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What Has Being Europe's Green Capital Done for Copenhagen? And What Might Bristol Expect?

Green Capital City of Europe logoThe crown for the Green Capital City of Europe passes this week from Copenhagen to Bristol. So what has being a green beacon done for the Danish capital city, and what might Bristol expect in the year ahead?

A city is not chosen for the privilege of being Europe's Green Capital out of the blue, but because of characteristics it already holds and aspirations and plans it has for the future. In Copenhagen's case the city had, whether deliberately or not, been pursuing green policies for many many years already

Copenhagen is well known as a capital of biking culture, where over 70% of journeys are made by bicycle, and where more people bike to work in greater Copenhagen than in the whole of the United States. 

It is also famous for its policy of energy efficiency and plan to become 100% reliable renewable energy alone or at least carbon neutral by 2025.

The development of North Harbor, being carried out by Copenhagen City and Port development, will eventually contain about 40,000 residents and workplaces for up to the same number of people in a dense development where everyone will be within a short distance of public transport and green areas, public institutions and shopping. Private car use will be made difficult. All houses will be zero energy, with waste water used in water closets.

Sustainable energy will come in the form of an efficient district heating network that is already in place that will be renovated and extended. It provides the entire country with cheap and eco-friendly energy.

In the end it is anticipated that Nordhavn will produce more energy than it consumes, helping the city as a whole to achieve its aim of being carbon neutral and dispensing with the need to burn fossil fuels by 2035.

Copenhagen has already cut CO2 emissions by 40% since 1995. 75% of the remaining reductions will come from vastly increasing the share of renewable energy in the city's district heating system, which serves 98% of households.

Copenhagen sends less than 2% of its waste to landfill, another achievement. This reduction was from a percentage of 44% in 1988. Almost 58% of all waste is recycled, and 40% used to fuel the district heating network.

Consultancy work

Denmark has become a mecca for Chinese cities wanting to find out about how to reduce their own carbon emissions, in particular from using such urban heating networks. The Danish district heating systems use combined heat and power (CHP), taking the heat otherwise wasted, particularly in almost every coal or gas burning Chinese power station, and transporting it through pipes to nearby buildings.

CHP can transform a coal or gas burning plant from being just 38% efficient to up to 90% efficient. Otherwise known as cogeneration, CHP has been promoted in the UK and across Europe for many years, but it is Denmark and other northern European countries which have pursued the technology the most avidly.

As a result, Copenhagen has become a model of efficiency which hundreds of other cities are approaching for advice.

The industrial iron and steel manufacturing city of Anshan in the north of China, is one such city now using Danish companies such as heating engineering company Danfoss to advise it on reducing its emissions. According to Danfoss, this waste heat could supply 70% of the Anshan's buildings.

Danfoss CHP district heating plan for Anshan

Danfoss CHP district heating plan for Anshan. Click to expand.

This is great news for the Danish economy. Danish politicians and business people are promoting their '4G' heating technologies all over the world. Morten Kabell, one of Copenhagen's mayors, jokes that he would be "abroad all year" if he accepted every invitation to go and spread the word about "the Copenhagen model".

In London, Danish company Ramboll is developing a district heating scheme to cover 10,000 homes in Greenwich. London will also capture waste heat from its underground Tube transport network. Grundfos and insulation company Rockwool are to other businesses finding their order books overflowing.

The CEO of Ramboll says that any mayor of any city it wishes to follow the example of Copenhagen has to be a visionary in order to persuade others to provide the necessary finance and put up with the disruption required to tear up the roads and lay down the pipe system for district heating. But he says it is worth it. In Anshan, the city will save $14 million a year on fuel bills for a $40 million investment, a remarkable payback.

American cities are more spaced out, so less suitable for district heating. City officials there look to Copenhagen for other kinds of inspiration, such as developing cycle lanes and reviving inner cities. Officials from Vancouver, San Francisco and New York have attempted to copy the example of Copenhagen.


Copying Copenhagen has even forged its own word: Copenhagenization, which itself has christened a design company, Copenhagenize, which advises other cities and organisations about how to re-establish the bicycle as a major transport form.

Other highlights for the city over the last year have included hosting the European Green Capital 2016 award ceremony on 24 June, hosting a fashion exchange on 9th August, and, perhaps most spectacularly, hosting the 2014 Eurovision Song contest. Everything about this event was conducted in an environmentally friendly manner, from the provision of food and beverages, to transport and waste management.

 Conchita Wurst backstage at the Copenhagen arena after winning the Eurovision contest.

Conchita Wurst backstage at the Copenhagen arena after winning the Eurovision contest.

The city even constructed new cycle paths connecting the Eurovision Island to the city centre making it as easy as possible for visitors to cycle to the event from their accommodation.

Copenhagen cycle path for Eurovision contest.

Copenhagen cycle path for Eurovision contest.


BristolBristol green capital

So Bristol, itself with its own visionary mayor, George Ferguson, can expect to reap huge benefits from being the green capital of Europe in 2015. It has already promised to focus on the important themes: learning, innovation and leadership.

A year-long programme of events has been planned including exhibitions, arts, digital and interactive media, a conference on building resilient cities and another conference for one planet communities and cities from around the world. It is already receiving grant funding to help with its transformation into a more sustainable city.

It promises to be a fantastically creative process, and business is fully involved. A Community Interest Company involving 700 partners representing many walks of life in the city has been established in order to help in the delivery of the Bristol 2015 European Green Capital Programme. It works with the Bristol 2015 company and Bristol City Council to help build a shared strategy for the city.

We'll certainly be monitoring what's going on in the city over the next 12 months, so watch this space.