10 ways to a greener future
Electric buses and buzzing bees – Sweden is on the way to climate neutrality.
1. Electric buses are rolling towards a greener future
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 – with halved nitrogen dioxide emissions and a 10-per cent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a result. 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.
Many more Swedish cities have since followed Gothenburg's example.
2. One of the world’s tallest wooden buildings
An extraordinary new building dominates the skyline of the northern city of Skellefteå: 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 for a greener future.
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. Swegreen is another example in the same field.
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.
And then there's Matsmart (link in Swedish), that sells surplus food online. Food that would mostly have been thrown away otherwise, for various reasons.
And, yes, 'mat' means food in Swedish.
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
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 multistorey car park is another feature. 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. Where old jeans become new material
Did you know that cotton basically consists of 100 per cent cellulose? The great thing about that is that the cellulosic content of used garments and textile waste can be turned into new material.
Renewing cellulose is the business idea of Swedish company Renewcell. The company's journey started with a group of researchers at KTH Royal University of Technology who discovered a new way to break down cellulose. They thought the method would be used to produce ethanol from forest raw material, but it ended up being used to recycle clothes in a new way.
Renewcell receives used clothes and textile waste with high cellulosic content, like cotton or viscose. The textiles are shredded and turned into a slurry, and contaminants and other non-cellulosic content are removed. The product is a ‘dissolving pulp’ that Renewcell has branded Circulose®.
The new material is recirculated into the textile production cycle as a replacement for virgin materials such as cotton.
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). With 97 per cent of the energy being based on renewable sources or recycled, this form of heating has great environmental advantages, such as saving costs and lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.