The Swedish furniture superstore Ikea announced on April 22 that it plans to introduce a line of bicycles. These bikes will cost $769, and – like most Ikea products – will require some home assembly. Although this new item may seem odd to those who think of Ikea mainly in terms of home furnishings, considering Ikea’s Scandinavian roots makes the announcement a bit more understandable. Indeed, Scandinavia is perhaps more devoted to sustainable living and decreased carbon footprints than any other region in the world – and they undertake the initiatives to prove it.
In March, for example, Norway announced a plan to devote almost one billion dollars to increasing bike friendly infrastructure in the country, with the objective of becoming a car-free nation by 2030. The Norwegians are undertaking an effort to ban all cars from downtown Oslo by about 2020, and the Swedes attempted a similar project last September when they banned all cars from Stockholm’s “Old City” for a day in order to “help citizens envision life in the city with fewer cars, and more alternate means of transport.” Many of Sweden’s buses and trains already run on alternative fuel, making their efforts even more sustainable.
Many Scandinavian sustainability efforts are related in some way to transportation. Some, however, concern other aspects of life. One Swedish initiative called for “vegetarian days,” where citizens were encouraged to give up meat due to the large amounts of water and energy necessary to prepare it for consumption.
Other initiatives are even more intense. In November, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf called for a ban on bathtubs in an interview with the prominent Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. His comments came after he stayed in a hotel room without a shower, and was forced to take his first bath in years. “It took a lot of fresh water and energy,” he said in the interview. “It struck me so clearly: it’s not wise that I have to do this. I really felt ashamed then, I really did.” Although King Carl XVI Gustaf later clarified that his comments were “light-hearted,” he did not back down from them entirely. “There is truth there…those small details have an enormous effect.”
It remains to be seen what effect these sustainability initiatives will have on the natural environment in Scandinavia. The region water has come under particular scrutiny lately; the European Commission wrote in an audit on April 12 that water pollution in the Baltic Sea – which borders both Sweden and Norway – was unusually high. As European Union auditors call for new water policies to mitigate the problem, only time will tell whether Scandinavia’s pioneering efforts in sustainability – both through small projects such as the regulation of bathtubs in Sweden and larger transportation initiatives to encourage bicycle use – will prove effective.