So there’s a good ol’ fashioned social experiment going on in Sweden right now. Sure, we may be aware of this in the shape of beautiful blonde people enjoying all the bounties that a fully functioning social democracy can provide… rich culture, great infrastructure, fully covered programs like healthcare and higher education, extensive ecosystem preservation, yada yada yada… but beyond this national approach towards social development lies a project that is much more aggressive, much more ambitious in what a human lifestyle could look like in the future. Located on Alghagsstigen in Hasselbyy, just outside of Stockholm resides the Lindell family. Together, dad Nils, mum Alicja, and teenagers Hannah (16) and Jonathan (13) are living out a low-impact experiment. The Lindells were selected from over 50 other families to live 6 months in a cutting edge house, with a cutting edge car, and cutting edge technologies to monitor their every move. The goal of the project is to investigate how low-impact products and behaviors can systematically produce a climate-smart lifestyle. Each family member is striving to reduce their personal footprints to one ton of carbon impacts for the year. This may not sound like much of anything, but to give this number context consider that the average American tallies almost 19 tons of carbon per year while the entire globe sits around 7 tons per person per year. One ton is an incredibly ambitious target, particularly since the project is designed to utilize modern innovations and integrate appropriate technologies into fully developed regions of the world.  This directly challenges messages of sacrifice and compromise often associated with the promotion of sustainable lifestyles, ya know, hearing things like ‘take shorter showers’ or ‘turn the heat down,’ etc. When completed, this project, dubbed One Tonne Life, can act as a key guide for the development of 21st century lifestyles… good luck Lindells.. no pressure!  : )

The Lindells are about 8 weeks into their new Truman Show-esque experiment. Their daily, weekly, and monthly impacts are being extensively recorded and analyzed by experts from both Chalmers University of Technology and the city of Stockholm to ensure calculations are reliably documented.  These calculations are broken into specific categories and are available for all to see on the One Tonne site…  As of this moment, the Swedish fam is averaging the equivalent of 3.65 carbon tons/year… pretty solid, but a far ways away from their intended target…

One Tonne Life is a project initiated by A-hus, Vattenfall and Volvo Cars. Each of these three organizations play an integral role in the Lindell’s potential success for reaching their goal. A-hus provided the construction of the wood-framed house, Vattenfall much of the technologies used for energy production and monitoring, and Volvo with their C30 electric car.

A-hus created a pretty rockin’ abode for the One Tonne project. The structure is not only beautiful, but packs a high performance punch. Architect Gert Wingardh designed the home with a well-insulated, leak proof frame, making sure that every bit of energy stays as long as it can inside of the home. One strategic way this was accomplished was the addition of an entry porch that has two doors, eliminating the amount of cold air that is brought into the home on those cold Sweden days. Similar to this concept are window cubes, which were strategically designed to allow the low winter sun to enter while blocking the high summer sun from overheating the interior.

Vattenfall‘s contributions to the success of One Tonne Life are extensive. They provided all sorts of innovative ingredients to the energy recipe of the project. One such product is a unique solar cell, which in partnership with A-hus, was integrated into the roof and south-facing wall of the home’s shell (as seen in the image above). 40 square meters of these cells provide around 3,000 kWh a year of electricity, which isn’t spectacular by solar standards but extremely beneficial when considering that they can be utilized in ways which normal PV panels can’t. Vattenfall also placed more traditional solar thermal panels on the roof of the carport. These panels feed energy into two 300 liter storage tanks which is then transferred into the home where it provides hot water and space heating. Both forms of solar energy are on a system of net-metering, meaning that when they produce more energy than they use, the excess electricity is sold back to the grid.

And speaking of metering, Vattenfall provided the Lindells with a pretty wicked monitoring tool called the EnergyWatch which connects directly to the home’s meter. This brings real time data of the building’s performance into the living room where the family can break down the effects each decision made has on their utility bill.  If the Lindells were not feeling information overload at this point, they also were offered low carbon electricity options to support the energy produced on site. Vattenfall did an extensive Life Cycle Assessment of hydro, wind and nuclear power options per kilawatt hour impact. This info was then given to the Lindells to decide which backup low-carbon energy option was the best fit for their needs. Furthermore, transitioning into the awesomeness that is called the Volvo C30 Electric, Vattenfall contributed the charging station in the carport which contains a measuring and communication interface that compiles data from the automobiles performance.

So speaking of the Volvo, this electric ride of theirs is next-level! The C30 is completely electric and can be charged by a household socket or a roadside charging station. It takes about 8 hours to fully charge the car, and once it’s fully juiced can drive up to 150 km (94 miles), which is more than sufficient for the vast majority of a family’s daily needs. It is not a slug either, zipping from 0-60 in about 10.5 seconds while reaching a top speed of 130 km/hr. What makes the C30 particularly game-changing is when the electricity powering it is supplied by onsite renewable sources. Once this is accomplished, a true carbon-free transportation option is reached, outside of the impacts of producing the vehicle.

Moving inside the home, two additional partners were introduced to further contribute to the Lindells reaching their one ton targets. The supermarket ICA has provided dietary consulting for the family, showing how significant food choices can relate to carbon emissions… Truth is, not many know that food contributes about 1/4 of a household’s climate impacts… pretty significant, eh?  Appliance manufacturer Siemens also provided a line of their most efficient options to the One Tonners, with some producing up to 80% energy reductions over traditional appliances… To see how these various products and strategies fit into the One Tonne home, an online 3D walkthrough is available for all to see… it’s an incredibly comprehensive tool, so I highly encourage you to spend a couple minutes browsing the site… fun stuff!

Pulling this all together, One Tonne Life is an incredibly valuable project that can effectively guide not only Sweden but the rest of the developed world towards a brighter future. The concept of systems thinking is integral to the success of the project, as the level of transparency provided exposes any gaps of one’s climate impacts. A perfect example of this is an analysis of the Lindell’s current carbon standings. The weekly C02 emissions chart shows that over half of the entire family’s footprint is devoted to food and drink. This is shown to be more than double the footprint of the home itself! Ya, crazy, eh? It seems that simple observation can work wonders in exposing misconceptions, and this is what is missing in our current understanding of sustainable living. We are constantly bombarded with messages of buying compact fluorescent lights and using non-toxic cleaning products, when perhaps the the most significant environmental message all this time could have been to eat fewer hamburgers… So, as a Metro Hippie eager to see eco-awareness taken to the next level I am pumped to witness a project of this magnitude and collaboration transpire. It’s been great to see it garner quite a bit of attention in Scandinavia, but I’m hoping that it’s greatest value might be that it inspires a similar project to be developed stateside. Seems that combining the competitiveness of Americans and their obsession of reaching goals with a positive cause might just be a perfect recipe for big change : )