Sustainability has become a prominent topic for discussion today. The movement towards sustainability made an appearance in the youth last summer, when Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old, decided to skip school and sit outside the parliament in Sweden in hopes of raising awareness about climate change. Eight months down the line, the picture of this movement completely transformed. From sitting on the footpath in the shadows of the uncountable people that walked past her obliviously, Greta has now been labelled as a model of determination, positive action, and inspiration, and with her presence came the common use of the term sustainability as a solution to eradicating climate change.
However, do we really understand what Sustainability means? Sustainability is a profound word that means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future” so that the needs of future generations can be met. Several countries have achieved sustainability through various methods and have attained some of their sustainability goals. Wouldn’t it be interesting to look at how nations around the world are helping the environment by being more sustainable?
Let’s take a round trip to the top four most sustainable countries!
Sweden, the heart of the Scandinavian Peninsula, is not only known for its Viking history but, in recent times, has also stepped into the spotlight as one of the most sustainable countries in the world.
Several cities in Sweden are now launching emission-free electric buses. These buses run solely on electricity and have a special battery for energy storage. Using renewable energy in public transport, one of the principal ways to get around the country is a crucial method to improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and minimize detrimental environmental impact.
Furthermore, the northern city of Skellefteå has also caught the public eye. The construction of Sara Cultural Centre, an extraordinary new building that is made of wood at 80 meters high, has now been said to be part of one of the tallest timber buildings in the world. In fact, the entire country is about two-thirds forest, thus providing a plethora of opportunities for sustainable building as timber is a combination of a renewable and recyclable source. As for the 20-story Sara Cultural centre, it has proved to have a minimal carbon footprint due to the minimal transportation required in the presence of the locally sourced timber. This project has inspired the country to take this initiative forward as more high-rises are now being built in wood to achieve Sweden’s overall climate goal for 2045, carbon neutrality.
Switzerland a global leader in recycling and waste management, has also been on the top of the pyramid as one of the most eco-friendly countries. It is said to triumphantly separate organic plus recyclable waste while also ensuring to convert the rest to energy for daily use. One of the most renowned waste-to-energy plants, KVA Thun converts about 10,000 tons of combustible waste per annum to usable energy, therefore providing to almost 150 communities comprising approximately 300,000 residents.
Water is said to be their driving force. Considering that Switzerland has many lakes and waterways, the country knows exactly how to respect what nature has given to them. Using wastewater treatment plants, they have managed to improve water quality as much as possible. For example, the most technologically advanced plant in the entirety of Europe, ARA Bern, cleans 90 million litres of wastewater while simultaneously producing biogas from sewage sludge which is further used by public transportation.
Looking at it from the top of the list, Norway doesn’t seem to be going anywhere from the most ecologically maintainable countries. From its school curriculums to its everyday initiatives, Norway has done almost everything in its power to value the gift that mother nature has given us.
One of the most critical but undemanding methods that the country is preserving the environment is by essentially reusing everything possible. It all starts with schools where books are passed down from child to child. Then comes their thrift culture. Citizens engage in buying and selling old furniture, clothes, and bric-a-brac while also actively shopping from second-hand stores to minimize the wastage of scarce resources.
Another modus operandi that is extraordinary to learn about is the ‘pant’ system. This system is a reward system for returning plastic bottles and aluminium cans for recycling. When a citizen buys either of these items, they usually pay a few extra NOK (Norwegian Krone), however, if they return it, they’ll also receive the extra money they paid (the amount usually ranges from 1 to 2.5 NOK depending on the size of the bottle). Returning machines have been constructed in every supermarket so that the system is easy to access for everyone. All you have to do is, place the bottle and cans in the slot and you’ll get a receipt with your money. Recycling these items not only saves natural resources from mining and harvesting, but at the same time, also reduces pollution created when extracting the raw materials, processing, and shipping them.
Romania is one more pristine example of a sustainable country. Not only does it have selective recycling, ecological foods, electric cars, and convenient public transport, but the country also promotes the use of cycles and solar panels, unique concepts of their own.
Tourists in Bucharest are mesmerized by the number of bikes they see. From people biking for leisure or to go to work, it has become the new carbon emission-free means of transport. To encourage this even further, bike paths have been set up all around the city with a plethora of bike events to accompany them country-wide. This is one aspect that will help reduce the CO2 levels in any urban area. Bikes require no gasoline, no antifreeze, nor do they create any noise pollution, indicating that they are an extremely sustainable addition to our daily routines.
Instead of using detrimental methods for heating, Romanians have taken the initiative to install solar panels in their homes. Solar panels essentially use sunlight as a source of energy and directly generate current electricity, reducing the emissions of toxic substances or contaminants into the air. Citizens use them in the summers, especially to get hot water. To further encourage the use of solar panels, the Romanian authorities have a greenhouse program that allows owners to receive subsidies to make sustainable upgrades to their hours, a very thoughtful program, isn’t it?
Lessons for India on Sustainability
As a citizen of India, I understand that transforming a country into a sustainable one is quite challenging. We have a population of 136.64 crores and guiding each citizen to live an eco-friendly lifestyle is a Herculean task. Yes, it is going to be a long voyage until we reach our sustainability goals, but I strongly believe that it is the baby steps that we have begun now that will help us reach the top.
Here are some of the already existing initiatives that India has initiated to make the country a more sustainable one:
Renewable Energy: Powering India’s Future – PM Modi announced in September 2020 that India will be achieving 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 and will further increase its’s capacity to 450 GW. India has already made a lot of progress towards this goal as it has climbed to the top three of the largest renewable energy producers worldwide after USA and Brazil. To be precise, 38% of the total installed energy capacity (which is 136 GW out of 373 GW) comes from renewable sources of energy.
Fast Tracking E-Mobiles: The government of India, in 2019, had stressed that the launch of electric vehicles is going to be fast-tracked in India while also expanding its bio-fuel mixing program, therefore, leading to the decrease in crude oil which is extremely deteriorating for the environment. These electric vehicles will be the key to improving air quality in first and second-tier cities while also assuring energy security by reducing the countries dependence on crude oil.
Water Preservation: PM Modi has launched the program Jal Shakti Abhiyan on 22nd March 2021, which essentially aims to preserve one of the most important elements of nature, water, via water conservation, rainwater harvesting and rejuvenation of water bodies. The establishment of this program has already shown significant results as the supply of clean water has increased and the sterility of vital water bodies has seen to improve too.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, one of the most significant cleanliness campaigns launched by the government of India back in 2014. Thirteen lakh government employees, along with a plethora of citizens, Bollywood actors and NGO’s have joined the force to eliminate open defecation and improve solid waste management while also spreading awareness about hygiene through the streets.
Although to speed up the process of transforming into an eco-friendly, nature co-operating country, I believe we could take inspiration from already sustainable countries around the world.
I’d also like to suggest that the Government of India should try and launch more initiatives for industries and consumers. For example, the government can start with amateur steps such as encouraging businesses to limit their CO2 emissions from transportation by encouraging the use of bicycles and public transport such as in Romania. Additionally, if the government could reward businesses who manage their wastewater while also recycling their refuse just like in Switzerland, more Indian businesses would be encouraged to join the movement, in helping the environment. At the same time, promoting healthy consumer habits such as purchasing from thrift shops and second-hand stores and possibly establishing the ‘pant’ system like in Norway will also help the flip side of the coin in being eco-friendly.
The government can then gradually attain the arduous goals such as switching to eco-friendly infrastructure like in Sweden, introducing Switzerland’s water treatment plants, and transferring daily activities entirely to renewable sources such as solar energy, such as in Romania, however, this agenda may take a while to achieve, but why not start with the minuscule actions that we can all take as individuals and do our part even in the smallest possible way.
Before problems such as climate change, deforestation and water contamination worsen, let’s come together as a team, as a joint force, as a family to help our great mother live on for our children, our grandchildren and their children by living more sustainable lives. Let’s act together, take inspiration from already successful countries and implement these solutions on our own. As Greta Thunberg said, “I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, and act as if the house was on fire”. It’s time to begin this sustainable movement!
Contributor: Parashie Sidhwani
About our Writing Program Student
Parashie Sidhwani is a Grade X student at Oberoi International School, Mumbai. She is greatly passionate about tennis, art, piano, and writing. Although she dreamt of being an astronaut at NASA, she wishes to pursue journalism or architecture in the future.