Denmark’s State of Green Sustainability Initiatives

Denmark Trip 2013: USM MBA 612


Denmark’s State of Green Sustainability Initiatives

Denmark is leading the world in the transition toward a green growth economy. As one of 11 MBA students from the University of Southern Maine, in Denmark on an Energy Study Tour, I was eager to learn more. Our introduction to Denmark’s State of Green initiatives began with an overview of its goals: To have sustainable growth without jeopardizing energy, water, and environmental resources, or increasing waste production. The goals further include a bold commitment to ending the country’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy production by 2050.

These lofty goals are truly inspirational and surprisingly, the model the Danes have put forth to achieve them is readily shared and promoted as available to all on a global basis. The members of the “State of Green” are a consortium. They include a unique blend of public, private, and governmental (including University R &D) partnerships all working collaboratively to find solutions to the issues surrounding sustainable economic growth.

The initiatives include:

1. Increasing energy production through the implementation of renewable sources.

2. Reducing demand for energy through conservation and by greater efficiency technologies

3. Reducing waste

The renewable energy production initiatives are in many forms. They include wind power, which will account for at least 50% of the energy production by 2020.  One of the Energy Study Tour stops was at one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, Rodsand II where we witnessed a wind speed of 11.3 m/s producing 173 Mwh of power.

Other renewable sources of energy are solar power, bioenergy (using biomass as a fuel directly and by digesting it to form methane gas), and geothermal. Harnessing wave action for power production is being explored as is hydrogen fuel cell development (Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells).

Energy conservation initiatives involve a multifaceted approach. They include promoting energy efficiency within the built-out areas, such as retrofitting streetlights, constructing smart-grids which stabilize supply and demand issues within the distribution system (which includes most of Europe), and more efficiently controlling the central heating and cooling systems serving their metropolitan areas. By using just today’s technologies, the Danes say “it is possible to reduce energy consumption by 50 to 80%”. (1)

Waste reduction comes in the form of conserving water resources through innovation such as dual-flush toilets and though improved treatment of wastewater. Waste reduction also includes one of the most remarkably successful recycling centers I have ever witnessed (Vestforbraending). Less than 3% of waste goes to landfills.

The Danish model for leading the world in green economies is truly inspiring and the ambitious goals remarkable. But the architecture of the movement is also a marvel. Imagine gathering all the experts within the country from public, private, and governmental sources and integrating their collective knowledge and experience in the fields of energy, construction, climate, water, and environment to achieve a green growth economy! Then imagine that you offer to share the knowledge, experience, and technology with international stakeholders!

A green economy is good for the planet, and it just might be good for business. A recent article in the Journal of Business Ethics reported a majority of executives surveyed “consider climate change strategically important, and about 60% take it into account in developing and marketing new products”. (8) Green energy opportunities are becoming an export in Denmark. The Danish economy has grown by 80% since 1980 without increasing gross energy production. (1) Currently Denmark, a country of 5.6 million people, is 32nd in GDP in the World (the US is number1).  Now consider that the Danish GDP is $59,800 per capita, while the US is $48,400. (2)

Now home, in my cozy corner of Maine, I began to wonder how transferrable are these new ideas to the US and to Maine, in particular? How would we implement green economic growth and climate plan strategies?  I think part of the answer lies in the leadership of our elected officials (a top down approach). Another part of the answer lies in a grassroots activism/ shared vision approach (bottom up).


In Denmark, it was the government who set the goals of the Climate Plan and the energy strategy. Their energy strategy includes 50% from wind, 35% from other renewable sources (solar, biogas, hydrogen/fuel cells), and the remainder from increasing efficiencies, and conservation (3). In what seems to me to be a novel approach, the government then sent the concept of these goals out to public and private entities, not-for-profits (NFPs), Universities, and even to its own agencies to compete for research and development funding.

I suggest, for the US to become a green growth economy, leadership’s first step should be to modify the national energy strategy to one based on a framework that gives recognition to the current perilous state of the global environment. Currently our strategy appears to be based primarily on profit, but we desperately need to think globally and act responsibly because the US is the 2nd highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. (4).

It seems that on the national level there has been slight movement toward a greener growth economy. The US Energy Dept. has invested $40 billion in funding renewable energy projects and the loan portfolio is performing well. According to Time magazine, “Obama didn’t support one company or technology; he supported all kinds of plausible alternatives to fossil fuels.” (5)

On a State level, Maine soon will be the site of the nation’s first offshore wind demonstration site. Two separate ventures, one, VolturnUS, spearheaded by the University of Maine, and another by Norway’s Statoil: Hywind Maine will test the viability of the winds in the Gulf of Maine. How exciting! This week I listened to “Maine Calling” on Maine Public Radio as Ocean Wind Power was discussed. It was reported that 10,000 new jobs would be created as a result of the projects. And yet the leadership support from the Governor’s office for wind power has been lukewarm at best. Here is a clean industry with the potential to create jobs in an economically depressed State, yet the Governor has publically blamed wind energy for increasing energy costs.(6)

Clearly we need to elect effective leadership in the State if we are to work toward more sustainable energy and green growth initiatives. I urge everyone to engage their elected officials on sustainable growth issues, and learn the platforms of potential new candidates for office before casting their vote.

Activism/Shared Vision

In Denmark, I noticed how the goals associated with a green energy economy had become shared values throughout the society. We were introduced to many examples of the bond created by the shared values throughout the various stakeholder groups. The 8th largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Novo Nordisk, proudly reported to us that they had an annual savings of 40,000 tons of CO2 gas emissions, Citywide, Copenhagen officials described their energy conservation efforts, the effective management of mobility (metro and bikes), and the fact that even the administration buildings had conservation goals. At Frederiksberg Forsyning, the local heat, power, water District, we learned that individual customers are doing their part by aiming to conserve usage by 2% a year.

Across the US it will be difficult to stop the runaway train of consumerism and waste production and focus on sustainable growth. The US is geographically very large, and so diverse, it is difficult to image its citizens having shared values (other than maybe patriotism in times of war). Communication and raised awareness will help. One can get involved by joining a conservation group, or visiting the website of one such as the National Resources Defense Council or the World Wildlife Fund.

In Maine, we already seem to be doing more, or at least we seem more open to doing more. Most of us also seem more likely to have the shared values of a clean environment and we want to preserve it.  At the start of the Denmark Trip, the class (from very different backgrounds) was challenged to offset the marginal carbon production attributable to the journey to Denmark. As a class each of us committed to implementing the offset strategies; some put in energy efficient windows, some walked or biked to work, some hung their clothes outside to dry instead of using an electric dryer. These may be small things, but it’s a start and it all helps.

Maine’s colleges and universities are becoming a part of the movement. Recently, Colby College became the fourth college in the country to become 100 percent carbon-neutral. Unity College and the University of Maine System have also made commitments toward carbon neutrality.

Even Maine’s restaurant owners are embracing sustainably. In researching triple bottom line initiatives at a local restaurant, I was surprised to learn how active and aware they are of the issues. It turns out the National Restaurant Association has a “conserve program” to guide members.

From individuals, to institutions of higher learning, to all the rest of Maine’s stakeholders there appears to be the sense of shared values to protect the environment and move toward a green (or greener economy).

Whether it’s supporting renewable energy initiatives, conserving environmental resources, or reducing waste, I encourage everyone to act to the fullest extent they are able.

  1. (5.26.2013) State of Green. Retrieved from
  2. (5.26.2013) World GDP. Retrieved from
  3. Mortensgaard, Aksel. 5.16.2013. Presentation by Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
  4. (5.26.2013) Retrieved from.
  5. Grunwald, Michael. A Bump on the Road to Green. Time. (5.27.2013) Vol. 181. 19
  6. (5.26.2013) Retrieved from
  7. Dangelico, R. Devashish, P. Mainstreaming Green Product Innovation: Why and How Companies Integrate Environmental Sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics (2010) 95:471–486
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1 Response to Denmark’s State of Green Sustainability Initiatives

  1. DouglasM says:

    This is really deluded and total nonsense, the instabilities of trying to generate more than a third of power requirements with intermittent wind energy, even for such a small country as Denmark, is foolhardy in the extreme. By the time fossil fuel backups (imported or home sourced) for grid stability are factored in, CO2 economies will be minimal for absolutely no gain in reducing global emissions, even if that was a particularly desirable outcome. What a futile and disproportionately expensive gesture this is for the people of Denmark, hope it makes them feel good?

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