Copenhagen: A beacon of urban sustainability

Copenhagen is a city built for sustainability. Sustainability guides everything from how you do your laundry and what shampoo you use to how often you shop and how you commute to work. Some days I look around me and swear I am living in some clean green utopia that is almost too good to be true. Here are some sustainable staples of the Danish culture that I have noted over the last month and a half of living here.

Biking everywhere: Copenhagen is first and foremost a bike city. Built with huge and clearly marked bike lanes, smaller traffic lights specifically for bikers, bike racks everywhere you look, and not a single hill in sight, Copenhagen is a bikers paradise. I myself have rented and bike and am blown away by the ease and comfort with which I whizz through the city. Biking in Copenhagen is the fastest means of getting from point A to point B- faster even than driving a car or taking the metro. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, Danes can be found biking through it all. Rather than have Uber Eats, there are a multitude of ‘Wolt’ bikers whizzing through the city with big insulated food backpacks. Most Danes don’t own a car instead opting to bike. Where they can’t bike, they take the metro, or do a combination of biking and metro as there are specific compartments of the metro designed for commuters with their bikes. The cars which Danes do own are much smaller and more eco-friendly than what you would see in the U.S. Bike culture is a testament to the eco-friendliness and general high levels of physical activity that Danes maintain.

                               .               Denmark Identifies Areas for 12.4 GW of New Offshore Wind

Plastic bags? What are those. One of the things I first noted upon trying to store away left overs while cooking in my Kollegium’s kitchen is that they have no plastic bags and no plastic wrap. Instead they opt for containers. I have yet to see a Dane out and about with a plastic water bottle that isn’t reusable. At the grocery store, you better hope that you brought your reusable bags because they don’t have any plastic ones to give you. This is not to say that there is no plastic in sight in Denmark, but they sure make it hard to get your hands on.

Speaking of grocery stores, this brings me to my next point- shopping small. Danes don’t buy in bulk. When my Danish relatives first came to Costco they were dumbfounded. I now know why. In Denmark the shopping carts at the stores set the precedent for the amount you will buy, and they are about a quarter of the size of the average American shopping cart. When you go to check out, they make you bag your own groceries and you have to leave the store and bike home with only what you can carry. This results in Danes buying much less, but more frequently than in the U.S. This ultimately contributes to less waste and a ‘buy as you need’ consumer culture.

I remember last year in my Human Health and the Environment class at Colby talking about the progressive policy of Scandinavia in regards to toxic chemical additives in consumer products. This is very clear to me upon coming to Denmark. The laundry detergents, shampoos, lotions, cosmetic products, you name it are designed with the environment in mind. This is in part due to legitimate policy regulations that disallow toxic chemical additives, but is reflected by the concern and engagement the people here have about what kind of products they are using, and what environmental impacts they might have. A couple of the Danes I live with use only home remedy style (baking soda or vinegar) laundry detergent to clean their clothes because they want to avoid toxic chemicals.

Perhaps the most obvious token of sustainability in Denmark is their commitment to renewable energy. When looking out at the ocean one can see a line of offshore windmills off in the distance. Denmark pioneered the first offshore wind farm in 1991. Today offshore wind farms can be found all along the Danish coast. Ever windy Denmark is a an ideal location for wind energy. As of 2019, 47% of the total electricity consumption in DK was covered by wind- the highest in the world.