Clean driving in Sweden

The six ways Stockholm got its residents driving green

With 700,000 cars in the city of Stockholm (population: 1.3 million), the Swedes love driving almost as much as New Zealanders. But by the end of the year, some 90,000 of those cars will be driving ‘clean’: using alternative fuels or emitting less than 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre. Given that we’re about to experience the blunt instrument of a fuel tax in Auckland and that conversely the brakes are now on the ETS, it’s salutory to hear how a more progressive nation did it. Or at least how Stockholm did it:


  1. Local authorities took responsibility (with government support) Since the local authority was already in charge of infrastructure and traffic issues, why not take responsibility for the state of the city’s car stock? Local authorities might also be more likely to take a long-term view than governments, who tend to think in three- or four-year terms. Government has also been supportive, providing incentives and subsidies for clean cars and renewable fuels
  2. Start with heavy vehicles Buses and waste collection trucks have a large environmental impact, but they operate under contract to the city council. That means the council can set environmental regulations that must be met by anyone tendering for (or renegotiating) their contract with the City. A second big reason to start with these fleets is that they operate from central depots, so they only need one filling station. This way, alternative fuels can be easily introduced. Today, 25% of Stockholm buses run on ethanol, and the city only buys ‘flexi fuel’ buses. By 2011 half of all public transport will run on renewable fuel; 100% by 2050. Half of all waste trucks use ‘clean’ fuel.
  3. Demand clean vehicles in the city fleet A city council is a big company with significant procurement power. Use it. It’s important to demonstrate to residents that local and national production of fuel is possible (and it creates jobs and money, too).
  4. Promote clean cars to other road users Here come the carrots. Sweden removed all tax on renewable fuels (until 2013), lowered the company tax on clean cars (till 2011), lowered vehicle tax for individuals, gave low emission vehicles free parking in the central city, dropped the congestion charge (until 2009), and allowed green taxis to ‘cut the line’ at Arlanda airport. If all that wasn’t enough, the Swedish government also gives a cash rebate of 10,000 kroner (about 5% of the total price of the car) for every low emission vehicle sold to an individual buyer.
  5. Use friendly biofuels There are good biofuels, and there are bad. Promoting the wrong kind of biofuels, or communicating their actual environmental impact incorrectly, will be an unpopular move. It’s particularly important in Sweden, where all 95 Octane fuel is already pre-blended with 5% ethanol. From 2006, all large petrol stations have been required to provide one renewable fuel, meaning that E85 ethanol is now available at 1,400 petrol stations in Stockholm (from a total 3,600; in 2001 only 30 provided E85). Sweden creates about 20% of its own biofuel, mostly from wastewater treatment plants. (There’s a cartoon inside the doors of toilets in public places that reads, in Swedish, ‘Thank you for your contribution’.) But 80% of ethanol is imported, from Brazilian sugarcane. Environmentally speaking, that’s not too bad: sugarcane is grown in the south, the Amazon is in the north. But socially it’s not great: conditions for workers, who harvest the sugarcane by hand, are harsh and pay is low. Sweden is looking into a labelling certificate for green fuels, to be given to fuels that give the largest reduction in CO2 emissions. Worker conditions will also be part of this certificate. (It seems that in New Zealand, EECA has already dropped its biofuel labelling scheme, which seems more than a little premature.)
  6. Measure your results How has all this worked out for Stockholm? Clean cars are well-liked (94% of drivers recommend others drive clean), as are the incentives used to hasten their adoption. Of all the new vehicles sold in Stockholm, 38% are clean cars; the 2010 target for the city was 35%. Of all the cars on the roads, 11% are low-emission or alternative fuel vehicles (up from 3% in 2005). And of course: the best kilometres are those not travelled by car. Make it easy for people to walk and cycle, and sort out your public transport. Without a decent alternative to cars, congestion (and carbon emissions) will continue to grow.