#TBT: Sweden’s Investments in Sustainability

In the spirit of #Throwback Thursday, I’m sharing some content I’ve created for previous clients. This article was originally published at IW Financial on Nov. 18, 2015.

Sweden is taking ambitious strides towards a clean, sustainable future. Cat DiStasio of Inhabitat reports that the Scandinavian country aims to be completely fossil-fuel free by 2050, the first such nation in the world. They plan to do this through a multi-pronged approach, by investing in sustainable fuel sources and ramping up their current sustainable practices.

A sustainable future

Sweden’s 2016 budget will set aside $646 million (4.4 billion krona) as part of this effort. They’re going to be levying heavy taxes on oil and other fossil fuels. They’ll also be selling off a number of airports, nuclear power plants, and coal mines to help fund investments in solar and wind energy, green transportation, and clean power grids. It’s no surprise that Sweden tops the European Union in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) rankings, according to Sophie Baker of Pensions & Investments. The study, run by the International Federation for Human Rights and the University of Essex, ranked the 28 EU nations on 17 environmental categories as well as 67 human rights categories.

Katie Fehrenbacher of Fortune notes that cutting down on carbon emissions has not cut down on Sweden’s economic output. Sweden, along with Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, leads the way for industrialized nations who continue to grow their economies without growing their carbon footprints. Two thirds of Sweden’s electricity generation capacity came from clean and low-carbon sources last year, and the current plan is to lower carbon emissions another 40 percent by 2020, according to Anna Hirtenstein of Bloomberg.

Waste to energy

Sweden already recycles or reuses an incredible 99 percent of its waste, according to Zi-Ann Lum of the Huffington Post Canada. Their national waste management system relies on a system of prevention, reuse or recycling, waste to energy, and only using landfills as a last resort. Sweden’s waste to energy program (WTE) incinerates garbage and converts it into energy: three tons of burnt trash creates the same amount of energy as one ton of fuel oil. Beverly Mitchell of Inhabitat reports that the WTE program heats 950,000 households and powers 260,000 households. The program has been so effective at using trash that Bonnie Kavoussi of the Huffington Post reports that Sweden has actually been importing 800,000 tons of trash each year from their European neighbors, because the nation of 9.6 million people no longer creates enough waste to power its 32 WTE stations.

The WTE program is not without controversy. As Dan Haugen reports for Midwest Energy News, there are ongoing debates over whether or not it’s green to burn trash for energy. Similar plants in the United States have dealt with protests from environmentalists, who claim incinerating waste is bad for air quality. Haugen notes that unlike the US, Sweden has never had a vast trove of fossil fuels, or space for landfills, so they’ve had to be practical in order to generate their own energy and to eliminate waste.

The Swedish authorities also point out that letting landfills remain can also be harmful to the environment. Weine Wiqvist, the head of Sweden’s WTE association, added, “When combining the resource issue along with the climate issue, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that landfilling is very bad for the environment and for the society.” Landfills create methane, which is more harmful to the environment than carbon. As Sweden and its neighbors continue to cut down on waste and invest in cleaner energy sources, WTE does not appear to be a long-term solution, but an effective temporary measure.

Leading the way

Swedish businesses are onboard with the sustainability mission. Fourth Swedish National Pension Fund (AP4) CEO Mats Andersson, a member of Chief Investment Officer’s Power 100, believes there is a great economic benefit to ESG investing. He understands that sustainable investing yields better long-term economic rewards and he’s used the United Nations’ September Climate Summit to influence other investors to get onboard. Amdersson was recently named Environmental Finance’s Personality of the Year due to his efforts for sustainable investing. Environmental Finance notes that decarbonization “has the potential to safeguard portfolios against significant downside risk,” and goes on to explain “carbon intensity is not currently being adequately priced into valuations, and a correction in the market could hurt investors.”

According to Jack Zimba of the Zambia Daily Mail, Sweden is investing in technologies that align with the circular economy model, and they’re helping developing nations use this technology. For instance, a Swedish company called Inrego purchases old computers, wipes the hard drives clean, fixes them up, and sells them to customers in developing nations. The process keeps old computers out of landfills, cuts down on carbon emissions from manufacturing new computers, and helps end users in developing countries gain access to desktops and laptops.

In a speech to Parliament, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven presented his green policies, explaining “Children should grow up in a toxin-free environment—the precautionary principle, the removal of dangerous substances and the idea that the polluter should pay are the basis of our politics,” reported Doug Bolton of The Independent.

Image source: Flickr

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