‘Sometimes we joke that our children are owned by the state and we just borrow them.’ A local shared this anecdote with me after telling how his children have to do an annual survey that asks about their food habits at home. If the school deems that they are not eating healthy enough then a meeting is called between the parents and teachers. If the behaviour continues then the children might get put into foster care. He said they were called into a meeting once because their child reported they often had croissants for breakfast. They had to prove how they would change their behaviours at home to ensure a healthier breakfast for their children. Good thing I don’t have children in Sweden or at all in general… I have a strong ‘maximise croissant consumption’ policy that rules my life.
The Swedish Government play an active role in developing policy that activates positive social behaviours. I heard about sustainable agriculture policy, gender equality policy, parental leave policy and waste management from a variety of locals. The parental leave policy is one of the best in the world where parents are given a collective minimum of 16 months leave. If the time is evenly shared between parents, then there is a financial incentive at the end. This has led to some of the highest birth rates in the EU (only second to France) as well as strong female work participation rates.
I was fascinated to see how policy has positively impacted the lives of Swedes as well as their view on how the Government can drive positive change. Largely, the view seemed positive and I noted the impacts in their lifestyle as well as business practices.
On the first day, I went on a free walking tour and learnt about some of the cultural leaders and the locations of their rise and demise through the ages. I asked the tour guide if there were any good vegan or vegetarian places he rolled his eyes and said ‘yeah, basically on every street corner!’ This turned out to be very true. Every restaurant you go to will have at least one vegetarian or vegan option and they are almost always delicious!
PepStop is a great cafe and mini market for all things vegan food. There is a cafe in Norrsken House which has a really cool vibe. Norrsken House is a co-working space for impact entrepreneurs who are using tech to change the world for the better.
Fika is my favourite Swedish word which translates to ‘take an afternoon break to have a coffee and sweet pastry.’ Usually, it is a cinnamon scroll and they are super delicious! Make sure you grab Fika when you’re there. I had some when I was hiking as well also at Vete-Katten (below) (It is conveniently close to Central Station).
Oumph is a plant based meat that has an incredibly low impact on the environment and tastes amazing. It is made with soybeans which contains a lot of protein, fibre, folic acid and other vitamins and minerals.
They started in Sweden and are now in nearly 400 Tesco stores, all Whole Foods Markets in UK and all over the Nordic region in thousands of stores and a variety of restaurants.
Their passion is to not compare their impact to meat, but rather focus on having the lowest impact on the environment as possible. This influences their decisions, their processes and has created a continuous drive in their culture to be the best to look after the environment.
After hearing their story, I was intrigued so I went to Wayne’s Coffee, one of their retailers to try it out. I literally almost sent it back because I thought I had been given a pulled pork wrap. It was juicy, tasty and filling!
One local described recycling and waste management as an Olympic sport in Sweden. Maybe they can campaign Japan to include it in next year’s Olympics as it definitely aligns with Tokyo 2020’s goal of becoming the most sustainable games yet. Everything is separated into at least 5 categories per home and anything that cannot be recycled is basically incinerated at a waste-to-energy plant. These plants provide about a million homes with heating and over a quarter of a million homes with electricity. There are debates about the value of waste-to-energy plants as it is not the answer to solving all waste issues. Although as Swedish people are active recyclers, it means that they are only incinerating the amount that would be diverted to landfill. Check out more in this article from IFL Science.
I also heard that local schools send their compost to local biogas facilities that then help to fuel the bus network! Sweden really know what’s up!
Every city I go to I try and hit up the local Op Shops. I found a good chain that is reasonably priced called Myrorna which has been around for over 100 years and is run by the Swedish arm of the Salvation Army. Everything was super clean and well curated. The prices were quite reasonable as well!
I also heard about the world’s first recycled vintage fashion mall that is trying to redefine the image of Op Shops called ReTuna. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to ReTuna as it is quite a distance from Stockholm centre, but if you have a car and a bit of time, apparently it is amazing.
Full beast mode activated. These bad boys were zooming around the city like it was nobody’s business. It was amazing to see business people in suits flying around on electric scooters. Lime, Voi and a few other brands have landed in Stockholm and it has taken the city by storm. Sweden has a strong cycling culture with great cycling infrastructure so it is no wonder the scooters are flourishing. The big question I had was how they charged. Was it solar (not enough sun…), self-charging (batteries not big enough), or maybe it was magical supernatural forces? The answer is that every night a bunch of side hustlers go out to pick them up and charge them. They put them back on the streets the following morning and get paid for the service.
Another vibe I loved about mobility was the solar-powered parking ticket system. Solar is not overly common in Sweden as the winter months often don’t see much sunlight, although there have been some Government spending to try and diversify their energy mix.
Sustainable Development Goals
The SDGs were quite commonly discussed within business and University networks. There is a lot of activity about mapping initiatives to the SDGs as well as active policy changes to reflect the goals. Some departments at a local University ran all their policies, operations and procedures through the SDGs framework to ensure they were minimising their harm on the environment and ensuring social equality. At Sweden Demo Day there were many startups who had mapped their business to the goals and explained how it contributed to solving one of the social or environmental issues.
One business model I loved was called Entrepreneurs Without Borders. They want to empower people in developing countries to create businesses that map to the SDGs and provide them with tools and frameworks to develop new business models as well as report on the goals.
Check out their founder Donnie, talking to us on our LinkedIn page.
Stockholm is home to over 20 000 startups which is pretty impressive as the population of Sweden is about 10 million. Sweden has a good foundation of business success with the likes of IKEA, Volvo, Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M. On top of that Spotify and the creators of Candy Crush, King Digital have sprung from Sweden. Also, Stockholm has more billion-dollar tech companies per capita than any other city, except San Francisco. You can read more about startups in Sweden here.
My experience at Sweden Demo Day was electric. Over 600 startups and hundreds of investors/corporates were all in a large conference centre talking, connecting and making deals. Everyone was so excited to share their ideas, their passion and look for opportunities to collaborate. Check out my wrap up on Facebook below.
I attended a few events at different Universities to understand how students are impacting the conversation about sustainability and social impact. I was so impressed at the number of dedicated students who are actively campaigning local businesses to go to zero waste and want careers working in big businesses to drive sustainability.
KTH University was recently ranked as one of the world’s 10 leading universities in scores based on the UN’s global sustainability goals. You can read more about it here. I visited the KTH University campus and spoke to some students who are working to create sustainable outcomes on campus.
I interviewed Ida from an innovative company called Sustainergies who place students into sustainability roles. Check it out!
I was so impressed with how empowered the citizens of Stockholm were to drive positive social and environmental change. It was easy to get around the city, eat great vegan food and to see the startup culture in action. I am excited to see the next wave of social innovation that comes from Sweden and cannot wait for my next visit!