Giving furniture a second life

25 June 2024

Emerging skills needs in the environmental economy, market changes and labour shortages in critical sectors such as construction have rendered up-skilling and reskilling efforts essential.

Ensuring the fair provision of green skills is crucial for the green transition as well as an inclusive recovery. Without adequate support,  more people in the labour market risk being excluded and further impacted by growing marginalisation and social exclusion. For example, there is a risk of deepening the divide between men and women and between high-skilled and highly-educated workers and low-skilled workers.

For that reason, the urgency of upskilling and reskilling for a successful green transition is increasingly becoming a priority for decision-makers worldwide. As the global community grapples with the urgent need for environmental sustainability, cities like Stockholm are spearheading efforts to integrate green practices into employment strategies.

The green dimension of employment

According to the OECD, 18% of current jobs contribute to the green transition by helping improve environmental sustainability or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with Stockholm leading at 32%.

Beyond merely creating green jobs, the Swedish capital accentuates the necessity of supporting comprehensive sectoral transformations.

Recognising the profound impact of climate change on the labour market, Stockholm stresses the importance of addressing new skills and training needs, through, for example, its education range in upper secondary school and vocational learning in adult education. The city administration also works actively alongside its business community, with the aim of attracting applicants to courses that will help reduce the lack of skills linked to climate change.

“If we are about to reach our environmental goals, all sectors need to transform into settings that don’t hurt the planet. That means that it is not only about creating green jobs with a special focus on environmental issues but also about supporting the transformation in all sectors,” says Erica Eneqvist, Climate Strategist, City Executive Office, City of Stockholm.

A second life

An example of employment, sustainability and social economy is Stocket Återbruk. Initiated in 2017, it reuses furniture and equipment to reduce waste and contribute to a circular economy, while providing job training for participants.

Stocket’s web-based marketplace is Stockholm’s city hub for the recycling and reuse of furniture and other products in the municipality. Here, organisations can advertise furniture and equipment that is no longer in use.

“[What I like the most about my job] is the three sustainability aspects that make it so fun and meaningful,” explains Carina Hammar, manager at Stocket Återbruk. “First, the financial sustainability. We save tax money – the citizens’ money – by reusing furniture instead of buying something new. We have influenced both the city’s employees and the city’s citizens to reuse more and more.

“Second, the environment, as reuse means we save natural resources. Third, social sustainability, since we help our participants to move on to work, and hopefully jobs within circularity.”

She adds: “More and more roles and professions will be created within this domain, and we are part of shaping the future for recycling and reuse, through ReMake, etc, which is impactful for the city. This is so much fun to work with.”

When planning the delivery of furniture, “we also keep environmental sustainability in mind,” Hammar explains. For example, delivery routes prioritise closer distribution points.

A place to start over professionally

Stocket became a significant contributor to the local employment market, turning a yearly profit of €11 million. Approximately 45% of participants transition to study or work each year. Also, as a refurbisher of office furniture and equipment that are no longer in use, the initiative became the mandatory provider of furniture for public services.

Through internships or fixed-term jobs, employment actions that are part of Stocket Aterbruk welcome people in a vulnerable position on the labour market to access support, guidance and skills development in restoration techniques.

Training sessions offer participants the opportunity to get competencies or knowledge in sustainability and circular economy, and an introduction to the renovation of different materials or products, without leaving the social aspect behind.

Beneficiaries span all age groups and tend to have a migrant or refugee background, or a history of drug use. Tasks involve refurbishing items for their new owners in a warehouse environment or picking up and dropping off furniture and other goods.

The focus on employment comes from the result of a report commissioned by the municipality on the effects of climate change on the skills needs in the city’s operations and the skills needs of other employers. The report highlighted insufficient participation in vocational training and education related to the green transition and reaching out to new target groups as critical challenges for the city.

“We believe that it was the right time to work for the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions through reduced purchases of furniture and other things, etc.” says Hammar.

The future is green

The future envisioned for Stocket’s activities goes beyond furniture. There are plans to reuse construction material and to learn to take a building down for recycling, in a new section to be inaugurated in May 2024.

Indeed, Stockholm’s commitment to green skills development extends to initiatives targeting vulnerable groups and fostering sustainable entrepreneurship. Another example of how the climate perspective is integrated into labour market interventions is its work to identify leisure-time jobs in local enterprises and non-profit associations for young people aged 16-19. Over 11,000 young people had a leisure-time job in the city in 2023, with some of the roles based in the environment sector.

For instance, ‘Chemistry Smart’ aims to make young people more aware of how chemicals affect their everyday lives, and ‘The freezer’s eco-cultivation’ allows young people to cook climate-smart food in commercial kitchens, build growing boxes, sow seeds, maintain and harvesting plants that are then used in cooking. Also, thanks to ‘Speaking Youth’, young people produced films and newspapers that have dealt with integration and the environment.

The long-term vision of the city has made also changes in funding. The city strategically leverages the European Social Fund (ESF+) to support social initiatives aligned with its international strategy. By doing so, Stockholm not only enhances employability and skills development but also strengthens its international standing.

According to the municipality, “the external co-financing can, among other things, enable conditions for scaling up already existing development work, competence development initiatives for staff or exchanges with other cities.”

Climate Pacts for the Green Transition

To establish conversations with private companies and identify their needs in the sustainability transformation, the city of Stockholm has created pacts that bring together stakeholders such as companies, industry and civil society organisations.

The City of Stockholm has climate targets that involve a 50% reduction in emissions from consumption, which means that business actors on a global scale impact the possibility of reaching targets.

A Swedish flag in Stickholm. Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash
A Swedish flag in Stockholm. Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

Through the Integration Pact network, efforts are being made to increase knowledge about the climate transition’s skills supply needs for the business world. These pacts provide platforms for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and skill development, which are essential for navigating the complexities of the green transition.

A collaboration has also been initiated between the integration pact and other pacts in the city, the Electrification Pact and the Environment and Climate Pact, to, among other things, explore opportunities for cooperation regarding green skills.

A long-term goal

Despite its leadership in sustainability, Stockholm faces challenges in advancing the green transition. High costs, behaviour change, policy coordination and equity considerations pose significant hurdles that require innovative solutions and concerted efforts.

Also challenging is the transport sector, given the need to reduce emissions, create more effective transport and increase possibilities for active mobility. One of the biggest challenges for the city is the goal of being fossil-free by 2040.

However, progress has been made. Stockholm’s commitment to environmental leadership is underscored by its Environmental Program 2020–2023, which positions the city as an international role model in climate action. Successful environmental and climate work is based both on long-term and coordinated planning of the city and on technical and innovative development.

A proposal for a new environmental initiative for the upcoming progamming period is under review. The main challenge is to facilitate a process that involves all actors, governments, citizens, businesses and NGOs, within the Stockholm area as well as on a global scale. To address the issue, the city actively engages with businesses and educational institutions to, for example, increase electrification, recycling, and reuse and build a sustainable infrastructure.

“Together with universities and colleges, we can build new knowledge that allows us to reach our goals faster.” That collaboration with businesses makes it easier “for Stockholmers to live climate-smart,” says Björn Hugosson, Head of Climate, City Executive Office, City of Stockholm.

The city is paving the way for a greener, more resilient future by prioritising collaboration, innovation, and inclusivity. As other cities look to emulate Stockholm’s success, the lessons learned underscore the importance of collective action in addressing the pressing challenges of our time.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer