Solutions for Sustainable Cities; One of Copenhagen’s Intriguing Initiatives

The city of Copenhagen has initiated “Solutions for Sustainable Cities” in partnership with the State of Green organization. The 12 solutions (and the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality) are what led to the city being named 2014 European Green Capital. I will detail one of their solutions that I found especially inspiring below:

Energy: Creating Buildings for Life

“Being conscious about energy consumption when we build and renovate is a good investment- for our well-being, for the climate and for the economy. No less important than the energy saved is the improved quality of life that results from sustainable buildings (State of Green & Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster, 2013).”

Since the Danes estimate that 40% of their country’s CO2 emissions come from buildings, this solution is especially vital. I experienced this emphasis time and time again when we visited different office buildings in Denmark. For example, I thought it was just a simple translation difference when many Danes we met referred to their professional office buildings as “my house” or “this house.” But if you take a moment to really hear the pride in their voices when they speak about their buildings (from E-On wind farm’s new office building to the Ørestad housing development), it is clear that the efficiency of their buildings matters greatly to the Danes.

Perhaps that is the missing link in America…we go to work every day, but we do not necessarily take ownership and/or pride in the construction and efficiency of those “houses” where we reside 8+ hours a day. Really, those “houses” are where we spend most of our waking hours every day, so it makes sense to be concerned with those buildings and how they affect our environment, well-being, and economy.

In Copenhagen, they have translated this solution into a city development plan with Ørestad shown highlighted in yellow here:

Ørestad Development

Ørestad Development

This is a large-scale and long term development on a city-wide scale. Would this approach in Maine? Probably not on such a large scale. The developers of Ørestad brought public transportation out to this area (in the form of metro tracks/stations) long before the buildings were even built. Given that Maine does not even have metro capabilities, alternative transportation networks would need to be utilized…train? bus? No. Likely, people would resort to driving their cars to and from such a developing area. This would vastly cut down on any CO2 emission reductions achieved by the development itself.

But this does not mean that Maine cannot and should not have an initiative to build or renovate in a sustainable way. The Danes also excel at re-purposing old structures into something much more visually appealing, useful, and environmentally friendly. Below is an old war-time weapons factory that has now been re-purposed into upscale housing right on the canal:

Re-purposed weapons factory; now up-scale housing

Re-purposed weapons factory now up-scale housing

Mainers especially can appreciate this method of transforming and rehabbing what is old into what is new again. The New England area has the oldest structures, roads, etc. in the United States. So the State really could look to the Danes for inspiration on a initiative such as this. And at around 40% of CO2 emissions, buildings could be an extremely low-hanging fruit when it comes to one simple focus that could make a huge difference.

So what is Maine already doing about sustainable buildings? A lot, it seems; I found numerous organizations and initiatives with one Google search. In fact, E2 Tech just held a conference on the subject of Sustainable Buildings & Site Development Trends in Maine in our very own USM Wishcamper Center building on 5/17/13 while we were in Denmark!

According to the website, the organization’s mission is to: “build and expand the State’s environmental, energy, and clean technology sectors. E2Tech acts as a catalyst to stimulate growth in this sector by facilitating networking, serving as a clearinghouse for objective information, and leading efforts to promote the sector (The Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, 2013).”

So how are they achieving their mission? I was shocked to discover that one of their projects is in my hometown of Brunswick, Maine! “E2Tech is partnering with MRRA to develop part of the recently decommissioned Brunswick Naval Air Station, now a business park called Brunswick Landing, into a renewable energy park. The Renewable Energy Center is envisioned to be a center of excellence for renewable energy research, development and demonstration and a world-renowned living laboratory for integrated R&D, manufacturing, and operation of ‘next generation’ clean energy technologies (The Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, 2013).”

That is the very definition of re-purposing old structures and starting anew: taking a decommissioned Naval airbase and transforming it into a center of excellence for renewable energy research. Want to get involved like I will? A one-year student membership costs only $20 and allows you to attend forum-series lectures and workshops (such as the one at USM), network with fellow professional/student members, and participate in E2Tech projects!

Works Cited

State of Green & Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster. (2013). Copenhagen Solutions for Sustainable Cities. Copenhagen: City of Copenhagen.

The Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. (2013, June 1). Mission/About/Forums & Events. Retrieved from Environmental & Energy Technology Council of maine: http://www.e2tech.org/

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