As global environmental and sustainability awareness grows, we can and should turn to countries like Sweden to learn from them and model best practices. In the past, they have shown a willingness to further their environmental efforts beyond their borders, partnering with countries such as China on environmental issues. In just a few days (July 1), they will take over the presidency of the European Union (EU) for a six-month term, further expanding exposure to the country’s environmental platform on the world’s stage.
I love my Saab, thoroughly enjoy my semi-annual pilgrimage to IKEA and have been known to drool over Electrolux appliances. And like many women of my generation, I have also done my fair share of singing along to Swedish pop. But for all my consumption of Swedish goodness, I did not know much about the country’s stance on the environment and sustainability until recently.
They’ve been busy.
I was struck with how much Sweden has invested in sustainable development, not just in terms of resources, but in terms of ensuring its policies and public outreach reflect the government’s stance regarding the environment. While much of the world has only recently focused significant attention on figuring out how to handle environmental issues and implement sustainability practices, the Swedes have been at it for more than half a century. Sweden seems to be well on its way to accomplishing an ambitious agenda to meet very specific sustainability goals.
In 1999, the Swedish Parliament adopted 16 Environmental Objectives (EQOs), on which the country’s environmental policy is based, along with 72 interim targets. According to the government’s Environmental Objectives Portal, “the idea is to be able, by 2020, to hand over a society in which the most serious environmental problems have been solved.” (The date is 2050 for climate change.) The portal provides details on each of the 16 objectives, along with a progress report discussing additional actions needed to reach the goals. The report also discusses obstacles identified.
Named one of the top 5 tech hotspots in the world by Entrepreneur magazine in 2007, Sweden is a sophisticated, tech savvy country with a deeply rooted environmentally and socially responsible conscience. With Sweden’s penchant for technology and early adoption, there seem to be opportunities for brands to use social media to reach consumers there.
According to Swedish website The Local, “Sweden’s communication with the rest of the world is also changing. The country’s official website… has strived for increased interaction and transparency through a series of bold steps” including live-fed, no-delay comments at one point, in addition to blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook. The Local adds that over 80 percent of Swedes are regular Internet users, and 70 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds browse the web regularly. Politicians have also been using social media to communicate with voters and constituents. Twitter is slowly catching on, with Swedes making up the 15th largest group of Twitter users worldwide.
Given its deeply ingrained social conscience, however, companies should remember to look at their track record on social and environmental issues before treading on Swedish soil, and remember the role of social media as tools in their overall marketing and communication strategy.
And if they need a reminder of the country’s abiding passion for the environment (and hints for areas to explore), they should only look at the Swedish government’s sustainability blog for a few quick facts:
- Svante Arrhenius (1859–1927), winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1903, discovered the greenhouse effect. As early as the 19th century, he produced calculations that anticipated global warming.
- Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin (1925–2007) was the first to chair the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel peace prize, which Bolin shared with Al Gore.
- In 2007, Sweden beat the world recycling record. Eighty-five percent of all glass bottles and aluminum tins were returned.
- Sweden tops the green shopping list, at least in Europe. In a recent study by the European Commission, 40 percent of Swedes said they had purchased an eco-labeled article over the past month. The EU average is 17 percent.
- Interest in organic food is steadily increasing. In Europe, the organic food market is growing 5–7 percent a year, and even faster in Sweden. In 2007, two of the largest food chains in Sweden reported rises of 18 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
- Sweden is ranked eighth in the world in terms of ecological farmland, which now comprises over 7 percent of its total acreage.
- Sweden is one of the few industrialized countries to have reduced carbon emissions. Between 1990 and 2006, these declined almost 9 percent. Over the same period, the economy grew 44 percent.