Sabrina Sampson, Office for Sustainability student employee
While chatting with a man from the Netherlands this past June, I explained how Americans typically drive everywhere, even short distances. He looked confused, and after thinking for a moment, said, “But what about the environment?” Rather than asking about parking availability or the costs of owning and operating a car, his first question was about air quality and the climate crisis. I was struck by this direct example of cultural differences in perspective about sustainability.
But this wasn’t the only time I had witnessed this contrasting mindset. I had this conversation while traveling in Norway after participating in the UVA in Sweden Global Sustainability Consulting program. Under the guidance of Professor Gregory Lewin and teaching assistant Austin Angulo, 16 UVA students spent three weeks based out of Lund in Skåne, the southernmost region of Sweden.
The University partnered with Lund University’s International Institute of Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), with professors and staff providing lectures and organizing cultural activities. We broke into four groups to consult for different clients based in nearby Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, and Staffanstorp, a town just south of Lund.
Our entire group visited all of the clients in the program’s first week in order to gain a broad idea of different sustainable businesses and initiatives in Sweden and gain a general understanding of what all of the groups’ projects would entail.
One group paired with Gram, a package-free grocery store seeking to increase sales. Another worked with a repeat client, transport and shipping company MoveByBike, to determine key factors that should be incorporated into a mapping software made specifically for cargo bikes. A third group consulted for circular economy proponent Godsinlosen to help them design a shared car fleet for a new community development.
My group worked for the City of Malmö, which recently had launched its website Smarta Kartan Malmö (“The Smart Map”). Smarta Kartan maps and organizes sharing economy initiatives in Malmö. Sharing economies involve communal resources and thus aim to reduce waste and increase community trust. The site groups initiatives into five categories: things, food, space, mobility, and knowledge. Our group was tasked with increasing engagement of the sharing economy initiatives with the platform and with each other.
The program also included a visit to the Danish island of Bornholm for the first weekend. Led by Professor Lewin, who lived in Denmark for several years, our group explored the island by bike, visiting the 13th century Hammershus castle ruins, exploring the dramatic cliffs and beaches, and visiting the Green Solution House hotel.
Green Solution House is a sustainably designed hotel complete with a gourmet restaurant and conference space. Professor Lewin showed us various features of the building and grounds including a green wall, grey water storage system, solar panels, and smart interior design.
Upon returning to Lund, our second week consisted of independent project work guided by Professor Lewin and Austin. The Smarta Kartan group took many trips to Malmö to visit initiatives listed on the map, asking their operators if they were aware of their presence on Smarta Kartan and gauging whether they would be interested in collaborating with other initiatives. We spoke with the owners or employees of ToolPool, a tool-sharing company; Fritidsbanken, a sports equipment bank; SwopShop, a clothing swap store; and Garaget, a city library with communal spaces.
When we weren’t conducting research, interviewing clients, or working on deliverables, the UVA group at large was busy biking through Lund, indulging in falafel and pastries, visiting the Lund University Student Nations, playing kubb outside of the Cathedral, and taking many a fika, a traditional Swedish coffee and socialization break.
Our group also took a tour of waste management company Sysav’s waste-to-energy plant in Malmö. A company representative explained Sweden’s waste profile and described the process of the combustion of non-recyclable or non-compostable waste. The heat produced spins a turbine that produces electricity and district heating for the surrounding area.
The Sysav waste-to-energy plant offers a sustainable waste management alternative to landfills for non-recyclable and non-compostable materials. The plant involves extensive filtering of the combustion-related emissions.
Following a second free weekend with students traveling near and far, we reached the program’s third and final week. After finalizing our deliverables, we presented our recommendations to our clients, who were able to immediately share some feedback, which we incorporated into the final drafts of our findings and suggestions.
The program came to a close with a group visit to Bosjökloster, strolling around the grounds, playing with goats, exploring different gardens, and touring the former convent and church. After a delicious “last supper,” we reflected on the many lessons and memories of our short but action-packed few weeks together. To follow the tradition started by program founder Professor Reid Bailey in 2014, we all signed the Swedish pennant flag.
Looking back, this program offered great exposure to different types of sustainable businesses and a concrete opportunity to further their sustainable efforts. My group in particular was confident in our ability to help improve initiative collaboration in Malmö and promote sharing economies through the Smarta Kartan website. Living in Sweden and traveling through Scandinavia gave me a glimpse of what sustainability looks like in nations where it is a shared value and what it could look like in the United States with unified policy and support.