Last week an intriguing experiment in low-impact living kicked off in a nation that already does the low-impact living thing pretty well: Sweden.
The set-up of the experiment, One Tonne Life, goes something like this: An average, middle-class Swedish family is uprooted and moves into a solar-paneled, prefab home in the suburbs of Stockholm. The goal? The family members must reduce their average carbon footprint of 7 metric tons per year down to 1 metric ton in six months.
The whole thing, warts and all, is documented in detail on the One Tonne Life homepage where visitors can track the family’s successes and missteps though weekly statistical breakdowns and blog updates. Will each family member be able to limit his or her carbon footprints to a maximum of 80 kg per week? Will Dad disappoint when he goes on a meat-eating spree? Will the family matriarch crack under pressure at month three and return to “ordinary life?”
From what I’ve read about the Lindell family, the guinea pigs partaking in One Tonne Life — or "test pilots" as a recent press release calls them — I doubt anyone will go berserk from a dramatically reduced carbon diet and quit the experiment. Even though it makes for good entertainment, those kind of histrionics are usually reserved for reality TV. And despite that One Tonne Life isn't being documented for television, the whole thing does remind me a bit of the “House” series on PBS in which ordinary families are thrown into alien living environments to see if they can make do.
That said, the Lindell family will be given quite the helping hand throughout the project. Remember that the experiment is taking place in a tricked-out, “climate-smart” home built by One Tonne Life co-sponsor, A-Hus. So there’s that. The normal Lindell family vehicle, whatever it is, has been swapped out for an all-electric C30 from Volvo (another corporate sponsor) that’s charged via the home’s solar system. The third major sponsor, Swedish energy supplier Vattenfall is providing the home’s energy-monitoring equipment. Additionally, the project’s two “Solutions Partners,” Siemens and ICA, are providing energy-efficient appliances and guidance on low-carbon eating, respectively.
It all sounds rather cozy, doesn’t it? A bunch of big corporations putting a family up in a state-of-the-art home for six months while providing them with a cool car and free dietary advice? It’s not like the Lindells are being forced to surrender their cell phones and live off the grid in a log cabin in the Swedish Lapland while foraging for their own food. Sure, they’d shed those carbon-generated tons in a heartbeat but it’s just not realistic. No one is voted off, no spouses are swapped, and there’s not a million dollar prize at the end. This isn’t a stunt.
The whole aim of One Tonne Life is to be realistic — to provide a normal family with emerging green technology “without departing significantly from its regular lifestyle or standard of living.” From the six-month experience of the Lindells, other families can learn, be inspired, and tweak their own carbon footprints by taking on lifestyle changes or investing in new technologies.
In addition to inspiring other families, the data collected from One Tonne Life will also prove beneficial to the corporate sponsors on the research and development front. As pointed out by Leonora Oppenheim over at TreeHugger, the project does initially appear to be a “highly polished PR exercise” (especially in the case of Vattenfall, Europe's third largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2010) but at its core, One Tonne Life is a “rather ground breaking R&D project for everyone involved.”
Corporate involvement aside, I’ll be checking in with the Lindell family from time to time over the next six months … they’re a likable bunch, especially the 16-year-old daughter, Hannah. Check in yourself to see how they cope with a new, radical carbon diet over at the One Tonne Life homepage as well as the project’s Flickr account and YouTube channel. And for more background info on the project, check out this recent video clip from the BBC.