From Scandinavia with Love

Our northern neighbours winter just as hard as we do but use a fraction of the energy. What's their secret to green living?

Canadians have a lot in common with the Scandinavian countries—not least, a similar population and those long, frigid winters. But when it comes to sustainable living, our northern neighbours have us beat, hands down.

For many Scandinavians, an eco-conscious approach to living is merely a way of life.  “We have a different view of nature…we’re more respectful,” says Sofie Adolfsson Jörby, a Swede who works as environmental coordinator within Sweden’s Ministry of the Environment. Currently working out of the municipal offices of the Halifax Regional Municipality as part of an international work exchange program, Adolfsson Jörby says that for most Scandinavians, an eco-conscious attitude is learned beginning in early childhood.  

Whatever the reason, here are a few areas in which they’re outshining Canadians on sustainability. Maybe it’s time we imported more than just the Scandinavian design ethos and easy-to-assemble furniture.

Living energy light

According to a recent national poll in Sweden, 78 percent of the population reported reducing their daily energy consumption last year. Energy consciousness is fostered in part through the widespread use of efficient appliances and well-insulated homes, among other initiatives. For example, recent regulations in Sweden even restrict the amount of energy new homes may use, limiting it to 110 kilowatt hours per square meter per year (and many use far less than that!).

Heating smart

When it comes to home heating, Scandinavians have shed their reliance on oil in favour of more renewable energy sources such as wind, biofuel, and geothermal, as well as district heating, whereby heat is distributed to multiple homes through a network of pipes (usually underground) run from a single generating plant. Many of those plants are designed to run on everything from municipal solid waste (one such plant in Stockholm processes 25 percent of all of Sweden’s garbage) to palm oil and wood pellets. So, it’s no surprise to find that Sweden, for example, generates far less greenhouse gas than Canada: 5.32 tonnes compared to our 16.52 tonnes per capita in 2006. What’s more, Adolfsson Jörby points out that those numbers take into account the fact that many Scandinavian countries have just as much heavy industry as Canada does.

Getting around

Scandinavian cities are often more densely populated than Canadian cities are, making them easier to navigate by foot or bicycle, and making public transit—including trains and buses that run on biofuel—a more efficient option. In Copenhagen, for example, cyclists have their own bike lanes – even their own traffic signals. And more than 150,000 people enter the city centre by bicycle every year.

In both Denmark and Norway, commuters and tourists alike can take advantage of the CityBike program – a network of bicycles (there are 1,300 in Copenhagen alone) that are available on free, short-term loans from hubs interspaced through urban centres. (Montreal introduced a similar public bike program last year —a first in Canada. By this spring, the Bixi network, as it’s called, expects to have 3000 bikes stationed at 300 locations.)

To discourage unnecessary traffic in the city centre, some cities, such as Oslo, charge a toll to drive into downtown core.

Saving trees

Scandinavian countries are also forest-rich like Canada, but they maintain a more environmentally sensitive approach to maintaining this valuable natural resource. For more than 100 years, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have had forestry legislation in place that limits the amount of timber that can be harvested at one time. “And if you clear-cut an area, then you have to replant it,” explains Adolfsson Jörby, the money for which must be set aside before the cutting begins. Since implementing this legislation, the forest resources in Scandinavian countries have doubled.

For Scandinavians, taking an educated, eco-conscious and energy-efficient approach to life seems to be second nature! It’s a green lesson that should have Canadians green with envy.