President and CEO of Business Sweden Jan Larsson outlines why the nation is a natural leader in the fight against climate change
When Carl Benz lodged patent number 37435 in Germany in 1886, registering his “vehicle powered by a gas engine”, his dream was realised. The first car was born, and it worked.
Perfect, except for one problem: no-one really cared. Mainly because Carl only dared to take it on short trips with a technician by his side. So, no-one could envision it being of any practical use. Except his wife, Bertha. She saw the potential, and had the spark to explore it. With her two sons on board, she drove over 100 kilometres to visit her mother. Bertha’s trip attracted attention because she had proved the innovation’s value. She had also dispelled the fear that often accompanies new inventions and change, replacing it with hope and optimism for the benefits of this new mode of transport.
Hope over fear
Only a few years ago, the climate challenge was viewed with fear too. But the reason was because we lacked the technology and solutions to fix it. Batteries were too expensive to run cars, too weak to power trucks, too heavy for aeroplanes, too bulky for motorcycles. Back then, the answer to the climate problem was to stop development, halt growth, and subsequently reduce standards of living and limit peoples’ freedom. It was either a climate crisis or an economic crisis. No wonder people were afraid.
Fortunately, we already had the inventors and innovators who were pushing the boundaries of technology and coming up with the answers. What we needed were more people with the tenacity to unleash the power. In Sweden, policymakers, universities, and innovators have been Carl in the Benz couple, with the vision and innovations to become the world’s first fossil-free welfare state. The entrepreneurs, investors, and companies are Bertha – showing what innovation can do. The result is astonishing – rethinking of decades old global supply patterns, shift in power structures, and reversal of economic dependencies.
Instead of fear of losing market position, hope is fuelling boardroom discussions and leaders are taking bold action. Because now it is possible to prevent the destruction of the planet, it is imperative to be among the first to reach the goal. Both demand and regulation will boost the new and punish the old.
The race to climate smart has begun
The regeneration of Sweden’s north is the blueprint. A few years back it was associated with unemployment, brain drain, and nostalgia. Today it is the development node of the Nordics – the centre of clean energy, fossil free steel production, rocket science, and Europe’s first Giga factory for batteries. Swedish industry is leading the global green energy and transport shift, drawing international investment from major global stakeholders as it grows. This is not by accident. Sweden is on Bertha’s first drive. Proving that we won’t need to make sacrifices or compromise growth, but quite the opposite – capturing the prosperity and wealth of being front-runners in climate and sustainability.
About the author
Jan Larsson has many years of private sector experience as well as undertaking government assignments in Sweden. Before stepping into his role as CEO at Business Sweden in 2021, Larsson was Communications Director at Handelsbanken and has previously been State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. Other career highlights include his positions as CEO at the educational group YrkesAkademin, Communications Director at Nordea, Management Consultant at McKinsey and Communications Consultant at Brunswick.
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