Great Dane: Living the green dream in Copenhagen


According to the UN’s World Happiness Report, Denmark is one of the world’s three happiest countries. Copenhagen, its capital, exemplifies this state of wellbeing. But beyond that it is pioneering technologies and projects that make it one of the world’s greenest and smartest cities. The city is working towards becoming a green growth economy, and aims to be completely free of fossil fuels by 2050. It intends to be the first carbon neutral capital in the world. So how is Copenhagen going about making this happen?


Copenhagen Connecting is a big data collection and use system helping to create a greener city. Data is collected from mobile phones and sensors in buses, rubbish bins and sewage systems to, for example, improve the efficiency of traffic systems and reduce emissions. Intelligent traffic management is reducing travel times for public transport and cyclists so as to incentivise cleaner travel. The socio- economic benefits of Copenhagen Connecting have been estimated at 4.4 billion Danish Krone.


In the 1970s over 90 per cent of Denmark’s energy came from imported oil. Given rising oil prices, the country needed a solution. One was district heating networks. In Copenhagen, vast shared boilers supply 98 per cent of the city’s heat and, cleverly, the networks redistribute heat that may otherwise be wasted by electricy generators, factories, or public transport. Heat from waste incineration also feeds into the system and accounts for around 30 per cent of the annual district heating demand.


Denmark’s capital has become a city of cyclists, partly due to a desire to combat climate change. The city has gone to great efforts to accommodate bicycles and a network of safe cycle lanes extends throughout. Schemes such as the free bicycle repair project at the University of Copenhagen also encourage a move away from cars, and it is now estimated that more than half of Copenhagen residents prefer to travel by bike in the morning. In fact, 1.2 million kilometres are covered by cyclists there every day.


There was a time when discharge from sewers and industry meant that the water in Copenhagen’s harbour posed a public health risk. Extensive improvements have since been made to the sewer system and impressive waste water treatment plants are removing nutrient salts and metals. Rainwater reservoirs have also been constructed to stop overflow channels feeding waste water into the harbour during times of heavy rainfall. The result? Copenhagen harbour is now a trendy swimming hotspot that the city can be proud of.


Copenhagen has reduced the proportion of its waste going to landfill to 1.8 per cent, while half of the city’s waste is recycled. As mentioned, waste incineration helps to heat the city through its district heating systems. Copenhagen has also been actively urging residents to produce less waste through campaigns that make products using less packaging more attractive, and encouraging composting and the re-use of products. A waste-to- energy plant is even being constructed featuring a ski slope on its roof; no joke.


Photo credit: Jacob Surland from Flickr