Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

I’ll admit, when I arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, a little over a month ago, I had big expectations. Visions of an eco promised land where everyone used shopping bags made of recycled water bottles, biked to work and picked out produce at Middlebury Co-op-inspired grocery stores danced through my head as I packed my bags for the dark, snowy Scandinavian climate.

As an environmental studies: nonfiction major and self-proclaimed tree-hugger, I was seduced by Stockholm’s title as the 2010 Green Capital of Europe and its reputation for innovative environmental design, architecture and policy. Surely I would return home for winter term flush with Swedish insights about all things eco and, armed with this wisdom, help transform the U.S. into an equally eco-conscious nation of the future! (I told you, big expectations.)

In reality, I discovered that, alas, plastic grocery bags do still exist in this land of the Midnight Sun, bikes are more for afternoon excursions in the park than for transportation to work and grocery stores are sorely lacking in apples of the Middlebury Co-op caliber.

I was ready to concede that Stockholm wasn’t quite the beacon of (green) light I expected it to be until this past week, when I started to truly notice and appreciate the subtle — and more realistic — eco habits that permeate life in the city.

Composting, for example, is the norm in my neighborhood, as is recycling. Along with a trash can, my roommate and I were given a composting bin, which we periodically dump for collection in a communal bin at the end of the street. Recycling bins are also common in Stockholm stores and on street corners, so even when on the run, it’s relatively easy to go green.

The public transportation system here is equally efficient, easy and pervasive. Swedes may not bike to work, but they can choose from an array of other low-carbon options like the commuter train, subway, trolley or bus.

Coffee culture is prominent in Stockholm, but rather than take their coffees to go, Swedes prefer to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe with a cinnamon bun (a tradition known as “fika” that we American students have embraced with glee). Unlike Starbucks, Swedish coffee shops serve drinks in glasses and mugs, which reduces paper waste.

Not only are these habits less blaring than I expected, but Swedes accept them as commonplace, blurring the line between eco-friendly and normal. Swedes don’t consider themselves particularly eco-conscious, even though they seem to be by our American standards. Being “eco-friendly” has become obsolete here, because in a sense, everyone already is.

One month into my time abroad, Stockholm has in fact proven to be the promised land of eco-neutrality that I had hoped to find, though in much more subtle and exciting ways than I had initially expected.

If I have any eco Swedish insight to bring back with me, it is this: we can move toward a mindset where “eco-friendly” becomes obsolete; and each day, Stockholm proves that effective environmental policy depends on our community’s ability to do just that!

Written by OLIVIA FRENCH ’14 from Stockholm, Sweden