Flygskam? Sweden’s airports tackle climate change from the ground up

With the Swedish term 'flygskam' – flying shame – going global, Sweden’s biggest airport operator wants to eliminate carbon emissions from its on-the-ground operations by the end of 2020.

Flygskam? Sweden's airports tackle climate change from the ground up
A plane takes off from Stockholm Arlanda. Credit: Stina Sandsjö

Lena Wennberg wants to help alleviate Swedes’ ‘flygskam’. This relatively new entry into the Swedish language reflects Swedes’ growing awareness that their above-global-average flying habits carry a substantial climate impact.

“I think Swedes look at ourselves as very progressive on environmental issues. It’s part of our nature,” she tells The Local.

As the head of environment at Swedavia, Sweden’s largest airport operator, Wennberg is doing everything she can to reduce air travel’s carbon footprint and ease her countrymen’s conscience.

Swedavia, which operates ten of Sweden’s airports, has been carbon neutral since 2006 thanks to its practice of purchasing offsets. Its current goal is a ‘Zero Vision 2020’ strategy that calls for a complete and total elimination of fossil carbon emissions from its own operations by next year, and Wennberg says the company is well on its way.

Photo: Brendan Austin

Find out more about Swedavia's environmental work

“The climate issue is really crucial to solve for the future and the entire aviation sector has to work on it,” she says. “But we have to start by taking responsibility for our own actions. We can’t make demands on airlines without starting with ourselves.”

Air transport generated 859 million tonnes of the world's carbon emissions in 2017, which accounts for around two percent of global CO2 emissions. And although Swedavia is helping to spur a ‘biofuel revolution’ by pushing for flights to contain a certain amount of renewable biofuels, much of the company’s Zero Vision 2020 strategy actually focuses on what happens on the ground.

While Swedavia officials acknowledge that ground vehicles used by outside operators may continue to run on fossil fuels, when it comes to its own vehicles, the entire fleet will be updated to either electric models or ones that can run on biofuels like HVO100, a 100 percent renewable product made from vegetable oils and animal fats.

Swedavia’s buildings also now use biofuels and green electricity for heat and power. Three of its ten airports have already achieved the zero emissions target and two more – Åre Östersund and Bromma Stockholm – look likely to reach it by the end of this year.

Visby Airport. Photo: Brendan Austin

One of the airports to already hit the fossil-free milestone is Visby Airport in Gotland. There, every single fossil fuel-powered vehicle that was used in Swedavia’s own operations has been replaced by a greener alternative. The airport’s electricity usage also fell steadily over the course of ten years, culminating in a total switchover to renewable electricity in 2018.

“As our local management saw it, there was no winning in waiting,” says Jimmy Holpers, environmental manager at Visby Airport. “It wouldn’t be easier in 2020 than 2018. Together we decided to do it and we did. In 2018, we got rid of the last fossil fuel-powered equipment including chainsaws and lawnmowers.”

He adds that the fleet of 50 vehicles used at Visby Airport has been continuously replaced with more efficient and environmentally-friendly models. The biggest cut in the airport’s CO2 emission output was when staff at Visby Airport began to use HVO100 instead of diesel, which meant all the bigger machines like trucks and snow plows were immediately fossil-fuel free.

Photo: Jimmy Holpers

“We changed everything. Now we don’t use any fossil fuels here. The trickiest thing to find was our painting machine for painting lines on the asphalt of the runway. Our handy mechanics easily changed the petrol engine for a diesel and now it runs on HVO100.”

Sourcing sustainable alternatives

To put the scope of Swedavia’s ambitions in perspective, in equally green-conscious Denmark, Copenhagen Airport’s recently-announced climate strategy calls for it to become emissions-free a full decade after Swedavia’s airports. Similarly, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport’s plan to be emissions free also sets a 2030 goal.

Wennberg explains that Swedavia’s emissions strategy serves as a major selling point for airlines considering new routes.

“Airlines often inquire about sustainability issues and some of them might, for example, choose Arlanda over Copenhagen if they take this into account,” she says.

Wennberg estimates that as a whole Swedavia has cut its emissions by around 90 percent since 2005 but because it “did the easy stuff first,” it has now turned its attention to areas that one might not immediately associate with air travel, like finding sustainable alternatives for the roughly 32 backup generators in use across its ten airports – something Wennberg says is “possible but very expensive.”

Charlie Ledin, the airfield and operations manager at Bromma, says that although there are still several loose ends to tie up, the goal is both simple and in sight.

Photo: Charlie Ledin

“We will stop using fossil fuels on all of our vehicles, all of our gardening equipment – everything. We have to put an end to it and be more environmentally-friendly in everything we do,” he says.

Last year, Ledin helped implement a runway weather information system at Bromma that uses 57 sensors to monitor temperatures on the runway, telling them precisely when they need to clear the tarmac and apply de-icer solutions.

“When temperatures are around the freezing point, we used to apply the de-icer just to be safe but now we can monitor the actual freezing point in real time, so you know exactly when you need to both spray and plough. This eliminates both unnecessary chemical use and the number of times you have to fire up the snowploughs,” he explains.

Ledin estimates that the system has led to Bromma cutting its de-icer use and snowplough operations by upwards of 60 percent and in a place like Sweden where winter can easily last four months or more, this adds up. “We save on both money and our environmental impact,” he says.

While the entire fleet of snow ploughs has been moved over to HVO100 biodiesel, some smaller maintenance machines like lawnmowers and string trimmers are still on gasoline – for now. Ledin says that they will all be replaced before this summer. His next goal is to find sustainable alternatives for some of Swedavia’s rarely-used heavy power tools like asphalt saws.

Bromma Airport. Photo: Peter Phillips

“The market doesn’t necessarily have a bottomless pit of alternatives so we’re dependent on market forces for some items. We’ve found most of it but it’s a bit of a detective job to track down good alternatives for some of the equipment,” he says.

Although he says he doesn’t see his job as “environmental in nature,” he has fully embraced Swedavia’s goals and is very confident they will be met.

“I can see the finish line. Here at Bromma, we will definitely hit the goal by the end of 2020,” Ledin says.

Wennberg shares her colleague’s optimism. She said the zero emissions target has become so important at Swedavia that it ranks right alongside its other main goals like customer satisfaction and economic gains. In fact, she said, it plays a role in both.

Find out more about Swedavia's environmental work

Photo: Brendan Austin

“Passengers would like to travel as environmentally-friendly as possible and our environmental work is also a unique selling point to airlines. It’s probably a bit unique that an environmental manager is placed so high within the company, but I’ve really been able to influence strategic decisions by explaining how important this is to our future business,” she says.

Wennberg plans to pop a bottle of champagne when the Zero Vision 2020 goals are met, but after the celebration she will turn her attention skyward.

“The next goal once we have reached this is aiming for less carbon dioxide emissions from aviation. We want to see five percent biofuels by 2025 for Swedish aviation. This is outside of our direct control, but we have to take our goals further,” she says.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Swedavia.


‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?


One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”


One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”