Swedish Push for Green Business
On the outskirts of the city of Norrköping in south-eastern Sweden, Händelö is a "cleantech" park housing only green technology industries. It is also an example of how Sweden is pushing ahead in developing the green economy.
While in the UK many believe that you must choose between creating jobs and saving the environment, this country is convinced it can do both.
In 2005 the Swedish green sector posted a total turnover of £20bn and employed 90,000 people, according to the the first survey of its kind by the national statistics office. In the Östergötland region alone, where Norrköping lies, there are more than 500 green companies, worth around £830m in revenues and accounting for 10% of Sweden's total exports.
The companies at Händelö are involved in waste management, recycling or the production of renewable energy, among other green activities. Ageratec manufactures equipment that turns chip fat into clean biodiesel, while Returpack recycles all the aluminium packaging in Sweden.
Also in the cleantech park is a plant belonging to Svensk Biogas, which extracts methane out of agricultural waste, which is then used to power vehicles. "We started in 2003-2004, and we had 200 private customers then," says Marie Pilhström, Svensk Biogas marketing chief. "Now we have 1,000 customers and we are doubling the production at this plant."
The company has another plant in the nearby town of Linköping, which extracts methane from, among other things, dead cattle's entrails. This, in turn, is used to power the city's fleet of buses and rubbish lorries, a train and some taxis. In the country's fifth-largest city, public transport runs on dead cows.
Back in Händelö, Svensk Biogas's plant benefits from the cluster effect. The industrial park is in the middle of an agricultural area, but also has the advantage of being near other green companies. As we tour the plant, a lorry is coming in to fetch a load of fertiliser ' a by-product of the production process. "The farmers in the area sell us their agricultural waste, we make methane out of it, and we sell them the fertiliser back," explains Malin Enockson, the plant's production boss. "It's important that we are situated here, as farmers are both our suppliers and clients and transport costs are expensive."
Fifteen years ago, local politicians took the lead in green issues and have not changed their minds since then. "The municipalities have stuck to their strategies regardless of their political orientation," analyses Eklund. "This is important, as these processes are built over decades. They are not short-term."
Sweden is a society where building consensus is an everyday part of life ' even in business. "We all talk to each other: companies, politicians, citizen groups," says Eklund. "So there are less conflicts in Sweden than in other places. We also have confidence in authority. If there is no trust between partners, it's impossible to do these things."
"Many of these companies have also been public-private partnerships," the academic says. An example is Econova, a local waste recycling company that was developed to remove a local landfill. "So the politicians created the conditions in which the green sector could develop," says Eklund.
The local public sector has even flexed its green muscles as a client of private businesses. Outside Norrköping's train station, we meet Jasmin Zelic, a 45-year-old taxi driver waiting for customers. He drives a hybrid biogas taxi because it's good for his business. "The local town hall wants its suppliers to be green. If I did not have this car, I would not get jobs with them," he explains. "And it's good for the environment. The only difference between my old car and my biogas taxi, is that this one is cheaper to run than on petrol."
Even local politicians have gone green. Eva Andersson, the acting head of Norrköping's city council, has been driving a hybrid biogas Opel Zafira since 2005. "You have to lead by example," she reckons.
The ambition of the Östergötland region to become green is reflected in the country at large. Between 1990 and 2006, Sweden cut its carbon emissions by 9% - largely exceeding the target set by the Kyoto Protocol ' while enjoying real economic growth of 44%.
Under Kyoto, Sweden was even allowed to increase its emissions by 4% given the progress it had already made. But "this was not considered ambitious enough," explains Emma Lindberg, a climate change expert at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. "The mindset was 'we need to do what's good for the environment because it's good for Sweden and her economy'. So the Swedish parliament decided to cut emissions by a further 4% below 1990 levels.
In 2007 Sweden topped the list of countries that did the most to save the planet - for the second year running - according to German environmental group, Germanwatch. Today, Sweden has the EU's highest proportion of renewable energy in its energy use ' over 43% - and virtually uses no fuel for heating. Most fossil fuels in Sweden are used in the transport sector. For electricity, the country relies on hydro-electric and nuclear power.
But developing a green economy is not only about saving the environment and meeting climate standards. Sweden has a long industrial history, and the success in developing a green sector comes back, in many ways, to the number one rule of business. "There will be no belief in green industries without the belief that you can make money out of it," reckons Eklund. "This, not concern for the environment, is the biggest motivator for change."
Article Date: 28 July 2008
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