Sweden is renowned for being one of the greenest nations on the planet; more than half of its energy comes from renewable sources, recycling here is akin to a religion and the waste-to-energy program is so successful rubbish has to be imported from other countries. But with research suggesting we only have 10 years to prevent a climate catastrophe – are we doing everything we can as individuals to tackle the crisis?
If 2019 could be boiled down to a singular theme, it would surely be defined as the year of the climate. If we were to reduce it to a movie montage, it would be depicted by endless images of merciless wildfires, hurricanes, cyclones, rapidly disappearing Arctic glaciers and people fleeing their flood wrecked homes. If 2019 were represented by an individual, it would, of course, have to be Sweden’s very own climate poster girl – Greta Thunberg. In what can only be described as a watershed year for climate awareness, Thunberg made a swift ascent from her solitary protests outside the Swedish parliament to meeting world leaders and giving speeches at the United Nations. In little over a year, Thunberg became the most influential voice on the climate emergency, bringing it front and centre in the public consciousness and inspiring millions to join her worldwide in the Fridays for future movement.
Never before has the climate held such a spotlight and yet the enormity of the problem can leave many of us feeling helpless and paralysed to the point of inaction. It often feels that the policymakers and people in power live on another planet, for all the progress that has been made to meet the Paris Climate Agreement target of keeping the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees this century.
So what, if anything, can be done? Can we as individuals make any sort of meaningful impact? Traditional solutions read like a 3rd graders homework project on energy saving: “Turn off lights when leaving the room”, “Recycle and reuse where possible”, “Walk or bike instead of taking the car”, “Take showers instead of having a bath.” But is this really enough?
Not according to a study that came out of Oxford University in 2018, the most comprehensive study done to date on how to reduce our environmental impact. The study’s findings were as surprising as they were conclusive – the biggest impact we can have as individuals is not determined by our recycling track record or whether we abstain from flying or petrol-guzzling cars – the most important decision we can make as consumers lies in what we put on our plates.
The study looked at almost 40,000 farms globally and analysed the life span from farm to fork of 40 foods that make up 90% of our diets. It assessed each food’s impact in 5 different ways: Land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, air pollution and freshwater use. The report concluded that “The single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact is to switch to a vegan diet.”
The reasons for this are complex and multifaceted but can be boiled down to the role of animal agriculture in Deforestation (for both grazing and animal feed); Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock making up 18% of the total; Untreated animal waste ending up in our oceans and lakes creating vast ‘ocean dead zones’; The huge amounts of water required to both to grow animal feed and raise animals; Habitat destruction and species extinction.
The data from this meta-analysis demonstrated that if every family in the United Kingdom swapped one meat-based meal for a plant-based meal just once a week, it would be the environmental equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road.
This doesn’t mean we all need to turn vegan overnight but if more of us adopted a ‘flexitarian’ approach and looked for ways to swap out some meat and dairy for plant-based alternatives, the evidence shows even small changes can have great accumulative effects. For those of us lucky enough to have the luxury to choose what goes onto our plate, reducing our meat and dairy consumption is one of the most effective things we can do.
Here in Sweden, we are fortunate enough to have a multitude of companies at the forefront of the plant-based movement, many of them locally and ethically produced, further reducing our climate footprint. Here are just a few that are readily stocked at most Swedish supermarkets, for those interested in making some changes:
Starting with one of the most successful and internationally recognisable brands, Oatly has been selling its liquid oats for almost 30 years. Originally a research project was borne out of Lund University, Oatly is now sold in more than 20 countries worldwide and is famous for their controversial advertising campaigns. Their ground-breaking foamable barista milk is now a coffee staple for many Swedes, demonstrating that appealing to the broader market and not just the vegan health food market, paid off in dividends. Aside from milk, Oatly also offer a range of yoghurts (or ‘Oatgurts’), ice creams, custards, creams and soft cheeses.
An award-winning Swedish company that specialises in soy-based meat substitutes. The company guarantees that their soy isn’t from deforested areas and they are non-GMO. The product comes in an original and a spicy flavour, and in strips, chunks and fillets making it incredibly versatile. They also do a pretty delicious Italian style pizza (pictured).
Another company harvesting the power of soybeans is Yipin. Based out of Vallentuna, their soybeans are organic non-GMO, coming from farms in Southern France, keeping their transport footprint pretty low. They offer a range of tofu – from tofu burgers to scrambled tofu, smoked tofu, marinated tofu and tofu spreads. It is a super nutritious food, high in protein, and a rich source of calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorous.
Astrid och Aparna
One of Sweden’s most established plant-based brands. They’ve been manufacturing various plant-based cheeses, sausages, burgers and bites since 2006 and are recognisable by their bright, playful packaging.
Not a brand but a place to order fresh organic produce delivered to your door. The lovely people at ekolådan have been delivering organic fruit and veg to homes throughout Sweden since 2003. While the vast majority of their produce comes from Europe, they have a Swedish only veg box for maximum environment points.
Final Thoughts: Let’s aim for progress, not perfection
With a bit of luck, our small collaborative changes will amass to make a difference. Let us communicate our demand for change by voting with our Kronor and using the only language those in power seem to understand – money.
As Greta is fond of saying: “No one is too small to make a difference”.