Waste Not

The United States should take note of sustainable living in Sweden

Waste Not

Polarized ideas are common in the United States when it comes to sustainability. I’ve found they either require complete individual responsibility or are left to scientists, engineers and politicians to work out among themselves. There are individual actions we may take, but Sweden stands out as an exemplary country for making it a collective responsibility as well.

Sweden executes the tricky balance well. They not only seek to be environmentally conscious, but use the opportunity to involve other worthwhile causes.

As children grow up in Sweden, they are taught sustainability in school. This video from Euronews profiles a school where elementary students make their own playground. They learn mechanical skills and are able to build structures.

This is an element of education in the U.S. that’s only just getting started. Projects such as The Outdoor Classroom exist, but Sweden applies fun, involved lessons where children can understand that urban practices and sustainability don’t need to be separated.

“The advantage with working with this kind of program is that the children get used to solving problems that come up,” Martin Olsson, advisor for the Katrineholm innovation bureau, said. “You get high motivation and you get very good entrepreneurs or very good employees.”

A factory in Oxelosund, Sweden produces steel for wind turbines, while producing the second highest amount of carbon dioxide in the country. They are the biggest employer in the city, but had to cut 350 jobs in 2009. Citizens saw the wound as a chance to push for a cleaner planet and took it by investing in education and innovation.

What’s unique is that the company is already aiding the world to produce more clean energy, yet the bar was raised.

Vaxjo, Sweden, set a goal in 1996 to be fossil-fuel free by 2030. The long process has included using a centralized district cooling and heating system (explained here.)

In Augustenborg, over 70 percent of collected waste is recycled, whereas in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates of the 70 percent of recyclable waste, only 30 percent is recycled. Simple research shows the country making strides in recycling and becoming fossil-fuel free.

A local example of moves to be green would be the Davies Student Center. It uses a heat exchange system to conserve energy, skylights, exterior-LED lighting and solar panels. It’s impressive, but a rarity around this area of Wisconsin.

Being green in construction cannot be an ornament, it must be the keystone. This is easy to say when I don’t have to analyze figures for city planning, however Sweden has managed to implement a system where new jobs are created through sustainability.

Leave it to Sweden to come up with cross-issue solutions. However, it’s time to take a leaf out of their book. Maybe the goal shouldn’t be throwing less trash away, but to begin with the structures of our cities and creating jobs from sustainable practices.

Zero-waste is an important idea, however it’s ultimately ineffective if collective actions aren’t taken as well. We can take some hints from our neighbors across the ocean.

Seeing as it’s election season, I’m going to make sure the candidates I’m voting for are aware of these ideas. Letters, attending rallies and writing to local newspapers are some of the best ways to start.