Liam – July 22, 2019

In Denmark, “green” is as Danish as out-of-season apple pie is American.

A baked pie sits atop an American flag next to apples and a baseball bat.

In Denmark, being green is as Danish as baseball and apple pie are American.

What I love most about my Danish heritage is that it’s rich with innovative ideas that improve people’s lives. And I mean, really rich. Like Warren Buffet rich. Innovations like establishing the world’s first bike path and LEGOs are two quick examples. And, of course, there’s the Danish Home of Chicago, founded by 12 Danish women at a time when society wasn’t accustomed to women pioneering much on their own.

But the most outstanding and constant Danish innovation has been developing new ways to produce green energy.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization committed to building practices and policies that that “foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being for all,” says that Denmark is a front runner in green growth. Danes in public and private sectors have collectively committed to being an energy system completely free of fossil fuels by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal but there’s a track record proving it’s not absurd.

A Danish flag positioned to the left of a wind turbine against a blue sky.

Denmark is the world’s leader in wind energy production.

The Danish Maersk Group, the world’s largest container shipping company, recently launched container ships that will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent per container. And these vessels are the largest in use and the most efficient shipping container vessels ever made. Denmark has long been the world’s leader in wind energy production.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the Danes looked to the free and constant wind blowing across its seas and shores as a way to avoid uncertain energy dependence. The first commercial wind turbine was erected just six years later — developed as a spin-off from existing agricultural machinery. Denmark didn’t allow a new energy source to destroy an industry; rather, the new developments allowed the industry to evolve for the better. Today, Danish company Vestas Wind Systems employs more than 24,000 people in 12 countries including the U.S.

Over the last 20 years, Denmark’s crude oil production and greenhouse gas emissions have been on a steady and significant decline. Sustainable energy life hacks like district heating networks — the process of hot water or steam being generated then distributed to households within local districts — help make that possible. In 2013, 60 percent of Danish households were heated this way.

And now, 30 percent of all energy used in Denmark is renewable. Two-thirds of that renewable energy is bio-energy — manure, animal fats, straw. Many of the country’s power plants are switching from fossil fuels to bio-energy, choosing straw and wood chips to crank out energy instead of archaic pollutants.

That includes Copenhagen’s Amager Bakke (pictured at top), a power plant that powers 60,000 homes and heats 160,000. It also powers Danish leisure time.

Known as CopenHill, this former fossil fuel-burning plant was designed by architect Bjarke Ingels to be everything we don’t associate with power plants: beautiful, fun, a tourist attraction. There’s a ski slope and hiking trail, an 85-meter (approx. 279 feet) climbing wall, and a restaurant and bar on the roof, which offers spectacular views since it is also one of the country’s highest points.

Aside from taking a spill on your skis or snowboard, this power plant is safe. Not a single noxious gas is emitted from the chimneys. The incinerator is scrubbed of the sulfur and nitrogen created by burning the waste of its visitors. And unlike many tourist hot spots, CopenHill wants, nay, needs, its visitors to produce waste. About 300,000 visitors are needed every year to keep the plant operating. In fact, if there’s one problem with Denmark’s commitment to being green, it’s that it’s too clean a country. Alone, the Danes do not produce enough waste to fuel its 28 waste-to-energy power plants. Waste is actually imported from other countries.

Oh, that the world’s biggest problem were that it isn’t dirty enough! Hard to imagine. But it’s not difficult for those with Danish ingenuity and ambition in their blood.