Natural living comes naturally to Swedes

While organic food and "green" products are gradually catching on among wealthier, educated people around the globe, natural living has long been the norm across Europe's Nordic region.

“The Nordic countries tend to have a broader, more general consciousness of environmental issues than in other European countries,” said Stockholm University researcher Hans Rämö, who has studied Swedish attitudes to organic food and environmentally friendly products.

“While more educated classes are very conscious in places like the US, Britain and Germany, less educated people do not tend to have the same understanding of environmental issues there,” he told AFP, adding that in Scandinavia “almost everyone” is aware of these issues.

Wandering through the average grocery store in Stockholm you pass shelf after shelf of organic dairy products, eggs, meat, vegetables, coffee, tea, honey, jam, rice and pasta, all wrapped in bio-degradable packaging and usually sporting price tags only slightly higher than those on “regular” products.

The fact that organic produce and environmentally friendly household items are sold in mainstream grocery stores across the region has perhaps contributed to their widespread use.

“In other countries you often have to go to special stores for organic products and actively seek out these products,” said Kjell Ivarsson, a researcher with the Federation of Swedish Farmers, insisting that accessibility had played an important part in spreading the nature-friendly bug in the north.

Despite the broad availability, only about 2.0 percent of all food and beverages sold in Sweden are organic, but this still places the country at the high end of the global average of one to two percent.

A full 12.8 percent of all egg sales and 7.6 percent of milk sales in the country were, however, organic in 2004, according to numbers from the national statistics agency, while about 20 percent of all farmland in Sweden has been reserved for organic production.

“We’re one of the countries that rank the highest in Europe when it comes to organic production,” Ivarsson told AFP.

Sweden’s neighbours too can boast widespread environmental awareness. Nearly 24 percent of Danes said in 2004 that they prioritized environmentally friendly products, and the Coop supermarket chain there offers 1,289 organic products.

Organic produce has caught on more slowly in Norway, but the country has distinguished itself in other ways. At the beginning of this year, Oslo for instance implemented a new tax on each carton of milk and juice to help increase their recycling rate from today’s 65 percent to 95 percent.

And Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon is currently considering launching organic production on the royal family farm Skaugum.

But while the countries of the north have worked hard to maintain their images as socially and environmentally conscious, interest among consumers has dwindled in recent years.

In Denmark, the number of people who say they prefer buying organic produce slipped from 31.9 percent in 2000 to only 22.4 percent in 2004, according to numbers from the AIM Nielsen institute.

Interest has also waned slightly in Sweden.

“Some might take it for granted now that we’ve done what we need to do and that they no longer need to think about it,” Rämö said, insisting that taking care of the environment “is like cleaning your house. It’s not something that you can do just once and get it over with”.

And when it comes to buying fair trade products, which conform to rules aimed at protecting workers, the whole region is lagging behind.

“Fair trade is much, much bigger in Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and in Germany,” said Linda Ålrud, the purchasing manager for Sackeus, Sweden’s largest provider of fair trade products.

One explanation, Ålrud said, could be that people raised in the social democratic welfare states of the north “expect society to take responsibility for those who need help and are not as inclined to do something about it ourselves as in other countries where individuals’ actions have been viewed as more important.”


Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English.