Profiles of Norwegian science: Calculating the sustainability of tourism

Wind turbines in western Norway with mountain peaks in the background.

Photo: Ilan Kelman
Are wind turbines in western Norway sustainable for energy, climate change, tourism, or livelihoods?

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

“Norway: Powered by Nature” is the country’s tourism slogan. From aurora gazing to museums of exploration to adventure sports, Norway aims to attract the world’s tourists, partly through its eco-friendly image.

The science of sustainability contributes to Norway’s approaches. One of the leading researchers in Norway on tourism and environmental friendliness is Carlo Aall, Professor in Sustainable Development at the Western Norway Research Institute (Vestlandsforsking) and the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) in Sogndal.

In a research career spanning almost three decades, Aall has focused on local sustainability, climate policy, and sustainable tourism. His work highlights his native land of Norway, but he is half American with an Arkansas-born mother. An international outlook leads to publications on case studies around the world.

One study examined how food providers for the tourism industry could reduce their environmental impact. The scientists determined how much support the industry could give for tackling climate change.

But human contributions to climate change continue, so adapting to climate change’s impacts is necessary. Aall contributed to a comparative study examining how Bergen, Malmö, and Rotterdam deal with extreme weather. The researchers articulated links between civil protection and climate change adaptation.

These collaborations bring international lessons to Norway for improving national and local policies and practices based on science. This researcher role is invaluable for making connections outside of one’s home country.

And it helps for exporting Norwegian expertise. Aall’s research on Norway’s experiences ranges from energy to population movements to climate change to local environmental policy.

One academic paper—in fact, his first—explored the history and meanings of “eco-auditing,” in effect evaluating environmental impacts. Aall developed an eco-auditing tool for Norwegian municipalities to use. He provided a manual to local governments and collated the advantages and difficulties of his tool.

This knowledge supported later work in calculating Oslo’s ecological footprint: the area required to supply the city with everything the people consume. The research advanced ecological footprint theory and practice in terms of applying national calculation methods to local cases.

Localizing mechanisms and actions permeates Aall’s science. From the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 emerged as a voluntary environmental blueprint for local authorities. A series of publications led by Aall details the relevance to and implications for Norway.

One book chapter covers sustainable production and consumption, for locals and tourists, highlighting challenges and opportunities for Norway. Recommendations explain to municipalities what they should do, and pitfalls to avoid, for improving their sustainability.

In another article, tensions and complementarities among local, national, and global environmental politics highlight the need for municipal leadership. Municipal environmental officers brought sustainability topics into local planning around Norway. In turn, this influence and adoption of global environmental principles encouraged similar reform at the national level.

Throughout all this work, Aall remains balanced. He details the impressive progress Norway has made on sustainable development and gives kudos where deserved. He does not shy away from indicating areas of improvement, such as Norwegians being among the highest per capita consumers of energy and emitters of greenhouse gases.

The interactions among these areas form the basis for other studies, comparing action on climate change with other environmentally related activities. Aall’s work demonstrates mismatches in how climate change impacts are considered nationally and locally.

Tourism and leisure play a role in generating some problems. The sectors also proffer ways of overcoming the difficulties. Aall’s work on climate change and tourism teases out the potential contradictions between increasing tourism and sustainable local living.

Tourists typically use a lot of energy, contributing to climate change. The sector also needs to adjust to changing conditions so that it continues to draw in tourists, while dealing with the regulation changes enacted for climate change reasons.

Policy implications include the importance of local initiatives. Norwegian municipalities can and should drive national policies and actions for the environment, especially by drawing on global direction such as Agenda 21.

This science was remarkably prescient considering the ongoing greening of Oslo, driven by local politicians from the Green Party. The value of research moves beyond the results of a particular study. It also anticipates trends and gives decision-makers ideas to pursue.

Aall and his colleagues lead the way. From peer-reviewed papers to policy reports, the eventual hope is that Norway will continue to be powered by nature while sustainability policies are powered by science.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 25, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.