Blogs > Guest Blog > July 2013 > Copenhagen and the Non-Environmental Benefits of Sustainability

Copenhagen and the Non-Environmental Benefits of Sustainability

Contributed by Wyatt C. King, Director, Albright Stonebridge Group

Few cities can match Copenhagen for the breadth and depth of its commitment to sustainability. Thanks to things like its bicycling culture, commitment to wind power and energy and water efficiency initiatives, the Danish capital is known the world over as one of the “greenest” cities on the planet. What is perhaps most remarkable, however, is how sustainability has yielded tremendous social and economic benefits, in addition to the obvious environmental ones. Far from acting as a drag on Copenhagen’s economy, the city’s green programs are spurring economic growth and improving its citizens’ quality of life.

In Copenhagen, 36% of all trips to work or school are made by bicycle—more than any other form of transportation. And two wheels aren’t just cleaner than four, they are also quieter, safer, healthier and—for many urban trips—faster. In consideration of all the costs associated with automobiles—pollution, accidents, congestion, noise, wear on infrastructure—coupled with the health benefits of cycling, the city of Copenhagen calculated that it realizes a net social gain of almost 21 cents for every kilometer traveled by bicycle instead of by car. Given that Copenhageners cycle 1.2 million kilometers every day, that adds up to some major benefits.

The resurrection of the city’s harbor is another example of how Copenhagen is reaping both social and economic benefits from sustainability. Fifteen years ago, nearly 100 sewer-overflow outlets fed directly into the harbor, making it a foul-smelling health hazard. Today, after modernization of the city’s sewage system, the harbor has been transformed, complete with public swimming facilities. As the waterfront has become one of most popular hangouts in the city, real estate values and business activity in the area have also skyrocketed. Apartment rents in the area have increased 57% since 2002 (when the swimming facility opened), and the number of small businesses catering to the increased foot traffic has more than quadrupled.

Water efficiency provides yet another example of the economic benefits of greening Copenhagen. From 1987 to 2010, the average per capita water usage in Copenhagen fell by over one-third as the city invested in water meters for individual apartments and adjusted pricing incentives. The city has also installed leak-detection technology, reducing pipeline losses to just 8% (the U.S. average is 14%, but ranges as high as 60%). The savings, in water and money, have been substantial: the equivalent of 5,000 Olympic-size swimming pools and $84 million per year.

These are just a few examples of how Copenhagen is going green. The city has discovered that sustainability isn’t just about the environment—it’s about people and the economy, too. When a community commits to sustainability, life becomes healthier, more prosperous and more fun. At a time when many opponents of green initiatives complain that the costs are just too high, Copenhagen is showing that they actually cost less than business-as-usual, providing a valuable lesson for any country or community trying to create jobs and improve quality of life.


Posted: 7/17/2013 9:18:51 AM by Mary Kestner | with 1 comments

Hannis Latham
Good article on Copenhagen. Thanks
7/18/2013 3:44:37 PM

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