Keys to success

Strong love of nature

As early as the dawn of the last century, Swedes started to organize their love for nature. In 1885 the Swedish Tourist Association (STF) was established to develop and facilitate tourism based on natural and cultural experiences. Friluftsfrämjandet – The Outdoor Promotion Association ­– was founded in 1892 and is today a national Swedish NGO with the motto: "Outdoor activities for everyone - all year round”.

1909 saw the formation of the Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature – an organization that channeled public interest in the environment. Around this time Sweden also became the first European nation to establish national parks. 

Another key factor behind the strong interest in nature conservation in Sweden is the right to public access. This unique and today statutory nationwide right to enjoy the great outdoors gives virtually unlimited access to both public and private land. Swedes continue to treasure this entitlement today.

Early intruduction of the environmental protection act

But tough regulations do not have to mean lower creativity. Quite the opposite. When introducing the Environmental Protection Act the government it also launched a system of incentives for eco-friendly technology. A major investment – SEK 4.7 billion SEK or 500 million euros at present-day prices – was made to encourage and allow companies to invest in new solutions and thus help the government to achieve its ambitious new targets.

This carrot-and-stick approach helped nurture companies that today have earned global renown for their expertise in clean technology. A great example of regulation and innovation hand-in-hand. The progress was remarkable. So effective was industry at combating the problems that Sweden by the late 1970s had become a world leader in filter technology for sulfur, dust and heavy metal emissions.

Leverage given to the democratic system

Between 1952 and 1974 Swedish municipalities underwent a decentralization process. Wide-ranging powers were transferred from central government to the 290 municipal councils that ran local government. This created a strong local framework for environmental policy-making that went on to deliver real change on the ground. 

This devolution process strengthened the status of municipalities enormously, handing them legislative powers and the right to levy local income taxes. Today these taxes represent about 70 percent of the municipalities’ total budget. Along with other fees, charges and taxes, municipalities meet about 77 percent of their total budget from their own revenue. This means they can make investments based on local conditions and needs. The municipalities are also large enough to adopt solutions that deliver economies of scale. And small enough to pursue a holistic approach and address problems with boundary-spanning solutions..

There is no hierarchical relationship between municipalities, counties and regions, since all have their own self-governing local authorities. That every sector of society has a responsibility to solve its environmental issues is a cornerstone of Swedish environmental policy. Local goals lead to public education and interaction between individuals, companies and society – a perfect breeding ground for sustainability solutions that bring benefits to all parties.

Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities and 20 county councils (which include the regions of Gotland, Halland, VästraGötaland and Skåne). 

There is no hierarchical relationship between municipalities, counties and regions, since all have their own self-governing local authorities with responsibility for different activities. The only exception is Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea, where the municipality also has the responsibilities and tasks normally associated with a county council.

The Local Government Act of 1992 defines the roles of municipalities, county councils and regions as follows:

• Municipalities are responsible for matters relating to the inhabitants of the municipality and their immediate environment.

•The main task of the county councils and regions is healthcare and infrastructure.

The Swedish Parliament, or Riksdag, which has 349 members, is the supreme political decision-making body in Sweden.)