Never Enough…

    I have always thought of Swedes as rather generous when it comes to praises and awards. That relaxed ‘försöka duger’[1]-attitude is imprinted in the Nordic soul from the first days of kindergarten and primary school when chipper teachers stand ready to distribute gold stars for simply showing up. Grades are generally discouraged, and most people tend to disregard the second part of the phrase ‘constructive criticism’. It is truly a society where effort trumps result, as most would agree.

    Well, I might need to reconsider my assessment of my fellow Swedes after reading the local papers this morning.

    It is just never enough for some people, is it?

    Swedish mainstream media this week features prominently an academic paper claiming that green steel is not that environmentally friendly after all. The three authors, Magnus Henrekson from the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Christian Sandström from Jönköping International Business School and Carl Alm from Ratio, criticise local poster projects like Hybrit and H2 Green Steel and question the subsidies that these gigantic ventures attract not just from Sweden, but also the EU.

    The headline grabs my attention, naturally. Have the academics uncovered a major case of greenwashing? Have all those institutional investors who are pouring money into the new fossil-free steel production been duped despite their lengthy due diligence processes? Well, not exactly. Here is the professors’ main argument (translated freely from the Swedish original): “The electricity that will now be used domestically for Hybrit, could have been exported and thus replaced dirty electricity from coal in other countries corresponding to 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, calculated on an energy consumption of 15 TWh.”

    So, their prime objection is that the Swedish investment in green steel is a case of ‘environmental nationalism’. That’s it. And it is enough for the authors to consistently put quotation marks around the word ‘green’ in ‘green steel’ throughout the text. It occurs to me that if the authors are so keen on estimating the alternative use of precious resources, they shouldn’t look that far. The money spent on their research, for instance, might have been put to better use elsewhere, I guess.

    Come to think of it, it is not the first time I get so utterly provoked by criticism like the one above. I still remember being really upset by the knee-jerk reaction of a sustainability expert (whose name eludes me now) who shared his opinion on the brave efforts of a young entrepreneur, Boyan Slat, embarking on the most extensive clean-up in history to rid the oceans of plastic[2]. Yes, but it doesn’t solve the main problem, the critic argued. People are still adding at least nine million tonnes of plastic to the ocean each year.

    It is just never enough for some people, is it?

    Given the magnitude of the environmental problems we are facing, we need as many solutions as possible. Preferably of the innovative, specific, and pragmatic kind. Let’s not shoot at those trying their best to provide them. Let’s be as generous as a kindergarten teacher and shower them with gold stars instead!


    Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash


    [1] The Swedish idiom ‘Försöka duger’ is often translated as ‘There is no harm in trying’. Literally, though, it means ‘Trying is enough’

    [2] The Ocean Cleanup is a great initiative, by the way, in case you haven’t heard of it

    Julia Axelsson
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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