Sweden's eco-history

In the early 1900s we thought we couldn’t afford environmental protection. But awareness grew during the second half of the century, and today we know we cannot afford not to care.

This is the story aboutSweden's journey from a pre-industrial country to a world class nation in Cleantech.


Pre-industrial society 

In the mid-1800s, about 80 percent of Swedes were employed in agriculture or related industries

From then on, industrialization gained momentum and urbanization took off – side by side with a national love of nature.Workers and their families moved from field to factory and in a few short decades Sweden made a monumental leap from an agrarian society to an industrial one. So strong was the flood of immigrants to the cities from the countryside that there were not enough homes for all.

Many found themselves living in squalor, sometimes without so much as a roof over their heads. Sanitation left much to be desired and outbreaks of diseases associated with polluted water from factory effluent and poor sewerage became a public health issue. As industry flourished, it began to leave its mark on the environment.

By 1900, policymakers were on industry’s side and deaf to complaints from fishermen and farmers about polluted rivers and fields. But an extreme drought in 1901 made the price of industrialization clear. As water levels shrank, lakes stank and fish died. The effects of industrial production on the environment were visible to all.