Sustainability Lessons from Swedish Companies

Swedish companies such as IKEA, H&M and Ericsson are world-famous for their brands and products, but they are also known for being leaders in sustainability and corporate responsibility. In many ways, Sweden remains one of the leaders in the world, in terms of the country's corporate responsibility performance---the result of a combination of government leadership and coordination, as well as big companies taking the lead in actively, and voluntarily, practising responsibility. Not only has Sweden been the top country in promoting responsible business practices, based on the Responsible Competitiveness Index; it also leads in reporting in the KPMG International Corporate Responsibility Reporting Survey 2011, with 72% of its top 100 companies reporting on sustainability performance, even though this is not mandatory for companies. Clear lessons for many other economies, then.

To a certain extent this might stem from ingrained Swedish culture, which values consensus, efficacy, and the concept of balance, or sufficiency (loosely translated). Yet the synergy between the political and business agendas of the government and companies is a key aspect in the increased focus on transparency and responsibility. Sweden even has a CSR Ambassador, Ms Lisa Emilia Svensson, from the Swedish Partnership fo Global Responsibility, which is part of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Ms Svensson works closely with 7 other ministers from the Swedish government to ensure that CSR is integrated into a holistic approach.

On the company level, top management is often involved in CSR efforts and policies, and corporate responsibility is closely integrated into the business model and vision of companies. Company and government goals are also often aligned with international guidelines. For instance, the Swedish government uses OECD guidelines in many aspects of their approach, and the four pillars used mirror the four categories of the UN Global Compact principles.

Certainly, this accordance with international guidelines ensures that Sweden keeps to and even exceeds many of the recognized and accepted standards of sustainability. Approach and attitude however, are more fundamental and crucial to any effective CSR effort--as well as the understanding that corporate responsibility is not a destination, but a journey.


* Points from this post have been extracted from an article by the Green Business Times. Further insights and an article on 3 key lessons on CSR from Swedish Companies can be found at