From resource economy to bioeconomy
An important part of Sweden’s economic transition strategy – apart from reducing emissions – is about actively trying to use natural processes to produce energy, industrial products and much else. This so-called bioeconomy involves much more than making things more environmentally friendly – Sweden is pioneering ways to use natural materials that are 100 per cent recyclable and can be part of the ‘cradle-to-grave’ process.
Sweden has a wealth of sustainable natural resources to work with. Already, 52 per cent of the energy consumed comes from renewables, and its managed forests already provide the main supply of wood products to the EU.
Turning wood into textiles
In the Gothenburg suburb of Mölndal, a pioneering project is underway to develop these raw materials to produce fabrics. At present, many high-street products use either cheap plastics or intensively farmed cotton, both of which are bad for the environment. In a consumer economy like Sweden’s, this means a lot of waste and ethical problems from cheaply made overseas fabrics. They often pollute their local environment during production, and cannot always be recycled when they are worn out.
One kilo of cotton can require as much as 20,000 litres of water to grow, often in countries where water is in short supply. Domestically produced Swedish wood fibre is not irrigated and pesticides are strictly controlled, and it opens up the possibility of a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ process. That means mapping the product from first beginnings to final recycling to guarantee 100 per cent sustainability.
One kilo of cotton can require as much as 20,000 litres of water to grow
In the Mölndal project, Swedish researchers are using cellulose from trees to spin textile fibres on an industrial scale under the eye of Pernilla Walkenström, Professor of Textiles at the University of Borås.
‘The aim of the project is to develop locally produced textiles in Sweden,’ she says. ‘Using domestic Swedish materials, we want to create sustainable production.’
Bioeconomy – a game changer
The challenge is to gain a competitive edge by investing in green technology, by both using domestic resources and developing methods that other countries could use to become more sustainable. According to the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, the woodland bioeconomy has an export value of SEK 123 billion (EUR 13 billion) a year (2012) and is a high-tech industry employing thousands of people.
This bioeconomy is crucial not only to Sweden’s economic future, but also to changing the way the world produces and uses its raw materials.
These texts were written by Dominic Hinde.
*How the chart was made:
The ‘How climate-smart is your country?’ chart is based on data provided by the World Bank. Indexed figures allow carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, metric tonnes per capita, to be compared with gross national income (GNI) per capita, Atlas method. The chart runs from 1990, the index year, to 2011, the latest available year for emission data. Sweden’s graphs can be compared with another country’s using a drop-down menu – but please note that it is the change that is shown, not the absolute figures. Countries for which data are missing altogether do not appear in the drop-down menu. For countries that only have data for some of the years, an incomplete graph is shown. Please note that measuring the CO₂ emissions within a country may provide a different picture than measuring the overall environmental footprint of a country’s population. In Sweden’s case, for instance, emissions in other countries caused by Swedish consumption (webpage in Swedish, can be translated) have increased by 50 per cent over the last 20 years.
Sources: CO₂/capita: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, United States; GNI/capita: World Bank national accounts data and OECD National Accounts data files
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