For almost 40 years, Thomas Fägerman has been called a visionary and dreamer in the field of sustainability. But the green transition considered utopian is now happening – in the very place where his interest in the environment was once born.
The wind gently touches the treetops and causes the colourless, tall grass to sway rhythmically. Thomas puts his boot down on the weathered wooden rail and climbs into the observation tower. A mountain buzzard hovers overhead, screeching sharply at the drone sent up to capture the moment.
Thomas looks out over Lillträsk, a small watercourse just east of northern Svartbyn, and tells us what the environment looked like here 40 years ago. When his great life journey started.
”We had a fantastic teacher at middle school, Per-Olof Karlberg, who brought us outdoors and let us experience the environment for real, not just from textbooks. We used to cycle out here sometimes. This is where my interest in the environment and sustainability first began”, says Thomas.
By those around him, the commitment was seen as a passing phase. An attitude that would pass when he grew up and realized how the world worked. But the more Thomas learned about the world, the more certain he became that he was right, and the others wrong. So he started working to convince them and looked for jobs where there was an opportunity to drive development towards a more sustainable society. As an environmental inspector, city planning manager, civil engineering manager, business development and finally as CEO of Boden Business Park.
Over the years, he has been described as a visionary who preached that circularity and sustainability would one day be as natural a consideration as economics. A utopia according to many. Until now.
”Despite the fact that it has become increasingly obvious that we have been living beyond our means for a long time, I have sometimes doubted whether the insight and the will to change it is strong enough. But when I see that even the capitalists are beginning to understand that a reformation of the industry is necessary, then I feel that I am seriously starting to believe in the green transition.
The reformation he is referring to is H2 Green Steel’s 50 billion SEK investment in Boden. In the very place that shaped him, at ten years old. Here, the construction of a hydrogen plant and a steel mill attracts attention from the rest of the world as the company is determined to challenge the industry by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from steel production by 95 percent and lead the industry’s green transition.
”You almost need to pinch yourself. I have always had to leave Norrbotten to work on exciting projects and now the exciting projects are here. It’s a bit like living your dream, and also getting to live it in the environment that Boden offers.”
For the past four years, he has been the CEO of Boden Business Park where he works daily to try to find cooperative advantages between companies that will, in the long run, make the municipality more sustainable.
But it was not at all obvious that this was where such issues would be pursued. Because even though he grew up in the Boden area of Erikslund, jobs and life outside the municipality attracted him. He ended up starting a family in Hackås, Jämtland, and it was only when a house came up for sale in Brobyn that he was overcome with homesickness.
”We had three children, the youngest was two at the time, we had a holiday home and felt quite rooted there. But suddenly I saw my dream house. A Norrbotten farm, at the foot of a mountain, at the end of the road, with a forest backdrop and a view of the meadows. Unfortunately we didn’t decide soon enough, and lost the opportunity. Or so I thought.”
That event started a process. Were the family really going to spend the rest of their life in Hackås? They contemplated moving either to Norrbotten or Oxelösund, where Thomas’ wife Marie has her roots. When the same house suddenly came up for sale again.
”Then we were more ready and went for it straight away. I can’t say persuading her was simple, but she has never seemed to regret the decision.”
Because it is here, in the countryside outside Boden, that they can live out their passions.
”For us it is a matter of freedom. We can grow our own food, keep bees, dogs and other animals without disturbing the neighbours. At the same time, we have had a school, preschool and soccer field within cycling distance. Now we also have the opportunity to combine all this with exciting jobs here in Boden.”
The vast majority of people reading this text will need to use an app or search engine to find out where Brobyn is located. But for Thomas, this is the place to be, and the rest of the world is its suburb. He talks about the farm’s historical significance for the Skatamark area. Once upon a time, this was where wool was gathered, to be transported for refinement elsewhere. This place also marks the beginning, or end depending on how you choose to look at it, of the Swedish barn district. For Thomas, it is more than just a place.
Perhaps that is why he and Marie have been keen that renovations should be done using traditional methods. Or why he tries to find new uses for things that have been left to their fate in some forgotten space.
”The main house is from just before 1900, the barns and stables are considerably older. The people who built this did an extraordinary job, considering their living conditions. Upcycling and breathing new life into these buildings motivates me to get up early in the morning, although of course it would be easier to rip things out and renovate from scratch.
In the neighbouring village of Skogså, both Thomas and Marie are seen as deeply passionate. There they are involved in the local sports association and have run both a school and a preschool. Thomas sees himself as someone who wants to help and be part of a larger team that develops the village.
”That instinct probably took a strong hold in me when we lived in sparsely populated areas in Jämtland. If we wanted something done, we had to come together to make it happen. The spirit feels similar here and I think we need to adopt this mindset in the entire area now, to take advantage of this opportunity and join together to build an attractive Boden where we get young people not only to stay but also to move here.
Back to the lookout tower and the place where it all started. The ridge on the right has been cleared of trees. The hydrogen plant will be located there. On the other side of the road, ground preparations have begun for the new steel mill. But the village of Lillträsket will remain even once the establishments are in place.
”There are those who say that we have not come very far in 40 years, and that may be true. But if this had happened back then, this little lake would have been a thing of the past. Now the whole of society thinks differently and recognises the value in preserving nature and biodiversity. I was perhaps a little naive when I was young, but the basic idea was there even then and now I feel proud to live in a municipality that shares those values.” #
Text: André Samuelsson / Photo: Mats Engfors