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Smarter business in Sweden, the state of sustainability

Ethical Corporation has recently published our “Best of Europe” country briefings as one complete 63 page document. It’s a corker.

Aside from covering the state of the sustainability nation in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, we’ve also produced a ten page country briefing, as part of the larger report, on Sweden.

In each country briefing, we look at the overall state of play, company actions, NGO and institutional activity and lastly, government policy and what’s likely to happen in the next few years.

The Sweden briefing is free below for blog readers to download. Full details of the entire report are here. Quote “Toby’s whimsical blog ramblings” when you buy for a 10% discount.

Back to Sweden, here’s a few nuggets from the briefing: (note: Our survey sample is small, only 20 corporate responses, but may be of interest. The rest of the below comes from the briefing, which was written by experts who know their subject well)

Sweden sustainability leaders most mentioned:




Foreign sustainability leader most mentioned:



ABB (Swiss-Swedish)

Top three challenges and risks:

Climate change

Integrating sustainability into overall strategy

Social and labour supply chain issues

Top three opportunities:

Energy efficiency

Product innovation

Developing Swedish green issue leadership

– Edelman’s Trust Index 2010 concludes that companies headquartered in Sweden are among the top three most trusted globally.

– Swedish business has a long-standing appetite for management systems and standards and boasts the fourth highest ISO 14001 accreditation rate in the world.

– In a 2009 Globescan report, only 4% of Swedish consumers spontaneously brought up climate change and environmental issues as a top concern – well below Australians (22%) and Chinese (23%).


– After a long struggle to break through, sales of fair trade products increased 75% in 2009 alone.

– Sweden was the first country with a coordinated function for corporate social responsibility within government.

– Between 1990 and 2008, Sweden reduced its carbon emissions by 12% while its economy grew 50%.


In 2009, 51% of electricity provider Vattenfall’s power was generated through fossil fuels, while 49% of heating was based on hard coal. (This was corrected on 31/08/11)


Here’s a few of the smarter technologies and ideas being created out of sustainability thinking in Sweden:

Industrial engineering company Atlas Copco was the first to offer certified “net zero energy consumption” compressors under its Carbon Zero range

HiNation‘s mobile solar products for portable energy, HiLight, is a ROHS-compliant solar-powered combined lamp and charger that can produce 20 hours of light or three mobile phone charges from 10 hours of sunlight.

Solvatten produces a container that cleans contaminated water in a couple of hours using heat, UV and a built-in filter.

Ericsson is involved in the Millennium Villages Project, a bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The project uses communication technology to close the digital divide and raise the standard of living by providing access to real-time market information, health services and educational resources.

Electrolux individually tailored employment opportunities for staff when

the vacuum cleaner factory closed down. A two year project was launched to help the 511 employees find work. Electrolux donated its factory facility and invested 20m kronor (€2.1m) into growing the regional economy and in Forward Västervik!, a development company jointly owned by government and business. The outcome was that a 2009 Confederation of Swedish Enterprise regional ranking of economic viability rated Västervik 92nd out of 290 communities in Sweden – compared to 242nd place in 2004.

SCA was a pioneer of forest certification. The company owns 2.6m hectares of forestland, of which 2m hectares are used for timber production. In January 1999, SCA’s Swedish forests were certified under the FSC scheme. It is now one of the world’s largest suppliers of FSC-certified products, ranging from solid wood and pulp, to toilet paper, kitchen rolls and newsprint.

Fast-growing Swedish burger chain Max Hamburgers saw poor reputation as a business opportunity. From 2007 the company switched all its restaurants to wind energy, bought low-carbon vehicles, and offset carbon throughout the supply chain via reforestation projects in Africa.

It also cut GMOs from its supply chain, upped its recycling rate, found FSC certified paper for wrappers, and began a programme to hire and train disabled workers – 100 and counting. It also put a CO2-equivalent tag on its burgers and sandwiches – a revolutionary move in the food business.

There was a 27% increase in customer loyalty [between 2007 and 2009] and the chief executive concludes that at least half of that comes from sustainability efforts

Areas to improve:

If Swedish companies have a corporate responsibility weakness, it might be in the area of philanthropy – a possible contributor to only four Swedish companies making it into the DJSI World index in 2010 – down from six in 2005.

Diversity, too, in both ethnicity and gender, is a recognised challenge in senior managerial and board positions. Currently, among companies listed on the Swedish stock exchange, 21% of board members are women.

WWF believes Sweden is in danger of losing its position as a frontrunner in sustainability because it hasn’t moved swiftly enough to scale the innovative products and solutions generated by NGOs and budding entrepreneurs.

That’s enough cutting and pasting. Here’s the full briefing. Don’t say I never give you anything 🙂

And remember, you can get this kind of insight for another six key countries here.


  1. Anonymous

    Dear Toby,

    I think that you need to read a bit more carefully. Your quote
    In 2009, 51% of Swedish electricity was generated through fossil fuels, while 49% of heating was based on hard coal."
    is actually valid for the energy production of the Swedish company Vattenfall, and not the nation Sweden. Sweden actually does only have a very minor hard coal use.

  2. Thanks for spotting the error. I will correct. Appreciate it.

  3. Marie-Louise

    Minor detail in the briefing on the second page. It is called "Jantelagen" not "Jäntelagen"

    Interesting report, thanks for sharing!