Norway; a mid-sized, cold climate, European country (with a lot of fjords). It’s also a global leader in sustainability. Sustainability is built into Norwegian culture. From shopping to eating habits, Norwegians have taken it upon themselves to improve the state of our world. This country of about 5.4 million people has done an incredible job to improve its standard of living, while also minimizing its impact on the environment. 

But how can other countries model themselves after Norway to copy their sustainability culture? And what did Norway do to get to where it is today? Well, the answer to the first one is unclear because every country must adopt the ideals of environmentalism to their own culture. The answer to the second one, however, lies within the rest of this article.

1. Electrical Incentive

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A Tesla, an electrical vehicle, on a Norweigan street. ©

Money is a powerful incentive device for many people. Given a choice, many people will choose the more economically sound option over the eco-friendly one because money takes precedence over sustainability.

However, Norway has manipulated this dynamic and used it to their advantage to encourage purchases of electric vehicles. The Norwegian government will not collect sales taxes or VATS on electric vehicles as well as significantly reducing the road tax (money used to fund road infrastructure) for all purchasers. This system provides more incentive for electric vehicles by making them a more practical option for people who don’t want to spend big bucks on a fancy vehicle. As a result, Norway is the leading market for electric vehicles in Europe, a fantastic indicator of how to encourage widespread change quickly.

2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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A waste sorting bin in a Norwegian park. ©

The recycling process in Norway is touted as one of the world’s most efficient methods. It involves intense collaboration and work because all parts of society function in a coordinated effort to reduce the consumption of plastic. Individuals are asked to sort their waste and place plastics into blue bags and compostable material into green bags (which are both free at supermarkets) to make organizing waste easier. In public, waste bins are compartmentalized into 3 sections, papers, general waste, and plastics. These require a bit of mindfulness, but in return, Norway is able to enjoy a significant reduction in waste.

3. Biofuel

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A biofuel harvesting site that collects waste wood and dead trees. ©

What may seem like a step backward is actually helping to reduce carbon emission in households. The Norwegian government encourages residents to burn biomass (wood for example) instead of fossil fuels to heat their homes. By using small trees and wood residue for fuel, Norwegians are tapping into an abundant source of carbon-neutral energy.

4. Hydroelectricity

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One of Norway’s many dams that provide most of Norway’s electrical needs. ©

Hydroelectricity generates almost all of Norway’s energy. Norway is blessed with a rainy climate, high elevation, and an abundance of bodies of water, which allows it to create several dams to generate electricity. However, it’s important to note that hydroelectricity is not always the best option because dams are often disruptive to the natural environment. They block breeding cycles for species that travel upstream and change the water level which may be crucial for several animals.

5. Clean Fjords

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A zero-emission ferry navigating one of Norway’s many beautiful fjords. ©

If you ask any Norwegian what their national treasure, they will probably tell you their fjords. Their fjords are a wonder to behold and two of them are even classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites so it only makes sense that Norway would incentive protecting them. Which is why, by 2026, Norway is planning to allow only carbon neutral, electric ferries to operate within the waters. This bold move is aimed at preserving air quality in one of their most prized environments.

6. Panting

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A typical pante machine in Norway. ©

Oddly, the act of Panting in Norway has nothing to do with pants or even clothes at all! Panting instead refers to the act of returning a drink bottle or can in return for money at a supermarket. In Norwegian markets, they have reverse vending machines where citizens can deposit bottles to recycle them in return for money. Many people even pick the bottles up off of the street to help clean up the streets in return for some money. Panting is a great way of providing an incentive for recycling bottles and helps to create a cleaner society in return.

7. Oceans

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Norway’s Atlantic Ocean Highway, famous for some of the most epic views found in the world. ©

Our oceans are one of the most crucial parts of our global ecosystem and Norway has correctly recognized that. As such, Norway is allocating a tremendous amount of money and resources towards research and cleaning our oceans. From partnering with developing nations to a seabed mapping project, Norway is investing a lot of money into our Oceans. A 100 million Krone (the Norwegian currency) is dedicated to mapping the seabed to have a better understanding of our Oceans, while an additional 100 million Krone will go towards funding the removal of marine litter and microplastics in the ocean.

While Norway is hailed as a global leader in sustainability, it is also important to highlight some of its shortcomings. For example, ¼ of their economic activity is generated by the export of fossil fuels and natural gases; the highest outside of the Middle East. This has allowed them to generously fund ambitious but expensive policies in the name of sustainability, such as the electric vehicle subsidy. While this is no fault of their own, it’s important to recognize that even the best of countries have their shortcomings when it comes to the fight for a more sustainable future.

When it comes to sustainability, every country, including Norway, is far from perfect. It’s important to acknowledge that without important reforms (subsidizing renewable energy, transitioning to cleaner energies, requiring new developments to meet an environmental standard, etc.) we will be dooming ourselves to an inhospitable future. However, Norway has shown us that it doesn’t have to be that way. By implementing ambitious policies, projects, developments, and eco-friendly customs, we can ensure a better future for ourselves and future generations.


Eric Pham is a high school senior in the US with a fascination for the built environment. He believes that with more sustainable designs, architects and planners can change the world and create more eco-friendly urban areas.