The Scandinavian Environmental Model

Since the 60s, the environmental awareness began to develop with the first scientists’ warnings on the state of our planet. 50 years later, things start to change, but the overall trend is rather slow. However, since that time, the Scandinavian countries have emerged as pioneers in the field and continue today to inspire other countries.

The Scandinavian model, both at the economic and social or environmental level, inspires the world. These are countries which appear to the world, ahead of their time. Just look at some rankings for realizing it. If we take the The Climate Change Performance Index1,, of 2015, which shows us which countries do the more things for the fight against the climate change, we can see that the first two of the ranking are Denmark and Sweden. Denmark is an example of a country that, according to the report is “an example of an industrialized country that does not only promises, but proves that it is capable of deploying an ambitious policy in the field of renewable energy”. Denmark was recognized as the country that is the most effective in his actions against the global warming. The Choiseul Energy Index2, that measures the competitiveness and performance of public policies of states in the energy field shows that the five Scandinavian countries are at the top of the ranking (1st Norway, 2nd Sweden, 4th Iceland, 5th Denmark, 6th Finland). The north of Europe is emerging as the most competitive region in energy with what we call the “Nordic Model”: there are many infrastructures of high quality and a particular importance is given to renewable energies. Same observation with the cities, according to the Global Green Economy Index (GGEI)3, Copenhagen is the greenest city in the world in 2014, and also received the European Green Capital Award this same year. This award was created to recognize and reward the local efforts that are made by a city to improve the environment, the economy, and the quality of life of growing urban populations by taking into account the sustainable development. Stockholm received the first award in 2010.

Denmark is seen as a model in terms of sustainable development. Firstly, they are the first to have installed wind turbines. In 2014, the wind turbines provided 39% of the electricity consumed in Denmark. Denmark is on the right track to achieve its objective, that is to say provide 50% of its electricity from wind power. This is the first country that decided to be independent from the fossil fuel. The Danish government created a program called State of Green, which aim is to become completely independent from the fossil fuel in 2050. To do so, they will increase the energy efficiency and the resource optimization, expand the share of renewable energy from sources like wind or biomass… It’s also in Denmark that started the concept of circular economy, which is an economic concept that is part of the sustainable development and whose goal is to produce goods and services by limiting the consumption and waste of raw materials, water and energy sources. It is based on the principle of “closing the life cycle” of products, services, waste materials, the water and energy. It started in Denmark in the 70’s in Kalundborg. They created an industrial ecosystem with some big companies like Asnæs, Novo Nordisk, Statoil. The industries are brought together and the waste of each provide the raw materials of others, and without the high import costs. At the moment, for the period 2012-2015 there is a regional project called the Rethink Business that aiming to create growth and green business models in the region of Central Denmark. The project is divided in three platforms, mainly “Company platform”, “Municipality platform” and “Learning and education platform”4. About 21 companies are working on this project of circular economy. Of course, this model inspired many countries such as Scotland, France, and even China. In 2014, Denmark won an International Circular Economy Awards in the category Economy Cities/Regions awarding the country’s strong government commitment and ambitious recycling and climate targets5.

Of course Denmark is not the only one. In Norway, there is one of the only data center that consume 100% of renewable energy: Green Mountain in the South-West of Norway. With the internet, we need more and more data centers and they have a high consumption of electricity and water, in order to cool the servers. In one hour more than 10 billion emails are sent around the world, which consumes the equivalent of 4,000 tons of oil.6 So it is important to start thinking about ecological data centers. The Nordic countries benefit from the rapid growth of data centers: web players take advantage of the cold climate of the Scandinavian countries to minimize the use of air conditioning. That’s why Apple is putting in place data centers in Denmark and Ireland that would be operational in 2017. Same thing in Sweden where an ecological data center will open in 2016. And this system has a double impact: in winter, the excess of heat generated by the servers will be used to heat the city and the data center. The whole world of IT will come in Scandinavia to install their data centers.

The Swedish ecological model is also much known in the field of recycling. The big cities burn their rubbish in order to turn them into electricity and heating. The model is so effective that Sweden has to import waste from other European countries. This is also the case of Oslo, the Norwegian capital, which signed agreements with several British cities like Leeds, Bristol and Manchester. According to Eurostat, only 1% of the Swedish rubbish ends up in landfills, against 38% for the European average.

Of course the Scandinavian countries have other field of actions, like promoting the use of bike instead of cars, but it seems that here, the ecology is not a concept but a way of life. They are ahead of their time and think for the future. But the question is to know if the Scandinavian environmental model may be applicable to other countries?


1) The Climate Change Performance Index – Results 2015 <germanwatch.org/en/download/10407.pdf>

2) Choiseful Energy Index 2015 <http://choiseul.info/choiseul-energy-index-2015/>

3) The Global Green Economy Index 2014, Dual Citizen LLC <dualcitizeninc.com/GGEI-Report2014.pdf>

4) What is Rethink Business? <http://rethinkbusiness.dk/>

5) World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders <http://www.copcap.com>

6) Construction du premier data center à énergie positive en Suède <http://lenergiedavancer.com>

CategoriesFeatures Issue 9
Raphaela Faure

Raphaëla Faure is a writer fromClermont-Ferrand, in the middle of France