2022 Spring Alexandra Reyes DIS Nature Sustainability Sweden

Sweden: the most sustainable country in the world

Before studying abroad, I knew one of the things Sweden is known for is its environmentally-friendly practices. I’ve read article after article about the frightening realities of global warming, and living in a very urban city like Philadelphia hasn’t helped to ease my anxieties on the subject. So, when I decided to study here in Sweden, I was definitely relieved to be living in a country that has been paving the way in terms of sustainability. Here are a few ways Sweden promotes greener practices.

Public Transportation

One of the biggest ways that Sweden promotes environmentally friendly practices is through the public transportation system. Stockholm’s public transportation system is called SL, which covers buses, trams, metros, trains, and ferries throughout the entire city. Because the SL system is so accessible and well-maintained, it is the main mode of transportation for most people living in Stockholm. Even the train stations are eco-friendly; the escalators within them are motion-activated to conserve electricity. Other than the SL system, many Swedes also use bikes or electric scooters to get around the city. Even on icy days, my host sister bikes 40 minutes to get to her high school. The city is also very bike friendly; there are bike paths everywhere throughout Stockholm and drivers always have to yield to bikers on the roads. 

The view of the city from the tunnelbana (subway)

Recycling

One thing I needed to get used to after moving into my Stockholm apartment was the way that Swedes do their recycling. Back home, normally I would just sort my trash into two bins: recycling and trash. However, in Sweden recycling isn’t just put into one big bin. In my apartment building there is a recycling room, with different bins for paper, plastic, glass, and metal. Some stores even pay a small sum if customers bring glass bottles to them to be reused. Another observation that I’ve had is that Sweden rarely uses any single-use materials. In my three months here, I’ve never seen any single-use plastic bags, utensils, or food containers. In most grocery stores, single-use plastic bags aren’t offered, and we have to pay for reusable or paper bags if we haven’t brought our own.

Smart buildings

There are many smart and green buildings throughout Stockholm, one of which is actually DIS’s building where I take my classes! The building was made to practically conserve energy; there are CO2 sensors throughout the whole building, so when there are many people in one room they will increase ventilation. When there are less people in a room and lower levels of CO2, ventilation is decreased, which limits the amount of energy used throughout the building. The building is also comprised of rows and rows of huge glass windows that bring a lot of natural light into the space.

The inside of the DIS building

Accessibility of green spaces

In my Swedish language and culture class we learned about the idea of allemansratten, which roughly translates to every man’s right to roam. This refers to the appreciation that Swedes have of the land, and that it is encouraged that people enjoy and explore nature whenever they can. Sweden itself is a very untouched country in terms of urban development, especially compared to other European countries. Parks and natural forests are very accessible and stretch on for miles and miles. In my town of Sollentuna, there’s a lake, forest, and two nature reserves walking distance from my apartment. Green spaces are still extremely accessible even in the most urban parts of Stockholm. The city itself is comprised of fourteen islands, so the nearest lake or river is never very far. 

The lake in Sollentuna – only a 10 minute walk from my apartment

After living in such an urban city like Philadelphia, it’s been nice to be in a more natural environment. Seeing how much they prioritize sustainability, from their widespread public transit system to the way individuals do their recycling, has made me feel more optimistic about climate change. It’s inspiring to see Sweden putting so much emphasis on environmentally-friendly policies and practices; these are lessons that I will definitely take with me and implement into my own life at home. 

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