Swedish environmental lessons
With help from a climate-conscious nordic town, four U.S. families lessen their carbon footprint.
Falls Church, Va.
Gathered around a dining room table in a typical home in this suburban Virginia community, four people are talking about the lifestyle changes they've made in order to live more sustainably.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I don't think we've had beef since July 1," says Nolan Stokes, a financial planner. In addition, "we all eat smaller portions of meat." Angela Ulsh, a teacher, chimes in: "You don't miss it."
"We got a digital thermostat and cut our electricity use in half because of it," says Isaiah Akin, a Senate staffer, as his wife, Mya, a teacher, nods and adds, "The changes don't have to be a burden."
A woman wearing a purple suit and stylish glasses listens to this recitation of changes undertaken to benefit the environment and smiles.
"Every day you have to make choices," she says. "You cannot live a perfect life, but you can do so many things."
She's Maud Olofsson, Sweden's deputy prime minister. During a November visit to the United States she visited the group, whose members are part of a Swedish-sponsored environmental initiative that teaches people how to reduce their carbon footprints.
On July 1 last year, four households in the Washington metropolitan area were designated "Climate Pilots" and embarked on a seven-month program. Two were couples with children, one was a childless couple, and one was a single woman. The first order of business: looking at four areas of their lives – food, spare time, energy, and traveling – and how those affect the environment.
A series of worksheets guided group members through exercises designed to increase their awareness and cut down on their use of nonrenewable resources.
The Swedish Embassy in Washington facilitated the program, but the impetus behind it belongs to the city of Kalmar in southern Sweden. It's part of a region that has pledged to be fossil-fuel-free by 2030, and officials there ran a similar, although more rigorous, initiative in 2007 with 12 Swedish families.
Coping with climate change is a priority for Sweden, so to highlight both the issue and the program's success, Kalmar suggested that the embassy re-create it in the US on a smaller scale.
"We thought that was a wonderful idea, very much in line with what we were doing and with our president's priorities," said Lars Roth of the Swedish Embassy. "It's one thing to talk about international negotiations and climate change, and another thing to bring it down to earth and have four families involved and see if it's possible."
Those who took part knew one another before the program began. Mrs. Akin and Ms. Ulsh teach second grade at Congressional Schools of Virginia, and the other two families have children in their classes. All had been interested in trying to live more sustainably.
Although the project didn't require participants to give up their car keys or pledge to stop shopping for six months, they did have to rethink many areas of their lives.
They began paying closer attention to how often they shopped and whether they really needed to use their car for every errand.