What makes Sweden the Global leader in Sustainability Competitiveness

by Team Conscious Carma

Sustainability is at the top of the Swedish government’s agenda and Sweden aims to be a leader in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Swedish government has set ambitious goals for sustainability, including going fossil-free by 2045 and 100 per cent renewable energy. Its green model integrates business and sustainability. Together with its Nordic neighbours, Sweden emphasises that green growth can drive transition through technical innovation rather than pose a risk. 

‘Emissions need to be reduced at a speed to ensure sustainable global growth. Transition needs to be effective and establish long-term rules,Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven

Sweden is the first country in the world to pass an environmental protection act in 1967, Sweden also hosted the first UN conference on the global environment in 1972. Since then, Sweden has not looked back, managing to grow its economy substantially while reducing carbon emissions and limiting pollution. More than half of Sweden’s national energy supply comes from renewables and a thorough legislation aims at further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

sweden environmental milestones

Sweden is not only among the world’s most environment friendly countries, but it also ranks at the top in sectors like technology, innovation, social stability, gender equality, government support and a responsible corporate sector, etc. All these factors make Sweden the most sustainably competitive country in the world.

It’s highly innovative

The European Commission’s European Innovation Scoreboard 2021 places Sweden in top place, followed by Finland, Denmark and Belgium. Sweden’s strengths are in Use of information technologies, Human resources and Attractive research systems. 

This year’s European innovation scoreboard (EIS) is based on a revised framework, which includes new indicators on digitalisation and environmental sustainability, bringing the scoreboard more in line with the EU political priorities.

Tops the Environment, Social and Governance indicators

International investment company RobecoSAM, which specialises in sustainability investments, ranks Sweden first of 150 countries in their RobecoSAM Country Sustainability Ranking, based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators.

Ranks 5th worldwide in Gender equality

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 ranks Sweden fifth out of 156 assessed countries, having closed over 82.3% of its overall gender gap. It has recently seen an increase in female legislators, senior officials and managers, and has reached parity in the number of women in ministerial positions. The report compares national gender gaps based on economic, political, education and health criteria. 

3rd least corrupt country in the world 

Corruption has been identified by the World Bank as one of the greatest threats to growth. Sweden ranked as the third least corrupt country in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, together with Finland, Singapore and Switzerland. The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.

Few salient sustainable features of Swedish Economy 

World’s first wireless electric road

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.

One of Sweden’s climate goals is to reduce emissions from domestic transport by at least 70 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010.* 

World’s first solar-powered hydrogen filling station

In 2019 the world’s first off-grid solar-powered hydrogen-producing and filling station opened to the general public in the Swedish town of Mariestad. The station is powered by 100 per cent solar energy from a nearby solar cell park.

Solar energy is used to produce hydrogen gas, an emission-free gas that can be used as a backup power solution for the electricity grid, providing solar-powered energy at all hours of the day. The hydrogen gas can also act as fuel in cars, lorries, trains and – in the future – aeroplanes.

In this way, hydrogen may provide a competitive fossil-free source of fuel for transportation without the need for the expensive lithium batteries that electrical vehicles depend upon.

A hub for environmental research

Investment in research pays off. Swedish innovation is ranked in the world top. Sweden ranks among the world’s most innovative nations and investment in research is among the highest in the world in relation to GDP. The government invests heavily in education, and more than 3 per cent of Sweden’s GDP goes towards R&D. Around 70 per cent of Sweden’s research is financed by private companies.

Sweden’s long-term focus on education and research has a major impact on the country’s capacity for innovation. The last few decades have seen Sweden become a focus for leading environmental research, life sciences and nano technology.

Government promotes sustainable initiatives 

The Swedish government owns 46 companies of various sizes, two of which are listed companies. In 2007, Sweden became the first country to demand sustainability reports from state-owned enterprises. The reports have to comply with guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Indicators include:

  • Economic: results, market presence
  • Environmental: materials, energy, emissions (air and water), waste
  • Social: work methods and processes, human rights, society, product liability

In 2012, Sweden took another step by asking state-owned companies to set several sustainability goals. The targets are to be set by the company boards, with a focus on diversity, environmental issues, human rights, working conditions, anti-corruption measures, business ethics and gender equality. The targets must also be measurable, specific and relevant to the companies’ operations.

Growing share of Renewable Energy

The share of renewable energy used in Sweden keeps growing. Already in 2012, the country reached the government’s 2020 target of 50 per cent. For the power sector, the target is 100 per cent renewable electricity production by 2040.

Sweden has a rich supply of moving water and biomass, which contributes to the country’s high share of renewable energy. Hydropower (water) and bioenergy are the top renewable sources in Sweden – hydropower mostly for electricity production and bioenergy for heating.

The Swedish school system

Few countries consume more energy per capita than Sweden, but Swedish carbon emissions are low compared with those of other countries. According to statistics from the World Bank, the average American releases almost four times as much carbon dioxide (CO₂) per year into the atmosphere as the average Swede.

The reason for Sweden’s low emission rate is that about 75 per cent of electricity production in Sweden comes from hydroelectric (45%) and nuclear (30%) power. And, more than 17 per cent of the electricity comes from wind power. Also, combined heat and power (CHP) plants account for around 8 per cent of the electricity output in Sweden, and these are mainly powered by biofuels.

Education is key in Sweden. It’s tax-financed and compulsory from the age of 6. Sweden’s long focus on education is quoted as one of the explanations for the country’s capacity for innovation.

Illegal to hit children

In 1979 Sweden made it illegal to hit children, both at home and in school – as the first country in the world. Swedish law now explicitly states that parents cannot use any form of violence or other humiliating treatment as part of bringing up their children. Corporal punishment of a child is also a criminal offence according to the Swedish Penal Code.

Electric buses are the new green

Several cities across Sweden are rolling out emission-free electric buses. Using renewable electric power in public transport contributes to improved air quality, reduced noise for the city’s inhabitants and reduced negative environmental impact.

Sweden and road safety

Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ has become a global road safety role model. The idea? That no one should be killed or seriously injured as a result of traffic accidents.

It is, in short, about adapting the roads, and the vehicles they carry, to match the capabilities of the people that use them.


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.

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.

Recycling in Sweden – key figures:

  • 4,839,430 tonnes of household waste was managed in 2020, which equals 467 kilos per person per year.
  • 46% of the household waste was turned into energy in 2020.
  • 84% of bottles and cans were recycled in 2019 – 90% is the government target.
  • 70% of all packaging was recycled.

Sources: Swedish Waste Management AssociationSwedish EPA

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. District heating is the most common source of heating in Sweden.  It has great environmental advantages, such as saving costs and lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

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.

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.

Founded in 1921, Koloniträdgårdsförbundet (the association of allotment gardens) 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.

Sweden’s Food banks

Swedish food waste amounts to about 1.3 million tonnes per year. Sweden’s city mission charities, stadsmissioner, have several food banks in different parts of the country to help reduce food waste through redistribution. It’s a way for food donations from restaurants and supermarkets to be passed on to people in need at reduced prices.

Sweden’s Site Zero to become ‘world’s largest plastic recycling plant’

Swedish Plastic Recycling, owned by a large part of the Swedish business community,  is investing heavily in building the world’s largest and most modern facility for plastic recycling, Site Zero.

The facility set to complete in 2023, will be able to recycle all plastic packaging from Swedish households and make plastics circular – completely without any CO2 emissions.

Innovative Sustainable businesses 

The environmental aspects of sustainable business are very broad, including areas such as paper recycling, the sustainable use of resources, minimising environmental footprints and reducing water consumption.

 Since 2020 H&M in Stockholm is transforming its customers’ unwanted garments into new pieces of clothing through a garment-to-garment recycling system called Looop. The old garments are cleaned, shredded into fibres and spun into new yarn, which is then knitted into new fashion favourites.

Swedish company  Bee Urban is offering municipalities, companies and individuals the opportunity to adopt beehives, thus contributing to the ecosystem and biodiversity within the urban environment. 

Sege Park in the southern city of Malmö has developed 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.

Source: Sweden.se

You may also like

Leave a Comment