The transformation of environmentalism from a loosely organized activist movement in the 1970s to an ever more differentiated array of "nongovernmental organizations" in the 1990s has taken place in every country of the world. But obviously the role that environmental organizations and other social actors have played in the quest for sustainable development has differed dramatically from country to country. In Sweden there has emerged a new rhetoric of "environmental adaptation" and an ideological effort by the ruling social democratic government to create a "green" welfare state (Hermele 2000; Lidskog and Elander 2000). At the same time, however, the main responsibility for environmental research and development has shifted over the past ten years from the public to the private sector. Although Swedish industry was comparatively late to take up the new ideas about pollution prevention and cleaner technology that have been widely propagated in other European countries, much of the Swedish approach to sustainable development has been devoted to environmental improvements in industry. In 1993, a new Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (in Swedish: Stiftelsen for strategisk mijoforskning, or MISTRA) was created to support large-scale projects involving collaboration between universities and industry in the area of sustainable development.
At the same time, several other foundations were established with money taken by the then conservative government from the controversial wage-earner funds, which the Social Democrats had created in the 1980s. These foundations are charged with funding strategic industrial research and technological competence-building and are run as private foundations, with decisions taken primarily by representatives of industrial firms and engineering or technological sciences. One small foundation supports the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at the Technical University in Lund. And at other technical universities and business schools a number of projects and courses are being instituted in environmental management and economics, many with the support of the new foundations. At both the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenburg and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm there are courses and research programs in environmental management, as well as at a number of the newer regional colleges that have been established. At the latter, efforts in environmental technology and management are often carried out in collaboration with local industry, and tend to have a highly practical orientation.
Compared with many other European countries, however, these initiatives have come relatively late, and have had trouble integrating with established disciplines and institutions. The example of the institute in Lund, which lies outside of the traditional disciplinary structure and has its own outside funding, is typical of the Swedish transformation process. For, at the same time as there are new initiatives of "green business," environmental policy continues to be filtered through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the other sectorial bodies - energy, transportation, waste treatment, occupational health, regional planning, construction, and so on - that were created in the 1970s. As things stand now, the environmental science and technology "system" is certainly growing, but it still has relatively little impact on the main priorities of Swedish science and technology development, which, as in most other countries, are focused on the so-called advanced or "high" technologies: information technology, biotechnology, industrial materials. Meanwhile, conservative politicians and economists have compared the ideas of a green welfare state to the social engineering that was so prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, when suburbs and the modern infrastructure were established in Sweden by means of strong centralized planning that has since gone out of fashion. That kind of planning, it is argued, can no longer function in a society that is so strongly integrated into the international market.
The government has not managed to convince Swedish industry with its proposals to rebuild Sweden.While the issue of nuclear energy probably contributed to the lack of consensus about sustainable development, different opinions about economic policy seem to underlie the conflict between government and industry. According to critics, the Social Democratic policy - with large-scale state measures and an expansive short-term employment policy - lacks a comprehensive long-term strategy, and is simply a return to the good old days of the Swedish model, when the state supported large infrastructural projects of "social engineering" in construction, housing, transportation, and energy. The argument is that such approaches are no longer relevant, and that the new plans will not be successfully implemented (Berggren 1997).
In many respects, the efforts to propel Sweden into more sustainable directions have been constrained by the legacy of the past (Lundqvist 1996). The first wave of environmental science and technology policy brought into being a system of "end-of-pipe" competence, that is, an addition to normal operations, integrated into Swedish industry that has tended to dominate both the theory and practice of environmental engineering ever since. The specialized competences of environmental control and waste treatment have been difficult to transform into a more general expertise in pollution prevention, cleaner technologies, or sustainable development. The fragmented orientation of Swedish (environmental) science and technology policy has meant that environmental issues have had difficulty leaving their sectorial isolation and entering into broader discourses about industrial and economic development. But, of course, the problem also has to do with the structure and emphases of Swedish industry. The large corporations that were built up in the late nineteenth century were based, to a large extent, on the exploitation of natural resources in the mines and the forests, and environmental consequences and impacts were evaluated accordingly. It has proved difficult to restructure Swedish industry and to incorporate an environmental concern into the characteristic forms of economic activity. But, after some delay, there are nonetheless indications that the systematic Swedes are beginning to consider a broader environmentally oriented transformation process. In late 1998 a new Social Democratic government, governing with the support of the Green Party, formulated the notion of a "Green People's Home," mobilizing the rhetoric that had been so much a part of the earlier Swedish model (Elzinga et al. 1998).
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