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Sustainable living in Sweden

The core principle of sustainable development is that members of one generation should act to conserve resources for future generations. For most Swedes today, sustainability is a way of life. Here’s your guide to sustainable living in Sweden.

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Photo: Simon Paulin/

Sustainable living in Sweden

The core principle of sustainable development is that members of one generation should act to conserve resources for future generations. For most Swedes today, sustainability is a way of life. Here’s your guide to sustainable living in Sweden.

Living for the future

Sweden ranks first in the EU in consumption of organic foods, leads the way in recycling drinks cans and bottles, and gets the highest share of its energy from renewable sources. What’s more, Swedish fashion retailer H&M is a world leader in using organic cotton and the Government has allocated SEK 400 million for research and development of environment technology.

Green Swedes

In Europe, where the organic food market is growing by 5-7 per cent a year, Sweden ranks at the top of the green shoppers list. A study by the European Commission found that 40 per cent of Swedes had purchased an eco-labeled item in the past month, which is more often than the European average.

In recent years, more stores with organic apparel have opened while established brands have started to use organic fabrics in their collections. According to the organization Textile Exchange, H&M is the world’s largest user of organic cotton.

Vintage fashion

The secondhand clothing market, both in stores and online, is also growing. Vintage fashion is so popular that even established chains are selling second-hand items. Swedish clothing company Weekday sells vintage pieces alongside new apparel, as does fashion store Grandpa. Sweden’s first and only vintage clothing fair, Vintagemässan, started in Stockholm in 2008, and now attracts more than 6,000 people every year.

Recycling leader

Swedes are conscientious about recycling beverage containers. The target of including 90 per cent of all aluminum cans and PET bottles in the recycling system is close to being reached, today hitting about 85 per cent.

According to recent statistics from Swedish recycling company Returpack, Swedes returned an average of 180 cans and bottles per person for deposit. In recent years, Returpack has introduced a number of measures to get people to recycle more, including doubling the deposit on containers and innovative advertising campaigns, such as Pantamera.

Advanced technology can increase use of renewable energy in the transportation sector.

Photo: Fredrik Schlyter/

Investing in green technology

In 2011, the Government presented a new environmental technology strategy to establish favourable conditions for the growth and development of environmental technology companies. It had three main objectives:

  • promote the export of Swedish environmental technology and thus contribute to sustainable economic growth in Sweden and globally
  • promote research and innovation in environmental technology and create the conditions required for green technology companies to flourish in Sweden
  • make it easier to commercialise innovations.

The strategy is backed by SEK 400 million in total funding with SEK 100 million allocated each year from 2011 to 2014. Sweden’s environmental technology sector employs roughly 40,000 people and has revenues of about SEK 120 billion, according to Statistics Sweden and the then Swedish Environmental Technology Council.

Research into sustainability

Chalmers University of Technology

Several departments focus on environmental science but the scope of the issues means that almost all of Chalmers is committed to environmental questions. The Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) is an international partnership between Chalmers University of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Tokyo and ETH Zürich. It aims to promote R&D into complex global issues focused on environmental science and sustainable development.

KTH, Royal Institute of Technology

KTH is one of Europe’s leading technological institutes for education and research in the field of the environment and sustainable development. The university has appointed a vice-president for sustainable development and a new environmental director.

With a budget of SEK 8 million, a number of strategic hires and the KTH Sustainability Council, this effort constitutes the largest investment in environmental studies in KTH’s history.

Plantagon greenhouses aim to reduce the environmental impact of food production.

Photo: SWECO

Sustainable cities of the future

Sweden’s architects, construction firms, energy companies, city planners, enterprises and politicians are working today to create the sustainable cities of tomorrow. Here are just a few examples:

Energy supply

There are many private initiatives to save energy. The Lindell family were test pilots in the project “One Tonne Life.” The goal was to create a way of living in which carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced to one metric ton per person a year. With an environmentally designed timber house, an electric car and a whole range of experts to help them, the family almost succeeded in achieving the goal, going from 7.3 metric tonnes per person a year to 1.5 tonnes.

Vertical greenhouses

Award-winning Swedish company Plantagon works with urban agriculture and specialises in what is known as vertical cultivation. Plantagon’s vertical greenhouses
minimise the need for energy, water and pesticides. Plans are underway to build vertical greenhouses in Linköping and Botkyrka, south of Stockholm. The idea is that the buildings will contribute to a climate-smart solution to the world’s future demands for food.

Airport City Stockholm

By 2022, a completely new city will have grown up around Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The goal is to create an environmental technology centre to bring together research, innovation and established companies in the field of sustainability and environmental technology. The environmental profile of this new district is based on the extensive climate work already being carried out at Arlanda. Since 2004, greenhouse gas emissions from the airport have been reduced by more than half through a number of measures, including the world’s largest aquifer or water storage unit to provide the airport with heating and cooling.


Malmö has already created two world-leading examples of sustainable building. Bo01 is a constructed district that unites modern architecture with ecological sustainability, while Ekostaden Augustenborg is one of the largest investments in Europe in the ecological conversion of an existing residential area. The municipality continues to launch new environmental districts. Hyllie will be developed into the Öresund region’s most climate-smart district. Its energy supply will consist of 100 per cent renewable or recovered energy by 2020.

Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm

Hammarby Sjöstad is Stockholm’s largest urban construction project. When completed in 2017, 26,000 people will be living here in 11,500 apartments. The district has been planned using an eco cycle approach and is intended to showcase ecological and environmentally sensitive construction and living.

Stockholm Royal Seaport

Following the success of Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm Royal Seaport is now being launched as the next environmental district in the capital and an environmental role model. Some 10,000 homes and 30,000 offices will be built by 2025. The district will be completely free of fossil fuels by 2030 and have a positive impact on the climate.

The ‘Hammarby model’ has become a tool for environmentally friendly city development around the world.

Photo: Ola Ericson/

Sustainable transportation

On your bike

In 2011, the Swedish government appointed a special investigator to review regulations that affect cycling. In addition, the Swedish Transport Agency in cooperation with other government agencies has been assigned to develop an action plan to increase cycling. Malmö was named Cycling Promotion City of the Year by the Swedish cycling organization Cykelfrämjandet. About one in four men in Malmö cycles and nearly one in three women.

Electric trains

Trains run by SJ, the government-owned train operator, are powered by electricity. For its trains in Sweden SJ buys only renewable electricity from hydropower or wind power. This means that the production of electricity for trains causes minimal emissions. All trips using SJ’s electric trains meet the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’s requirements for “Good Environmental Choice,” the organization’s most stringent eco-label.

939,000 travel with Stockholm Public Transport

Stockholm Public Transport (SL) operates the city’s underground, buses, trams and commuter trains. The entire underground system runs on green electricity, and as of 2017 all buses are running on renewable fuels, which was actually the target for 2025.

Human-heated buildings

In northern Europe the housing and service sectors account for more than 40 percent of total energy consumption. One way to reduce consumption is to build low-energy residences, passive houses heated mainly by the energy already found there, such as the energy from people’s body heat, electrical appliances, lighting and sunlight. Passive houses have been built in a number of communities across Sweden, including Stockholm, Göteborg, Västerås and Helsingborg.

In the fall of 2011, the first Nordic Ecolabel multi-family residence was inaugurated in Stockholm. The building (with 36 apartments) produces half the carbon dioxide emissions of a regular apartment building. Seven out of 10 Swedes want to live in an eco-labeled house and would consider paying more for it, according to a survey by construction firm Veidekke.

Last updated: 8 February 2018


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