10 ways to a greener future
Electric buses and buzzing bees – Sweden is on the way to climate neutrality.
1. Electric buses are the new green
Several cities across Sweden are rolling out emission-free electric buses. An electric bus is defined as a bus that runs solely on electricity and has a battery for energy storage. Using renewable electric power in public transport contributes to improved air quality, reduced noise for the city’s inhabitants and reduced negative environmental impact.
Gothenburg was an early adopter, starting with an electrified bus route in 2015. In 2021, 145 new electric buses started rolling the streets of the city. As part of the same initiative, ElectriCity, Gothenburg is also testing geofencing, a technology makes it possible to digitally regulate the speed, emissions and access of connected vehicles in special zones.
Norrtälje started its journey towards a completely electrified bus fleet in 2018. And in Piteå, up north, e-buses started rolling the streets in 2021.
2. One of the world’s tallest wooden buildings
The northern city of Skellefteå has got an extraordinary new building, Sara Cultural Centre. The building is entirely made of wood and close to 80 metres tall, making it one of the tallest timber buildings in the world. The name Sara is inspired by prominent Swedish writer Sara Lidman.
Sweden is a true woodland. In fact, the country is about two-thirds forest, offering great possibilities to build in wood. It also makes perfect sense from a sustainability perspective, as timber is both a renewable and recyclable resource. As for the 20-storey Sara Cultural Centre, all the timber used has been locally sourced, which also means less need for transportation and a smaller carbon footprint.
All around Sweden, more and more high-rises are now built in wood as part of the efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, Sweden’s overall climate goal.
3. Sustainability through urban farming
More than half of the vegetables eaten in Sweden are imported. That’s probably part of the reason why urban farming is growing increasingly popular. It’s about bringing farming closer to the consumers. And it doesn't get much closer than in the video above – a supermarket growing vegetables in the shop entrance!
Founded in 1921, Koloniträdgårdsförbundet (the association of allotment gardens, link in Swedish) is one of the oldest movements in Sweden, now focusing on sustainable food consumption practices. Members get access to community urban farming land all over the country. One of the greatest benefits of having green spaces in urban areas is the increase in biodiversity, with many different species thriving on the variety of plants found in urban agriculture.
Vertical farming is also on the rise, pun intended. Grönska (‘greenery’) is a food tech startup based in a Stockholm suburb that grows herbs and vegetables indoors, with plants stacked high on shelves. Perks? Production all year round using less land and water, while bringing the food closer to the consumers.
4. Food banks
Swedish food waste amounts to about 1.3 million tonnes per year. Food banks offer a way of helping reduce food waste through redistribution. It’s a way for food donations from restaurants and supermarkets to be passed on to people in need.
Sweden’s city mission charities, stadsmissioner, have several food banks in different parts of the country. In Stockholm the city mission runs Matmissionen (link in Swedish), where foods are sold at reduced prices.
In Gothenburg the grassroots initiative Solidarity Fridge depends on volunteer ‘food savers’ to gather food donations and redistribute them to a network of fridges around the city, where people can collect the food for free. The initiative has also spread to the town of Arvika.
5. Bring the buzz to the city
Beekeeping is booming in urban Sweden. Some Swedish companies such as Bee Urban offer municipalities, companies and individuals the opportunity to adopt beehives, thus contributing to the ecosystem and biodiversity within the urban environment. Honey bees not only produce honey, they also pollinate every third bite that we eat. But the bees are now under threat of extinction due to climate change, modern agricultural practices and loss of biodiversity. Now, bee-friendly zones are implemented and beehives placed in urban gardens and on rooftops.
The gourmet restaurant Upper House in Gothenburg has a small rooftop garden, complete with eco-certified beehives, 83 metres above ground. The restaurant uses the honey produced by the bees in its dishes while at the same time contributing to a healthy urban ecosystem.
The booming beekeeping has also prompted the formation of a new organisation, Svenska Bin (Swedish bees, link in Swedish), which spreads knowledge and awareness on the importance of the bees for our cities.
6. Climate-smart sharing and caring
Sege Park in the southern city of Malmö is a new model for sustainable and ecological urban development, combining affordable housing with a focus on building a local sharing economy. The idea is to make it easier for residents to share goods and services, so that they own less but at the same time have access to more.
A wooden parking garage is part of the plan. Apart from parking spaces for cars, it will include a bicycle parking; a ‘bicycle kitchen‘, where residents can go to fix their bikes; and a ‘mobility pool’, where residents can rent cars and bikes from a shared pool.
The vision of the Sege Park project is to create a new tranquil community in a green area near the city centre, relying on renewable energy production to create a district free from carbon dioxide emissions. Through rebuilds and newbuilds, this old hospital park will house about 1,000 new homes. It is the first project in Malmö to have been certified within CEEQUAL, an international evidence-based sustainability assessment system.
7. Show me the cans
Swedes recycle about 84 per cent of their used plastic drink bottles and aluminium cans. Everyone who buys a plastic bottle or can has to pay a minor deposit, a deposit the consumers get back when they recycle the empty bottles and cans.
Despite the seemingly high recycling degree, there’s still room for improvement. The target for drink bottles and cans is 90 per cent recycling.
The Swedish deposit return system is managed by Returpack, a company owned by the country’s retailers and drink producers. Consumers take their bottles and cans to a pantautomat, a sort of reverse vending machines, in their local supermarket. There is often the choice of getting the deposit back or donating it to charity. The recycled bottles and cans are then transported to a hub in the city of Norrköping, where they are recycled and turned into new bottles and cans every year.
This sustainable recycling solution is one of Europe’s oldest schemes. All drink bottles and cans ready for consumption must, by law, be included in an approved recycling system before being marketed in Sweden.
8. Smart roads for charging on the go
The Swedish island of Gotland has opened the world’s first wireless electric road, where electric trucks and buses can charge while driving. Electric power is transmitted to the electric vehicle through induction, a technology that uses electromagnetic fields – similar to how an electric toothbrush charger works. The first fully operational bus using the wireless charging infrastructure was launched in 2021.
One of Sweden’s climate goals is to reduce emissions from domestic transport by at least 70 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010.* As part of these efforts, the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) has been commissioned to develop a plan for how 2,000 kilometres of the country’s busiest roads can be electrified by 2030.
To this end, electric roads are being tested in different corners of Sweden. On a road near Stockholm Arlanda Airport, an electric rail in the roadway has charged freight vehicles since 2017. And already in 2016, the world’s first electric road section on a public road was inaugurated on the motorway between the Swedish cities of Gävle and Sandviken. This electric road used an overhead line and the trucks were equipped with pantographs, similar to a tram. The project was finished in 2020.
*Domestic aviation is not included here, because it is included in the EU Emissions Trading System.
9. A wooden wind turbine
On the island of Björkö outside Gothenburg, a next step for wind power is being tested. A 30-metre tall wind turbine made of wood is used to test energy-efficient and sustainable wind turbine technology.
Sensors in the wooden tower provide researchers with information about the loads that the wind turbine is exposed to under different operating and wind conditions. Although small, the wind turbine is made to scale, so that the research results can be applied to larger wind turbines with larger rotor blades.
Wooden wind turbine towers offer several advantages. First, the wooden construction is stronger than steel. Second, because they are built in modules and assembled on site, higher towers can be built – while it’s still possible to use normal roads for transportation. Third, the carbon dioxide that was absorbed by the trees during their growth period remains stored in the tower, which makes a wooden tower emit about 90 per cent less carbon dioxide than a steel tower.
The tower has been developed by Modvion, which is part of Chalmers Ventures, and is being tested by researchers at Swedish Wind Power Technology Centre at Chalmers University of Technology.
10. From waste to district heating
Ever since the first Swedish district heating system was introduced in 1948, extensive efforts have been made to provide energy-efficient solutions for heating homes. In Gothenburg – Sweden’s second largest city – most buildings and houses are connected to the district heating system’s network of underground pipes and cables.
Instead of heating each building individually with electricity or oil, this climate-smart waste-to-energy solution uses local resources such as burnt rubbish or captured excess heat from industrial production or data centres to heat up water and distribute it to everyone connected to the system. By doing so, 93 per cent of all energy in the system is either recycled or comes from renewable resources.
Through its own energy company, Göteborg Energi, the city of Gothenburg is leading this efficient method, which accounts for 90 per cent of the heating used in flats in the city, as well as about 12,000 private homes, many industries, offices, shops and public buildings.
District heating is the most common source of heating in Sweden. In Stockholm 80 per cent of the heating comes from district heating (link in Swedish). It has great environmental advantages, such as saving costs and lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.