Building Sweden's climate leadership with the circular economy

In collaboration with the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and RE:Source
Sweden's emissions reduction goals are the most ambitious worldwide: net-zero by 2045. But the energy transition is only part of the story. Our Circularity Gap Report Sweden finds that Sweden must—and can—do more to become a true climate champion. The key lies in building its circular economy to shrink its large material footprint.
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Swedes consume more than twice as many materials as the global average: 25 tonnes per person, per year

While Sweden pursues the vital goal of reducing emissions, another climate threat has gone largely unnoticed: the country's high material consumption.

We conducted a Circularity Gap Analysis and found that Sweden funnels more than 266 million tonnes of materials into its economy each year. This means that Swedes consume more than twice as many materials as the global average: 25 tonnes per person, per year.

96% of Sweden's materials come from virgin sources

Only 3.4% of the resources Sweden uses are cycled back into the economy after use. Or in other words: more than 96% of Sweden's resources are extracted from virgin sources. In fact, Sweden's extraction rates (per capita) are the fourth largest in the world. Such overconsumption exhausts the planet's vital ecosystems and threatens our quality of life.
Circularity metric
Dive further into Sweden's material footprint
hover over the image below to zoom-in
The extractive waste is not shown as a flow by itself, but rather is integrated into the Ores flows.
Mismatches between inputs and outputs at the sector level are due to a cut-off for small flows set at 0.5 Mtin order to preserve image clarity.

The bottom line:

To become a true climate champion, Sweden must consume less.

But how do you drop the material use of a highly developed economy?

By building a circular economy, Sweden can reduce consumption by 42.6%.
The circular economy provides the answers. Our analysis reveals that by enabling Sweden to design out waste and use materials at their highest value for as long as possible, the circular economy can reduce Sweden's material use by a whopping 42.6%. In turn, natural systems can be regenerated.


Six opportunities to reduce material use in Sweden
Construct a circular built environment
Material consumption reduced by 8.2%

Sweden's construction sector consumes vast amounts of materials as the country's growing population, geography and low population density exert pressure on the need for housing and infrastructure.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden makes the built environment sector more circular by keeping an eye on building stock expansion (i.e. building fewer new properties while increasing renovation), making resource-efficient construction the norm (i.e. by using durable and lightweight elements) and shifting energy consumption to optimise high-value cycling (i.e. minimising the volume of recyclable waste used for waste-to-energy).
Cultivate a thriving food system
Material consumption reduced by 7.3%

Sweden's food consumption is high: large quantities of food are imported and exported, emissions-intensive meat, dairy and processed foods feature high on the menu and just over half of the adult population is overweight.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden overhauls its food system by consuming less (i.e. avoiding the incineration of food waste), promoting healthy diets (i.e. reducing meat and processed foods consumption) and putting sustainable food production and consumption into practice (i.e. growing food organically, locally and seasonally).
Make manufacturing circular
Material consumption reduced by 5.3%

Sweden's manufacturing sector has a substantial material and carbon footprint. Innovation efforts largely focus on decarbonisation, while strong strategies backing material efficiency and new business models are lacking.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden ramps up manufacturing's efficiency (i.e. reducing virgin inputs for key manufacturing industries) and develop durable equipment (i.e. increasing repair and rental services) to cut the sector’s material and carbon footprint as well as strengthen its competitiveness and resilience.
Reshape extractive industries
Material consumption reduced by 3.4%

As a resource-rich country and fruitful producer in sectors from mining and quarrying to biomass extraction and fishing, Sweden's rate of resource extraction is among the highest in the world.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden restricts resource extraction, for example, by limiting the opening of new projected mining sites or expanding protected areas for forests and marine life to limit biomass and fish extraction.
Drive clean mobility forward
Material consumption reduced by 3.5%

While Sweden maintains the highest use of biofuels in the EU and one of the world's highest shares of electric vehicles, fossil fuel-powered vehicles are still largely the norm, appetite for bigger cars grows and a reliance on private transport prevails.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden drives clean mobility forward by promoting car sharing (i.e. to optimise vehicle use), supporting flexible work-from-home environments (i.e. to reduce compulsory travel to work) and prioritising efficient and durable vehicles (i.e. increase efficiency and durability of vehicles).
Design conscious consumables
Material consumption reduced by 4.5%

As a country marked by high levels of consumption, designing conscious consumables can significantly cut Sweden's high material footprint while also having a positive impact on other environmental areas such as biodiversity and pollution.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Sweden limits plastic & chemical production (i.e. prioritising the use of bio-based chemicals), turns textiles circular (i.e. do-it-yourself repairs and clothing sharing), encourages circular furniture design (i.e. design for reparability), and rethinks appliance production and use (i.e. take-back programmes).


The key interventions presented in the Circularity Gap Report Sweden provides the nation with a unique opportunity to reduce its consumption by half and build its climate leadership.

Despite its relatively low current circularity rate, Sweden is well poised to spearhead a circular transition: with its innovative and progressive spirit, already-strong climate commitments and knowledge, and huge opportunities for impactful change in various sectors, it has all the conditions needed to build the circular economy.

The Circularity Gap Report Sweden guides the way.


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Explore the methodology behind our work


See what other endorsers have to say about Sweden’s circular journey in the report.