-municipalities can be found in many parts of the world. Sarah James and Torbjörn Lahti have brought the ‘eco-municipality approach’ to sustainable community planning to the United States and elsewhere. The approach, based upon the experience of several generations of Swedish eco-municipalities since the 1980s, is the subject of their book “The Natural Step for Communities: How Cities and Towns Can Change to Sustainable Practices” (New Society Publishers, 2004). More information on the US eco-municipality movement and the member cities, their history and developments and such can be found here.

Many eco-municipalities have emerged in the United States and are to this day adopting (an older version of) the eco-municipality sustainability principles. Additional eco-municipalities are active and still emerging for example in Japan and Africa.

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Blue:      Swedish eco-municipalities members of SEKOM.

Orange: Ethiopian eco-municipalities to become.

Yellow:  Municipal resolutions adopting the eco-municipality principles

Green:  Projects and local eco-municipality initiatives in the USA

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Please do have a look at what has been achieved in the various municipalities across the world. Also check out our offerings and contact us for more information to get started in your village, town, city or municipality.

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