Michael Taevs is a Canadian who moved to Åland via Boston where he studied sustainability at Harvard University. He smiles and says: "I have always heard that you move to Åland for two reasons; one is because of a man, and the other because of a woman.”
In Michael’s case it was a woman. In Boston he met Cecilia Engblom who worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Towards a sustainable living in Åland
When the couple's first daughter was born in Boston, Michael and Cecilia became quickly aware of the difficulties of being a young family without any relatives in a big city. Therefore, the plan was to move to Stockholm and to live closer to Cecilia's family.
“Why we moved to Åland? We didn’t", says Michael. We were planning to move from Boston to Stockholm, but we never got further than Åland. ‘Cause Åland was too damn nice!”
Today, Michael and Cecilia live with their two children in an energy smart house just outside Mariehamn. A healthy home that is built of natural materials and planned with a focus on sustainability and renewable energy.
Childhood close to nature
Michael Taev's interest in the environment started in childhood when he grew up in a farmhouse in northwestern Canada.
”We had a small farm and lived very close to nature with chickens, ducks, young bulls, pigs – well, all you can imagine. We raised young bulls, sold them at auction and got meat for the winter. Food and life go together. That’s what I like about Åland, we still have this natural way of thinking here.
Compared to being self-sufficient and close to nature, the move to Boston was therefore the mere opposite.
"I became depressed and solved it out by taking different classes in sustainability. Finally, I had studied enough for a degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management at Harvard University.
Helps others to take climate responsibility
Michael's commitment to sustainability has continued after moving to Åland.
"I searched many jobs when we moved here and finally ended up at the gaming company Paf as Chief Sustainability Officer. They didn’t have a complete sustainability programme so we built it from the beginning.”
Today, Michael has left Paf and invested in his own company Plus Åland. He sees that many things that can be a struggle for sustainable living in North America are easy in Åland. For example, choosing renewable energy for your house.
"Although there are easy ways to live sustainably, it's not easy to know how to actually do it.”
The idea of Plus Åland is therefore to create a meeting place on the web, where companies and other interested parties can participate in courses and learn more about sustainability and how to live better. At the same time, companies have the opportunity to tell their customers about their efforts to run a responsible and sustainable business. At Plus.ax, the courses and registration are free, while companies pay for the membership and access to more services.
"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for everyone to take responsibility. The basic idea is that all companies participating in the Plus Åland programme are powered by renewable energy and know how much money they spend on fuel. This way we can help them to compensate for their CO2 emissions and become climate responsible.
Business Lab Åland for new entrepreneurs
During the construction of Plus Åland, Michael has got help from Business Lab Åland, a project the purpose of which is to encourage new entrepreneurs and help them to enter the market.
- The Business Lab takes you from a business idea you're working on in your spare time to something that others can believe in. As a participant in the Business Lab, you also gain credibility. It is much appreciated, especially if you have just moved to Åland.
Through Business Lab, Michael has had access to office space and other types of material support. He has also received intellectual help through the partnership companies that support the programme and from the other participants in the project.
"You must be part of a group of energetic entrepreneurs to build new businesses. Alone, it's hard to keep that energy up, but in Business Lab you have others around for support. What’s more, everyone contributes with different skills and we all benefit from helping each other. So, I feel sad about leaving now when my time in Business Lab is over.
Life in a small town where everyone knows everyone
Michael is happy with his life in Åland. He doesn’t know if he will live here for the rest of his life, but life is good right now. Especially for a family with children. He appreciates the small-town safety.
"In the 80's when I grew up in western Canada there was a real small-town atmosphere. You know when you go to town and everybody recognizes you. Or you can buy something in a shop even if you forgot your wallet at home. Today, my old home town is three times bigger and lacks much of that feeling.
However, after moving to Åland, he has found back to the small-town atmosphere.
“You can walk on the street and greet people you actually know. If you make an effort being active you will get to know people and find yourself in a reality where someone actually offers to pay for your chocolate cookies when you forget your wallet at home,” says Michael with a laugh.
But it’s hard work for a stranger to become a local who people smile at and greet when you meet them in town. Michael shares his best tip for newcomers; be active in in making contacts!
“Sign up for all the associations and activities that interest you. Look for study circles and courses arranged by Medis Adult Education Centre, check all events and read the local newspapers. Join all clubs! After a while, you will notice which contexts suit you and where you feel at home.”