Green Stories: Torbjørn Johannson (ASKO)

Five generations have built what has become Norway’s 7th largest corporation, NorgesGruppen. Over the past few years, the company has invested in green technologies one could only assume would pay off in the long-run, such as solar panels, renewable fuels and low-emission buildings.

“In my view, we have not inherited this world from our ancestors. We are borrowing it from our children”, says Torbjørn Johannson, one of two brothers now in charge and a champion for corporate sustainability. 

This EGC Ambassador is also the chairman of ASKO, NorgesGruppens wholesale company. As an energy intensive company, with 13 storage units and 600 trucks. Ten years ago, they decided to become climate neutralThis means that their distribution will be powered by renewable fuels, that renewable energy covers their electricity consumption, and that all remaining emissions will be compensated for.  

“To be honest, I do not think we fully understood what we decided back then. What I know now is that it changed our mindset and behaviour pattern as a company,” Torbjørn Johannson.

Johannson believes in a green future and does not want to spend time dwelling on everything that could potentially go wrong or focus on all the negative reports about the environmental challenges we are up against. Instead, he wants to create optimism and encourage increased efforts and cooperation to tackle these challenges. He is already seeing lasting results.

“Our target was to produce as much renewable energy as we consume by 2020. In fact, we have already reached that target.”

Almost 90 000 m2 solar panels and five wind turbines have contributed to this success. 

ASKOs most recent endeavour was the development of two self-driving, fully electrical row-row ferries that will run across the Oslo Fjord in 2024 if all goes according to plan. If a success, these ferries will help reduce an estimated 5000 tonnes COand cut back 2 million kilometers on the road for trucks. Enova, a public organization managing the Norwegian Energy Fund, has backed the project with 119 million kroner.

“When we started thinking about these autonomous sea drones – which is what they really are – it seemed unrealistic. Today, the technology is available, but it is expensive. The support we get from Enova is a crucial factor in our consideration of the viability of this project,”  Torbjørn explained. Additionally, he added that for the green transition to succeed private and public actors must work together.  

ASKO is spearheading the green transition in the transportation sector, one step at the time. Today their trucks are fuelled by 100 % biofuels in the summer, and a mix in the winter that can handle low temperatures. Their goal is for their fleet to be 100% electrical and hydrogen-fuelled by 2026. ASKO already have one electrical truck and have ordered another ten from Tesla – the first of its kind. There are also four hydrogen-powered trucks in the pipeline – for which they have built a hydrogen production site in Trondheim. 

“Today, the infrastructure and technology are not in place for our fleet to be 100 electrical. We must work with what we have, and use the renewable options as much as possible.”

Torbjørn is vocal about how the public and private sector must work together in order to create the changes necessary for the renewable transition to happen. ASKO pays about 70 million kroner in road toll payments every year. Their electrical and hydrogen vehicles are exempted. Torbjørn says this is good but not good enough.

“I would strongly argue that vehicles fuelled with biogas and bioethanol should be partly exempted from road toll payment. These are low hanging fruits that are important in the transition into a zero-emission society.”  

Ultimately, he emphasized that he does not mind paying the added costs. On several occasions, he has suggested that the tax on CO2 should be increased with 2 kroner per liter fossil fuel. 

“This will mean a 30 million kroner increase in costs – yearly – for ASKO. But that is OK. We need both carrot and stick for this to work. That way, the cost of going green will be reduced as new renewable solutions are implemented.”

Photo credits: Espen Braata 


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Posted on: March 29. 2019
European Green Capital 2019