Portland: Primed to Emulate the Copenhagen Model

Copenhagen: a Green, Smart and Carbon Neutral City and Portland, Maine: a Great Place to Start

Denmark aspires to be a green growth economy independent of fossil fuels by 2050. To do so, Denmark incentivizes renewable and conservation activities and purchases for its citizens not only through taxation but also by improving the built environment so that those activities are easier and become the default behavior. Denmark mobilizes its greatest minds and innovators by offering competitive grants for research and development of renewable resources. And, significantly, the Danish government established State of Green, the public-private partnership charged with connecting citizens, researchers and international interest groups and governments, as well as to serve as a vast warehouse of resources and as the branding agent, promoting green and renewable energy throughout Denmark and beyond.

Adoption in Maine

Denmark’s national climate initiatives are impressive. National backing, in public policy and in financial capital, is a remarkable endorsement for the movement. Sadly, such a demonstration of institutional support for climate issues is far beyond reach for the United States: the Danish government system operates with a broad array of political parties and the result is a left-center ideology and culture of cooperation; the US de facto bicameral political climate obliterates moderate views and issues are hijacked by extremist demagogues on both sides. Climate change, despite being a proven and indisputable threat, has been designated within the two party system as a liberal issue. Climate change is not just a threat to liberals and tree huggers: what is threatened is not the planet—the planet will be fine—but rather the threat is to our collective lifestyles and lives. The standard of living and way of life in the US epitomized by the automobile is predicated on the availability of cheap oil energy. Human life itself depends on the delicate chemical balance in the atmosphere and water to which our bodies have acclimated through eons of evolutionary biology. For these blatant reasons, climate change should be considered a national issue free from political trappings. Unfortunately, it very much is not.

Even the Federalist system that allows states to legislate issues by regional interest does not mitigate the partisan label for green and renewable energy movements. In Maine, environmental issues are viewed to be perpetually at odds with business interests. Furthermore, the state is ideologically fractioned: right wingers with libertarian ideations and liberal know-it-all “granola”-types. For Pete’s sake, the legislature sees bills every few years seeking to divide Maine into two separate states with the line drawn, unsurprisingly, along the sociopolitical and geographical north/south split. Any comprehensive climate goals and initiatives like in Denmark would not be palatable to the type of conservatives here who refute the evidentiary value of energy conservation to the detriment of their own bottom line (see study showing conservatives will not buy CFL bulbs branded with climate conscious messaging even though it can save them money on their own energy bills HERE).

The Copenhagen Model

Comprehensive climate change measures may not be possible for the whole state of Maine … yet. When the state is better positioned socio-politically, due to a number of geographic similarities, Denmark will be a great model with such projects as prolific wind farms and algae biomass research (in fact, grants.gov currently lists a large grant for just that in the US). But the Greater Portland area is a prime candidate for the Copenhagen model.

Copenhagen aspires to be the first carbon neutral capital by 2025. They are doing so through a holistic plan that addresses the old and inefficient buildings, the energy supply, and how its residents use energy throughout the city.

Copenhagen’s city planning recognizes that a city is a living, breathing entity. Static policies and infrastructure changes would meet a great deal of resistance and a community cannot effect positive change without the buy in or its residents. The government could change its internal policies regarding energy use and have some impact, but it would not be an effective way to reach their lofty goal. The City of Copenhagen realizes this, and smartly combines growth, development and liveability in its initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

Copenhagen, and Danes in general, exude a “make it work” attitude. Copenhagen street style is evidence of the “make it work” attitude in action. Flats. Neon sneakers with outfits of all variety. Spandex layered under shorter styles. An edgy vibe that won’t be ruined by a little bike chain grease. Laws, initiatives and the built infrastructure to support walking and cycling demonstrate the explicit buy in of officials and interested organizations. Mass fashion, however, demonstrates the implicit adoption of those values by the people. Style of dress is a living artifact of a society, and Copenhagen’s reflects a dedication to green commuting: the fashion does not encumber walking or cycling.


Adoption in Portland, Maine

Portland is a vibrant community with a diverse population whose diverse ideals and beliefs are on display throughout the city. Diversity could be a limiting agent, but Portland is a small enough place whose residents hold a shared sense of pride. This notion of a collective sense of place is what attracts myriad tourists, and is a big driver in the cooperation of sundry—and oftentimes seemingly oppositional—interest groups. A perfect example of this cooperation toward green initiatives is the Bicycle Benefits program: a perfect marriage of environmental enthusiasts and members of the local Chamber of Commerce, usually unlikely bedfellows. Bicycle Benefits is a progressive bicycling programmed designed to engage individuals and businesses. Cyclists are incentivized by discounts at participating business establishments. Businesses are incentivized to participate because more biking customers reduce parking demand, are likely to be repeat customers, and will shop with support of the program in mind. It represents a commitment to promoting bike commuting as a path to sustainability.


Conservation: Is it Enough?

As discussed by Bjorn Lomborg in The Joy of Global Warming: “Fundamentally, no matter what carbon cuts we make in the next couple of decades, they will make no measurable difference until the second half of the century, because the climate system is such a super-tanker … our feelgood policies are all high cost for little benefit, which poor countries cannot afford.”

Fortunately, collective efforts to improve energy efficiency and mindfulness practiced in deference to and in recognition of climate change as an issue will promulgate the message and propagate further innovations.

Promulgating the message: Daily activities performed in awareness of energy efficiency will internalize the importance of climate change for individuals and create a larger cultural awareness. A message seamlessly woven into the fabric of daily life has an astronomically stronger impact than any marketing campaign or official decree. Copenhagen both implicitly and explicitly puts this theory to practice. First generation bike commuters have to reframe their daily habits until it becomes ingrained, but future generations will implicitly understand bike commuting as a way of life and hopefully recognize the sustainability undertones. The City of Copenhagen’s recycling program explicitly aims to influence the daily activities of its residents by “starting them young.” Preschool and school age residents educated about recycling and encouraged take the habits back home can influence their families and can champion sustainability throughout their life.

Propagating future innovations: The informed cultural climate will provide the opportunity for great minds—who otherwise could have had an entirely different focus—to solve current climate change problems and create new green innovations; these opportunities are engendered by having educational opportunities in sustainability and networks of people dedicated to the cause in varied modalities.

Engendering such opportunities does not just make Denmark a leader in green energy and sustainability today: it will ensure that Denmark will remain a leader for generations to come. The Danish position today is not unrelated to their unique and critical experience during the 1970s oil crisis. Portland has a lot of groups and movements that demonstrate fragmented attempts to positively influence residents’ daily habits to be more resource-minded: an impressive recycling program with free curbside pickup and single-sorting which is proven to increase consumer participation, a thriving bike coalition, and a fledgling compost energy program.

The Greater Portland community is ripe to emulate the Copenhagen model. Adoption of a new way of thinking that drives results will hopeful spur the rest of Maine to join us.






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Sustainable Zero-Energy Buildings

According to Denmark’s State of Green, 40% of Denmark’s CO2 emissions come from buildings and with the use of existing technologies it is possible that the renovation of existing buildings and the construction of energy-efficient new buildings could reduce energy consumption for heating by 80% – corresponding to 30% of the country’s total energy consumption. It’s no wonder why investing in sustainable buildings is an area Copenhagen intends to focus on as part of the city’s initiative to become carbon neutral by 2025. It by no means will be a small investment – the published Copenhagen 2025 climate plan estimates that sustainable new construction and retrofitting of existing buildings will require total investments of up to DKK 180 bn ($31.4 billion) up to 2025.

During the USM energy study tour of Denmark we were lucky enough to be able to observe first hand one of Denmark’s answers for ‘Green Growth’. We took a short city bus trip out of Copenhagen to the city of Birkerod to meet Christian who kindly gave us a tour of one of the Trelleborg zero-energy houses. The name “zero-energy house” can be a bit misleading, it’s not a house that doesn’t use any energy, it is a house that provides as much energy as it consumes. Perhaps a better name for the house would have been “net-zero energy”.

Visiting the zero-energy house in Birkerod, Denmark.

Christian giving us some information on the zero-energy Trelleborg House in Birkerod, Denmark.

Trelleborg is a Danish prefabricated house company with the stated goal of being a leader in the production and construction of energy efficient homes. Trelleborg was able to develop the zero-energy house by using existing technologies, such as insulation, air tightness, ventilation, energy-efficient heating systems and renewable energy sources such as solar energy. The most significant feature of the home that has the greatest impact on the home’s energy usage is the building envelope. Trelleborg zero-energy homes are constructed with a lot of quality insulation, high quality three-layer energy efficient windows, and a ventilation system with a counterflow heat exchanger that recovers 90% of heat in the exhaust-air. When utilized effectively a Trelleborg zero-energy house rarely requires direct heating when outside temperatures are above freezing. Trelleborg boasts that one of their homes provides energy performance 10 times better than the European average.

Trelleborg zero-energy house

The back-side of the Trelleborg zero-energy house, showing the solar panels on the roof.

While doing some research for this blog I was pleased to learn that Maine does have a company that is in the business of constructing new zero-energy homes. The company is called Island Carpentry and they are located on Georgetown Island in Midcoast Maine. One of their most recent projects is a zero-energy four-story apartment on Portland’s Cumberland Avenue and you can learn more about the details on their website http://island-carpentry.com/home-of-the-future-cumberland-ave-portland/.

While zero-energy houses such as the ones manufactured by Trelleborg and Island Carpentry have been gaining popularity with today’s focus on minimizing global energy consumption they come with a hefty price tag which is indisputably the number one barrier as to why zero-energy homes have not taken off. The best sales pitch for trying to convince someone that the additional cost for an energy efficient home is worth while is to think of it like you are paying for all future energy upfront and therefore the overall cost of continued ownership will be lower and the initial investment will be recuperated in the form of energy savings over a number of years. Apparently people paid too much attention in school when learning about the time value of money and the idea that “a dollar today is worth more than a dollar in the future” because that sales pitch doesn’t appear to be working very effectively, at least in Maine.

So are these zero-energy or low-energy homes worth it? I decided to dig a little deeper into some of the pros and cons of purchasing a zero-energy house.

One of the most noted advantages of a zero-energy home as mentioned previously is the reduced total cost of ownership due to improved energy efficiency. Other advantages include that investments in energy savings are said to have relatively short pay back periods and by owning a sustainable building that produces as much energy as it consumes the building owners are protected from future energy price increases. Zero-energy homes are also known for being reliable and comfortable with better air quality due to the constant ventilation. It is most often more cost effective to implement energy saving techniques during new construction compared to an afterthought retrofit and if legislative restrictions and carbon emission taxes are in the future it may be better to proactively build now than expensively retrofit later. Then there are also the environmental benefits of reduced CO2 emission and energy consumption. It is also believed that living and working in sustainable buildings influences and inspires people to make more climate/carbon conscious decisions in other areas of their life.

The largest disadvantage to the zero-energy houses is that the initial costs are higher. There are also a limited number of designers/builders in Maine that build these homes so it makes shopping around less effective. As with any investment there is risk that you made a bad bet –new more efficient and affordable green technology could be developed in the future that will reduce renewable energy prices and lessen the value of the capital invested in the existing green technology, or worse – your job could get relocated and you have to move out of your new home before reaping the benefits. One of the cons that I found particularly interesting was that while the individual house may use an average of net zero energy over a year, it may demand energy at the time when peak demand for the grid occurs. In such a case, the capacity of the grid must still provide electricity to all loads. Therefore, a zero-energy house may not actually reduce the required power plant capacity. Also part of the energy efficiency of the house still comes down to occupant behavior. The energy used in a building can vary greatly depending on the behavior of its occupants. The acceptance of what temperature is considered comfortable varies widely along with varying levels of lighting and hot water needs, and the amount of miscellaneous electric devices used. Living green may take more than buying an expensive house, it will also require somewhat of a lifestyle change.

As with any major purchasing decision there are a number of advantages as well as disadvantages to consider before making an ultimate decision to buy. It is up to the individual to weight the items that are most important to them and this is one of the major areas where I think Mainers and Danes differ. Mainer’s and I think American’s in general don’t think green in the same sense that Danes do. Americans think money green when making large purchases such as building a new home and Danes are more likely to think environment green. This is probably why zero-energy homes are more successful in Denmark than in Maine.

As first time home buyers two years ago, my husband and I decided to design and build a home. I would like to think that if we were to build our home now after taking this energy study tour to Denmark and knowing what I know now that I would have designed it differently, but the truth is it probably wouldn’t be all that different. Maybe it’s because we are a couple of narrow-minded accountants but a lot of the design decisions that we made were money driven – even the ones that are better for the environment. We put in energy star appliances and light bulbs and have a high efficiency on-demand propane heater but those were relatively small investments and we did it all for the sole purpose of saving money on energy and heating bills. We did have a conversation about increasing the insulation and tightening up the house, which lead to a conversation about ventilation and heat exchangers, and then before we knew it we were out of our price range and had to back down. We wanted to feel like we were getting the most for our money and as a result we selfishly opted for a larger home instead of a more efficient one. I don’t think we are all that different from any other typical American.

If low or zero-energy houses are going to be embraced by the American public beyond the early-adopters and the wealthy then it might be necessary to adopt some market forces that will increase demand. Some ways to achieve this in the near term may be to offer more government incentives and tax credits, enforce a stricter building code which essentially takes the options out of the decision-making process, or significantly increase the price of the alternative conventional energy options that will make the zero energy investment worth-while. However, seeing as the economy is still somewhat fragile, the quick and dirty method for early implementation may not be the best answer. Increasing the cost of fossil fuels which could potentially make everything more expensive would greatly threaten the economy and economic growth. A better answer would be to make green energy so easy and affordable that everyone will want it and need to have it. What that means is that there needs to be more privately funded investments in R&D to innovate affordable and effective solutions for the future.

Works Cited

Click to access FSEC-PF-396-06.pdf


Posted in High-efficiency buildings | 4 Comments

Collaboration in Denmark: Working Towards Common Goals

Government collaboration

In the United States, the political parties typically attempt to distinguish themselves from one another by offering strongly opposing views.  Instead of trying to find areas of agreement, they find areas of disagreement to brand themselves or their political party.  One thing the Danish are doing well is collaborating for the common good of the people and the planet.  Regardless of the opposing views of the political parties, seven out of 8 parties have signed onto the Danish Energy Agreement in a collaborative attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34% by 2020.  After many of our meetings in Denmark, it became clear to me that collaboration was one of the major keys to the country’s success finding solutions for sustainable energy.

I realized that government collaboration amongst parties and collaboration between the government and the private sector is not only good practice, but will become necessary in order for our country to move forward and become more sustainable.  Because all of the major Danish political parties have agreed to this common goal, the country is ensured that no matter which party is elected, they will continue to work towards it.

In our country, we continue to see that years of progress can be erased when an opposing political party gets voted in.  Although I think a collaborative agreement towards sustainability and energy independence is a great goal to work towards, I think that progress is hindered by our current political system.  The fact that we have only two major political parties with opposing views of how to attain energy independence along with significant lobbying of political figures by energy companies, are examples of significant barriers to effective collaboration.  We need our government (and our citizens) to come together and agree to invest in reducing our carbon footprint as a nation, and then we can decide what steps we will take to get there.

Public-private collaboration

One of the reasons the Danes are able to have such ambitious goals about reducing their carbon footprint is that they have chosen to integrate knowledge between stakeholders.  In order to find effective ways to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources, government entities collaborate with universities and private business to share ideas and identify the most efficient road.

The Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells is a great example of this partnership in action.  This network of private and public stakeholders was created to develop and commercialize hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and has been very successful at helping Denmark move to the forefront of developing these new technologies.  Through a shared understanding and common goals, the organization functions using a flat organizational structure where competitors share ideas and exchange information freely in order to deliver the most value to the end user.  This open collaboration style has also allowed Denmark to become the number one exporter of energy technologies in the world.

Although this type of collaboration can lend itself to great strides in the development of new technology, it can also result in a much slower process because there are so many stakeholders involved.  Decision making can also prove to be more difficult in such a large partnership.  I’m not suggesting that large-scale collaborations are always effective for every project or investment, but in the case of developing new technology, it can be very helpful to have input and involvement from many different stakeholders.

As we listened to the representative from the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells talk about their partnership consisting of manufacturers, network organizations, Danish universities and public authorities, I wondered why we don’t collaborate in similar ways here in America.  This collaboration struck me as a great way to promote infrastructure within the country through the use of public and private resources, while at the same time allowing students to get hands-on experience in a growing field that will have a high demand for a skilled workforce.  I soon realized I was wrong when I picked up the newspaper a few days ago and I read a story about a new wind turbine being launched into the Penobscot River in Maine.  As I read the article, I was surprised to learn that this is already happening in America, right in our backyard, it just isn’t highly publicized (or I’m more enlightened since our trip to Denmark!).  A group of universities, non-profits, utilities, and private companies have created the DeepCwind Consortium, backed by government funding, in an effort to establish Maine as a leader in deepwater offshore wind technology.  In hopes of creating a full-size wind park off the coast of Maine, this group created North America’s first floating offshore wind turbine.

The structure passes the float test as it sits on the water according to plan as the DeepCwind Consortium launches the VolturnUS wind turbine Friday.

(photo from Portland Press Herald – turbine is lowered into water on May 30, 2013)

The turbine (a prototype) was lowered into the water three days ago and will eventually be connected into Maine’s electricity grid with an undersea cable.  At 1/8th the size of a normal turbine, the prototype is only expected to generate enough electricity to power four Maine homes.  The group is hoping that once the technology is tested in the ocean, they will have enough information and more government funding (a $96 million investment) to build two full-size turbines that could power up to 6,000 homes.

Habib Daghjer, the UMaine Composites Center director, introduces the team of students and Cianbro employees that worked together as the DeepCwind Consortium launches the VolturnUS wind turbine model Friday.

(photo from Portland Press Herald – collaboration at work)

With all of the negative press about the government’s failed investment in Solyndra, I was excited to learn about the grants that are being provided to invest in wind-energy.  I believe that investing in new technology is necessary to move our country towards sustainability and could also provide a great boost to our state’s economy.  In order to mitigate the risks associated with the development of new technologies, it is often essential for companies to receive government funding so that they can be viable during the research and development stages.  It can often take a long time for private companies to break-even or begin to earn a profit, so early investors need an incentive to enter the field, often through government-backed funding or government-guaranteed contracts.

The progression of this particular investment of the grant funds seems logical (and safe) as well.  The Consortium was one of five awardees originally awarded a $4 million grant to engineer and design prototypes.  The Department of Energy will then select three of the five projects for follow-up phases that focus on achieving commercial operations by 2017.  The Consortium is hoping to receive around $50 million of government funding (of the necessary $96 million) needed to fund the next phase of the project.  The funding concept is similar to the process that was explained to us at the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in which many private companies vie for government funding at certain stages of the project, and need to meet certain criteria to continue receiving funding.  This seems much more logical to me than just choosing one company to invest all of the money in, which can hinder healthy competition.

Although I think government investment is necessary, I’m also very aware that funding the research and development of new technology with taxpayer dollars can be frightening and dangerous.  Individuals that promote the investment (particularly those in a political position) are at risk of being blamed if the project fails.  The country’s citizens are also at risk of losing significant tax-payer dollars to private companies if an investment goes south.  Given the fact that you’re investing in experimental technology, there will definitely be some investments that will fail.  However, with such high stakes surrounding the global warming of the planet, it’s necessary to take big risks in order to reap the significant benefits that can come from energy independence and a cleaner, healthier planet.







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“Green Mobility” – Would it be effective in Maine?

As you navigate through the city of Copenhagen, you notice bikes and public transportation everywhere. Yes, there are cars but nothing like the amount of cars you see traveling through the city of Portland, Maine. It is faster to use a bike, walk, or use transportation than it is to drive a car in Copenhagen. As you get a feeling for their everyday life, Copenhageners all share the common goal of being a greener city. They aren’t afraid to ride their bikes in suits or heels – they’re accustomed to it. If you are walking or driving a car, you better watch where you’re going because it appears as though the bikers have the right away. If you hear a bell, you better get out of the bike path or else you will be run over.

By 2025, Copenhagen has a major goal of 75% of all trips in Copenhagen to be on foot, by bike or public transportation. That’s an ambitious goal, however, of all places, Copenhagen would be the place to do it. Their terrain is smooth and flat; they have wide bike paths, and have made all the necessary adaptations to making biking a desirable form of transportation.


How would walking, biking, or taking public transportation work in Maine? I think the transition would be hard. You can ride from one side of Denmark to the other side within an hour, but you can’t even drive from one side of Maine to the other in five hours. This would be one of the biggest barriers. The state is not set up in such a way that is appropriate for bikers or public transportation. Yes, there is a train and some public transportation in Portland and other cities; however, it is nothing like the frequency of public transportation in Denmark. Maine has many hills and a much tougher terrain than that of Denmark. I think it would be feasible if you live and work in the same city, however, many people in Maine work and live in different cities, sometimes ranging from anywhere from five minutes to two hours away. Green mobility would be a great opportunity for individuals who live within a reasonable range to their work.

In order for green mobility to gain awareness, it would be important for Maine to expand upon their public transportation. First off, making more bike lanes, throughout the cities at least. Bike lanes and additional bike racks near the Old Port would be extremely beneficial since it can become quite a cluster of cars during the morning and evening work commute. Adding bike racks to all buses would be a helpful feature. We would need to change the way people perceive transportation. We would need people to understand that they can ride a bike or take public transportation and still be professional. Becoming accustomed to bringing an additional set of clothes to change into when you got to work or taking a shower when you got to work would be important. If more companies had showers in their offices for people who biked or walked to work to use, people may be more willing to do so.

Green mobility would be a lifestyle change but I could definitely see acceptance and resistance from people in Maine. I think there would be those athletic individuals that would be all for riding their bike to work, but there would also be a group that would want nothing to do with it. If it is a common goal that everyone works to achieve, it has the possibility of being successful. Also, providing people with incentives to walk, bike, or take public transportation would be a great motivating factor. If Maine would make adaptations to case green mobility to be more desirable, I’m sure they would receive participation.


There are non-profits out there that promote biking such as “bike to work” day and other biking opportunities, but it will take government involvement to make green mobility viable. We need to follow Denmark’s footsteps and join them in their journey of making public transportation an attractive service of the future. We have to remember that creating a state with public transportation and greener mobility options will not take a day, but more realistically will take decades. Keeping that in mind, we can begin our journey to becoming a greener state and making biking paths and public transportation more accessible. Becoming greener in our mobility options would help us cut down on our emissions, creating a purer environment.





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Offshore Wind Farms: Not Just for the Danes Anymore

One of the most interesting visits on our tour of energy was the trip to E-On. E-On is a German energy company that positions themselves strategically in the markets of renewable energy. To be more specific, they take a particular interest in developing and implanting new technologies that have a positive effect on the sustainability of the energy market.

The office that we visited is responsible for constructing and maintaining Rösand II, the largest of six offshore wind farms that E-On has been a part of. It also happens to be one of the largest off-shore wind farms operating in the world today (1).  With 90 turbines, it has a capacity of 207 MW (2). It was really fascinating to learn about the Danes love for renewable energy, wind energy in particular. Their methods of designing and implementing such a massive project were just remarkable.


One of the key facts about Rösand II that many people probably won’t find interesting but I was impressed by was the layout of the actual wind turbines themselves. Unlike a traditional wind farm that is laid out in a square or rectangular grid, Rösand II is designed in bow-like placement. This layout of turbines enables Rösand II to achieve the efficiency of a traditional wind farm  with 91 turbines; giving them the output power of 1 extra turbine without actually having to construct or install any additional components. The fact that they conceived and designed this idea is so amazing. Overall, I was impressed by the Danes teamwork and collaborative efforts but especially so with the Rösand II offshore wind farm project.

As I was listening to the presentation that was given, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities of such a wind farm in Maine. I knew from previous conversations and articles I had read in the news that there were in fact talks of such a wind farm being proposed for locations in Maine. The concept is a great idea for the state of Maine as there are an incredible amount of advantages that make Maine an ideal location for an offshore wind farm. The first and most obvious is that we have a lot of access to coastline that would help construction and maintenance of the actual farm itself. There are many locations along the coast that could be chosen for such a wind farm to be constructed.

However, one of the distinct disadvantages also falls under this line of thinking. In Maine, many of the residents, as they should be, are very defensive of the well-being of our surrounding nature. Many of the proposals for an offshore wind farm have been rejected because of the fact that many residents don’t want these giant structures built in their backyard. It goes back to the old saying of “that’s a great idea, just not in my backyard.”

Another really positive argument for wind farms in Maine is that they have been garnering a lot of attention lately. People are beginning to recognize our need for a separation from fossil fuels. An upcoming project led by the University of Maine is actually placing a test turbine offshore for testing and pilot purposes. This will help the team to develop a full wind farm in the future.

One of the key points is the thought that to be viable this technology has to be priced within range of what carbon fuels are today. Elizabeth Viselli is a spokesperson for the University of Maine: “We’re also talking to utilities about power purchase agreements and seeking additional commercial off-takers,” Viselli said. “We want to be as cheap as fossil power by 2020.” (3)


The coolest part about the development of offshore wind farms in Maine is the fact that a traditional wind turbine is not a viable option. All of the areas in Maine that are optimal in terms of actual wind for power generation have waters that are much too deep for a  foundation to be mounted in the seafloor. That has forced teams that are working on this project to develop a new “floating style” of wind turbine (5). Similar to the Danes, I am blown away by our ingenuity and resourcefulness when faced with a problem.

Even though the wheels are moving on offshore wind projects, we can’t stop there. This is a train that must be full steam ahead. Danes learned the hard way during the 1970’s that carbon fuels are a finite resource and something had to be changed in regards to their dependence on them.

Unfortunately we have not felt that pain here in the United States or more locally in Maine.  In order for projects like this to continue we must have leadership efforts from multiple sources. Our governments, local business and even individuals must make our separation from fossil fuels a top priority.

The renewable energy market has slowly begun to develop and needs to move forward at even faster rate. The availability and capacity for power generation through offshore wind farms is staggering; over 4000 gigawatts, which is four times what our current power generation here in the United States is. (4) Once our country fully recognizes and embraces the need for renewable sources of energy will we be able to sustain ourselves for generations to come.

(1) http://www.eon.com/en/business-areas/power-generation/wind/offshore.html

(2) http://www.eon.dk/dk/Gamla-startsidor/Rodsand-2/

(3) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-31/maine-plans-to-install-first-u-s-offshore-wind-turbine.html

(4) http://energy.gov/articles/maine-project-launches-first-grid-connected-offshore-wind-turbine-us

(5) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/business/energy-environment/a-floating-wind-tower-is-launched-in-maine.html?_r=0

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Collaborative Efforts, Market Development…then Competition?


I know that the title statement may seem a little strange to many who read it but that is in fact the way the Danes think. This couldn’t have been represented any better by our visit to the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells during our trip. Much like many of the other meetings on our trip this one was absolutely fascinating. At one point during our meeting, one of the members of our travel group asked the representative from the Partnership how they protected their ideas during the developmental stages. The gentlemen simply looked back, tilted his head a bit and replied with “That’s not how we think about our ideas. We start with the formulation of the market and the competition will come later.”

It was amazing to me to learn that rather than individuals and companies protecting their ideas and developing them on their own, Danes work together to provide the best possible solutions and then allow the competition to come naturally later on. It seems that in the United States because of all the competition ideas don’t flow as smoothly as they do in Denmark. Because companies are worried about other companies stealing their ideas, the process generation and collaboration is effected in a negative fashion.

When describing what the Partnership does I found it hard to put words to their core values and ideas. For many Americans, it is a hard concept to completely grasp. Their collaborative efforts among all stakeholders and what we would call competitors is amazing. The State of Green website does an excellent job of describing what the Danish Partnership is all about:

“The success of the Danish fuel cell industry is in large part based on the strong cooperation of all the national stakeholders: manufacturers, research institutes, network organizations – who, within the organization of the Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel cells, collectively work together towards:

  • coordination and integration of fuel cell activities in Denmark
  • focusing the effort through publication of national strategies
  • communication of international collaborations as prerequisite for international markets.” (1)

So how can this come back to Maine and be applied to us locally? Could such a Maine partnership for hydrogen and fuel cells be implemented in our own backyard? Probably the biggest barrier to something like this happening in Maine would be getting companies to collaborate in a way that is actually productive. While I think that many companies would agree that something like this could be beneficial, getting them to sit down and open up their idea book would be another story.

Another barrier here in Maine is the fact that changing the culture is easier said than done. A quote from the Danish Partnership website that speaks towards their vision is something that I found very moving:

“The vision of the Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells is to contribute to the realization of the goal of maintaining domestic security of energy supply. Furthermore, The Partnership wishes to create a better environment and foster growth and prosperity in Denmark including many new jobs” (2)

While in Denmark it became very clear that the primary goal was not to make a profit. It was however to become a sustainable business by being economically and environmentally responsible. This is something that I feel would be very hard for many companies to wrap their minds around. There has been some talk of for-benefit companies, but until we here in Maine and the United States really feel some type of pain, I don’t believe it will be easy to change the mindset and culture of American business.

To really motivate an entire culture, it will take efforts from all levels of government, business and individuals. There exists some support already. E2tech (3) is a great resource here locally for collaboration among companies and individuals but there needs to be more. Support and incentives need to be passed down by larger companies and the government so that there is motivation for collaboration and idea growth/generation.

(1) http://www.stateofgreen.com/en/Profiles/Danish-Partnership-for-Hydrogen-and-Fuel-Cells

(2) http://www.hydrogennet.dk/326

(3) http://www.e2tech.org/

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District Heating – Is it viable in Maine?

On the second day of touring businesses in Denmark, we visited Frederiksberg Forsyning. Frederiksberg Forsyning (Supply) operates four public utility services, including: district heating supply, water supply, gas supply, and waste water. Focusing on the district heating aspect of their services, I learned quickly how evident it is that Denmark is much more carbon efficient and environmentally cautious compared to the United States, specifically Maine. What was the deciding factor that lead Denmark to adopt the district heating approach? Denmark had reached a point of severe over dependency on expensive fossil fuels, low efficiency on energy distribution, and intensified air quality concerns. All of these issues were brought to their attention and needed to be resolved; it just so happened that district heating began to develop more forcefully during the same time. District heating was their solution.

Ninety-eight percent of all heating provided in Copenhagen comes from the district-heating grid. In other words, only 144 houses in the city have not joined the district heating system; now that is quite an accomplishment, attaining cooperation from a majority of the city. This district (radiant) heating approach in Denmark comes from a local supply, rather than from individual houses, as is the case in Maine. In the US, natural gas is the primary heating fuel and district heating is much less common, but it’s not to say that district heating isn’t feasible in Maine.

Renewable fuels such as biomass, the most common fuel source used for district heating, is less energy intensive than a traditional heating network. Less energy intensive results in fewer emissions exerted. District heating allows an area to be much more efficient by using local heat and fuel sources that would typically be lost or remain unused. For example, some people use heat at night and some people use it in the morning, which spreads out the use of the available heating supply. Individual houses, on the other hand, typically do not use the heating supply consistently throughout a 24-hour period, leaving the rest to remain unused or lost. In Denmark, their total heat loses from the power plant to the farthest point in Denmark is only 1-2%. Compare that with heat loses in the United States, which are typically around 15% of energy lost in transmission, it is evident that Denmark is a few steps ahead of the game and much more resourceful.


Now the question is, would district heating be successful in Maine? It is apparent that district heating proposes a variety of benefits, however, you must take into consideration the barriers that may stand in the way of implementation. One major set back is the upfront costs of infrastructure, design, and interconnectedness. It is an expense in which a state would need support of its people. The more cooperation there is, the more spread out the costs can be which would result in cheaper costs to the consumers than if there were less participation. Like many big purchases, the upfront costs can be steep, and the return on investment depends on the efficiency. For this particular case, a larger house will reap the benefits of district heating at a faster pace than a smaller house.

One major difference between Maine and Denmark is that Maine has many more homeowners than renters, whereas a majority of people in Denmark rent. People who are renting may be much more accepting of an idea such as district heating because they don’t actually own the building so it is ultimately the owners decision. The more homeowners and decision makers there are, the more resistance you may face, which could be the case with trying to implement a district heating system in Maine.

I personally believe Maine, and the United States in general, need to get away from the use of oil and become more conscious of the emissions we produce. What will it take for Maine to realize that we need to change? Well, Maine already understands that our heating approach is not the most efficient and environmentally conscious approach – we are extremely dependent on foreign oil and spend a lot of money on purchasing that oil. I was happy to see that Maine has a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) report addressing the issue of our dependency and need for change. However, we are not on the fast track to fixing this issue. I think it may take our situation becoming a bit more severe in order to get a serious start on the issue.

Every business we visited in Denmark shared a common goal:  to be a smart and carbon neutral city. By 2025, Copenhagen hopes to have a 20% reduction in heat consumption. Do we have goals such as these in Maine and the United States? Some businesses may have a goal of being environmentally conscious, however, not everyone has the same shared-vision. Maine lacks that sense of aligned goals. I believe that a communal goal is an extremely important place to start in becoming a “greener” state. If you can get everyone on the same page of sharing the same purpose, we’ll be much more effective. We may be briefly aware of our carbon footprint and the consequences of our actions, but we are definitely not as aware as everyone in Denmark. We can learn from Denmark’s success and begin with goals ranging from transportation to building houses.

An area in which Denmark excels beyond the district heating supply is making their buildings more energy efficient – they have very good doors and windows with lots of insulation, creating a much tighter house. These specifications allow for a much more efficient house, as we saw when we visited the Trelleborg house. Another aspect of their extremely efficient houses are their air water heaters; it takes the heat from the attic, which is hot due to the tile on the roof, and adds a little extra heat to the house. We have Trelleborg houses here in Maine, but they are not as common as in Denmark. Our doors do not close tight and our insulation is the bare minimum. Simple adjustments such as these can be made in order to create a more efficient house that will contain the heat we do use.

Another area that separates Denmark from Maine is that Denmark is a very dense country with buildings and houses very close to each other. District heating is ideal for this type of scenario because of the easy to reach locations. A concern for me in regard to district heating in Maine is how effective and efficient it would be. You can bike from one side of Denmark to the other within an hour, that’s how dense the country is. In Maine, we have houses more spread out throughout the state and it can take over 5 hours to drive from one side to the next. I believe district heating would be very beneficial in a location such as Portland, where it is a city with many houses and buildings built very close to one another. However, I’m not sure that it would be worth the expense to have a state-wide district heating system, especially as the houses become fewer and farther between, because the value may not be as beneficial.

One can argue that the benefits of a district heating system lessen, the warmer the location. However, Maine has weather that is quite similar to Denmark, so that could be a selling point in which district heating will be sustainable and worth the investment in Maine. I think a great way to integrate district heating would be to first start in a city such a Portland and see how successful it is before attempting to spread the approach throughout the whole state.

Another way to view the pros and cons of district heating is to put some numbers behind it:

The Benefits

  • Up to 50% less emissions than boilers
  • Fuel efficiencies of up to 94%
  • Price competitive: 45% less than heating oil and 56% less than natural gas
  • Utilizes and stores available heat which in turn reduces primary energy consumption by 70%, compared with individual boilers
  • Getting cooperation from the homeowners and decision makers in the country or state helps share the fixed costs of the infrastructure and reduces the overall heat prices for all consumers

The Disadvantages

  • High upfront cost which can take awhile to recoup
  • The benefits of district heating lessen the warmer the location

How do we get buy-in from consumers and decision makers? The good news is that there are already several combined heat and power facilities in Maine; however, it is focused on commercial businesses. Since district heating is already in place at some businesses around the state, this may be a gateway to getting district heating spread out through the state and into personal houses. An important aspect of getting consumer cooperation is through educating them; making people aware of their actions and how dependent we have become on foreign oil. Setting state goals is also imperative; having written aspirations will give us something to look back on as a measurement tool. We as consumers love incentives, so giving tax credits and energy efficiency programs for people who are willing to join the cause tend to be very successful. Also, aiming towards being a “greener” state will help people understand the vision.

It is apparent that Maine has the potential to become much more efficient in our heating approach. We have the vision already spelled out, but it is time that we take the steps necessary in achieving that vision. Maine’s temperatures are similar to that of Denmark, a country that has seen great success through the district heating program. We have cities in Maine that would benefit tremendously from a district heating approach but we must knock down the barriers that stand in our way – specifically, financial barriers. The government needs to step up and follow through with their plan. With the government’s support, district heating will be viable in Maine.






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Denmark 2013: Energy independence and sustainability As we

Denmark 2013: Energy independence and sustainability

As we descend on the Copenhagen Airport, a series of small rotating flecks of white appear against the vast blue oceanic backdrop.  After traveling through the night, these flecks are a welcoming sight, indicating that we will soon arrive at our final destination.  Coming closer, the University of Southern Maine MBA 612 class gets its first glimpse at a fully functional commercial scale offshore wind farm.  It is truly an impressive sight and one that will mark the beginning of an educational and cultural adventure.  This blog is intended to highlight many of the activities we engaged in and describe why or why not many of the ideas, innovations, and opinions will lend themselves to the advancement of our energy policy in Maine as well as the United States as a whole.

Copenhagen: Creating and sustaining change


Copenhagen—like any city—has many cultural and economic challenges that have forced leaders to make difficult decisions.  Often, these decisions are intended to make a city more competitive, both socially and economically.  In the United States, we have made incredible investments in roadways and infrastructure to help alleviate traffic congestion and make our cities more accessible.  As a result, more people are more likely to drive rather than rely on alternative forms of transportation such as walking, riding a bike, or using public transportation.

Copenhagen is home to approximately 560,000 people, and overall 1.9 million people live in the greater metro area.  This makes Copenhagen roughly the same size of Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Tucson, Arizona.  However, Copenhagen boasts a public transportation system that rivals cities much larger.  Furthermore, it has a cycling infrastructure that allows for an orderly and organized flow of cyclists throughout the city.  Equally impressive is the manner in which each of these different modes of alternative transportation was designed to work in conjunction with the others.

During our first day of educational excursions, we had the opportunity to meet with the City of Copenhagen to hear how it has become an international beacon for urban sustainability.  Copenhagen has set an ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025.  For a city of over 560,000 this is an incredible undertaking.

Despite this, the city is making real progress toward reaching its goal.  In fact, in 2011 it had already reached its 2015 CO2 emissions target through a 20% reduction in carbon emissions.  While city officials are focused on environmental stewardship, they are concurrently striving to make decisions that will produce positive economic results.  Many of the initiatives Copenhagen has implemented have reduced expenses and/or created additional revenues.   Additionally, the city is repeatedly listed as one of the most livable and happiest cities in the world.


Engaging people, having fun with recycling!

How has the city been able to do all of this?  Upon speaking with representatives from the City of Copenhagen, I noted a few factors that I believe have helped contribute to the City’s success.  First, the City set strict rules and guidelines for how change would be initiated; however, these guidelines were also focused on economic sustainability.  Second, the city has supplied incentives for people to change their behaviors and accept a less carbon intensive and healthier lifestyle.  Third, the city itself has been consistently supportive of these changes by investing large sums of money and leveraging private funds to pay more many of these changes.  Finally, the City officials have created an environment where people not only feel healthier, but also connected to the changes that are taking place.  The people of Copenhagen feel a sense of responsibility and thus are dedicated to advancing the City’s mission and reaching its goals.

A City of Cyclists

Now back to my earlier ramblings about infrastructure and urban travel.  This is an area where Copenhagen has seen much of its recent success—both socially and environmentally—and can be attributed to an advanced cycling

IMG_1956Bikes waiting to be ridden at the Metro

infrastructure and robust public transit system.  Copenhagen is a city of many bicycles.  People ride bikes everywhere and in all conditions (as we witnessed during a couple of cold, rainy Danish afternoons).  In fact, in 2011 35% of all trips to work or school were accomplished by bike.  The city would like to increase this number to 50% by 2025. 

To accomplish this, the city has made it easy for people who ride by supplying dedicated bike paths throughout the city, hundreds of bike racks, and by allowing bikes to travel on the public transit system.  Furthermore, the City has added numerous other unique features that make it easy for people to travel by bike.  We were able to experience this firsthand during a bike tour with a gentleman who acted as a bicycle transportation and infrastructure consultant to the City of Copenhagen.  During this tour, we used many of the features implemented to make the City more “bike friendly” and heard the logic behind these designs.

Aside from the dedicated bike paths, the city has established a system—complete with streetlights—that allows for orderly bike travel by the masses.  At rush hour it is not uncommon to see 50 or 60 cyclists lined up at a stoplight, much like cars at a busy intersection in Boston or New York.  Additionally, the city has large bike racks at every metro station and allows bikes to travel inside dedicated metro cars.  This allows for greater flexibility and enables people from outside the downtown area to bike from the metro station to their final destination.  Due to the fact that many of the metro stations are underground, the city has installed small bike ramps allowing people to easily walk their bikes up stairs.  The bus system is equally impressive and also allows for people to travel with bikes.

Some of the steps the city has made to encourage cycling have simultaneously discouraged driving.  As Lars, our cycling tour guide explained, many of the bike lanes were once parking spots or additional travel lanes.  By reducing the number of lanes and parking spots in the city biking has become an easier, more convenient way to travel.

I believe what Copenhagen has done is a practical solution to two major problems in the United States—traffic congestion and auto emissions.  In Maine we have made steps to make the roadways more bike friendly by adding bike lanes and widening road shoulders.  However, this only scratches the surface of what can be done.  Maine’s snowy winters do make it more difficult to navigate on two wheels, but there are people who ride year round and more are likely to follow with a safer and easier system for travel.  Remember, Denmark is cold too!  In addition, there are tremendous opportunities beyond Maine in other parts of the United States.

Much of our investment into roadway infrastructure has made it easier to travel.  Making car travel easier has also increased our dependence on fossil fuels, reduced our activity levels, and decreased land values.  About a year ago, I was fortunate to be invited to a private lunch where a Harvard Economist spoke about how we can “get the economy back on track.”  He stated that investing in our decrepit infrastructure would provide the most impact and highest ROI for the money spent.  I believe there is some merit to this argument; however, it believe it should come in the form of new, more sustainable alternatives, as has been done in Copenhagen.

Harnessing the wind       

I would be remiss if after my introduction, I didn’t talk about wind energy.  Also, wind energy has become a controversial topic in Maine as we have an incredible opportunity to further develop both land-based and offshore wind farms.  During the trip we had an opportunity to meet with Bjorn Haxgart, from E.On Energy, a power company that had recently finished the second of two major offshore wind farms.  Rösand II, the second of the two farms, is an engineering masterpiece and home to 90 wind turbines that create 207 MW of power.  This is enough electricity to power over 200,000 Danish homes.  According to the US census bureau, Maine has roughly 725,000 “housing units,” which include apartments, condos, etc.  Granted, I assume that the average Maine household uses more electricity than the average Danish household, but regardless, one wind farm of this size has potential to power a significant portion of our state.  While there are many technical challenges to building and servicing a wind farm like Rösand II, the engineers at E.on are becoming more efficient and better prepared to handle difficult situation 


The picture above displays a specialized boat, constructed to deliver equipment and maintenance personal to offshore wind turbines

Aside from the technical limitations, wind power does face other issues.  First, it requires an enormous investment of initial capital.  This makes it difficult to compete with established power plants that have infrastructure in place.  Furthermore, the conversion to cheap, cleaner burning gas is easy and much less costly.  Wind power also suffers from the “not in my backyard” issue when a commercial scale wind farm encroaches on views.  Lastly, energy cannot be stored, therefore it is difficult to control or predict when and how hard the wind will blow.  This makes coordination between other, more predictable, power sources essential to meeting electricity needs during “peak” demand as well as not over producing during “off-peak” times.

While wind has its challenges, it certainly has many benefits.  Finding and extracting fossil fuels is equally—if not more—controversial than building wind farms.  However, oil companies have immense political and financial power, making it difficult to wean off this country’s addiction to oil.  Even if there is a chance it will produce a natural disaster.

  Below the is a land based commercial scale wind operation in action


Wind, however, comes with less environmental risk but the economics are more challenging.  This has created a situation where government incentives and public support play a key role.  Unfortunately, the lagging economy and differing opinions on how to solve our energy crisis is making it difficult to garner widespread support for additional large-scale wind incentives.  In recent years, we have made major progress in developing green energy and we can thank countries like Denmark for their initial investments that have paved the way in terms of development and public acceptance.  As we move into a new age of energy exploration by focusing attention on domestic natural gas production, it is important for us not to lose sight of the fact that fossil fuels are a short term solution.  Thus, further investments in renewable energy sources like wind power are more important to long term sustainability.

Overall, I believe that Maine will continue to adopt wind as an alternative source of energy.  Shifting cultural beliefs and expectations take time and we are just beginning our journey into the world of wind power.  I also believe that a large-scale offshore wind farm, such as Rösand II, will provide an incredible opportunity for job creation and energy sustainability both in Maine and other states.

30,000-Foot View

Aside from the wonderful memories, the incredible learning experience, and the opportunity to speak with such esteemed professionals, two other aspects of the Danish culture truly impressed me.  First, the Danes have an incredibly complete view of how to make things work.  The Danes are focused on maximizing potential and extracting the most value out of a given idea.  They are detailed.  An example is Copenhagen’s cycling initiative: instead of just building bike paths, they have built their entire transportation infrastructure around accommodating cyclists.

The second aspect is commitment.  The Danes have committed to creating sustainable communities, encouraging environmental stewardship, and developing green energy.  Change is not easy and is often met with adversity.  However, by making strong commitments to change, the people of Denmark have been able to put into place consistent and incremental changes that have enabled the country to meet its goals and promote its mission.  This is absolutely something we can learn from!


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Energy, Consumerism, and Planned Communities

As in most cities worldwide, Copenhagen has limited space and a growing population. Copenhagen is expected to grow by 100,000 inhabitants by 2025, increasing the population from 537,000 to 637,000. The City of Copenhagen expects that the families and young people moving to the city will require an estimated 45,000 new homes.

ImageAs part of our Energy Study Tour, we spent an afternoon in Ørestad, a development project expected to house 20,000 people, and employ 80,000 people. City developers are excited about the development’s location and infrastructure, which includes easy access to the metro, airport, and railway, as well as roads and bicycle paths. The Ørestad Development Corporation was founded in 1993 to manage the area’s growth, and is owned by municipality of Copenhagen and the Ministry of Finance. As the result of an international architectural competition in 1994, Ørestad was divided into four districts and the first office building was built in 2001. As of now there are over 3,000 flats and 2,067,747 square feet of office space built, and over 5,000 people are in residence. The area includes private, cooperative, and subsidized housing for families, students and individuals.

ImageAs we walked through Ørestad, I tried to imagine what it would be like to live there, and how living there would change my carbon footprint. The crowd pleaser was Mountain Dwellings, a housing development designed by award-winning Copenhagen/New York architects BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). I admit to being totally intrigued by this building, in great part because it features a giant mural of the Himalayans commissioned from a Japanese photographer. The building has the appearance of having been built on the mountain ridge–a compelling visual in the utterly flat, pastoral landscape. A public staircase on the outside allows people to “climb” the mountain, and a local mountain climbers association is planning to add a climbing wall near the peak of the mural. There is something very cheeky about how the Mountain Dwellings’ high-tech urban design embraces interpretations of nature.


Interestingly enough, the building, in the heart of a development that is committed to limiting car use, is 66 percent parking (enough spots for 480 cars) and 33 percent living space (80 penthouses). That’s six parking spaces per unit; the architects refer to the “symbiotic relationship” of the two functions. In another nod to nature, the garage features a series of murals by French street artist Victor Ash, including wildlife scenes of elk, wolves, and moose standing on top of piles of wrecked cars.

ImageOn the far side of the mountain mural, a series of lovely, private wooden terraces and gardens cascade down the face of the building, providing light, air and views. A watering system captures rainwater to maintain the gardens (the Coolist calls it “a green roof design on a grand scale”).

The architects’ website doesn’t focus on the green building techniques employed in the project, but I found reference to the following elsewhere:

Another article I read reminds that Mountain Dwellings is expensive to live in, and one of the architects agrees that without a generous government subsidy, Mountain Dwellings probably would not have been built.

Most of the living spaces we saw in Ørestad appeared much smaller than suburban houses in the U.S., though the development was generously spaced with green areas compared to many U.S. cities with high population density. The footprint of the buildings is smaller as well, and shared common space and green areas mean that independence and privacy are maybe less available, and maybe less important than in the U.S. I wondered about the amount of stuff Americans have. Limited living space reduces the amount of stuff people own. Things in Denmark are more expensive than in the U.S. and their higher prices may better capture the real cost (and the negative externalities) of production.

The accessibility of public transportation is a key feature, and I would imagine that for those living in Ørestad, the convenience of the metro, bike paths, and train far outweigh the hassles of commuting by car. Copenhagen’s 2025 Climate Plan incorporates urban development, ensuring that the entire area’s energy infrastructure is carbon neutral.


Bayside Development

Here in Maine, we can be sure that the state and local governments would never subsidize the development of a low-impact, artistic, luxury apartment complex. A brief look at Bayside, an urban neighborhood in Portland, Maine, reveals similarities in a focus on economic development, mixed income housing, green space, bike paths, and public transportation. But market and development forces are balanced differently. In Portland, building codes are being revised to allow for the build of the highest high-rise (not green) ever to be built in the city, and plans are less concrete about creating an economically diverse neighborhood. The area includes multiple garages and parking spaces to attract drivers from the I95/295 corridor. Without significant government development budgets and subsidies, bringing outside money to the neighborhood and to the development process becomes all important. Without a Climate Plan for Portland or for Maine, environmental and sustainability issues are less of a priority than economic growth.

That said, our walk through Ørestad revealed few people out and about. Granted, we visited during the workday, and many residents were probably at work and at school. Bayside is bustling during the daytime, with shoppers, bikers, drivers, workers. It will be interesting to visit Ørestad in five to ten years, to see how the space fills and comes alive. And it would be amazing if Portland committed to creating a carbon-neutral plan for Bayside Development. We can hope that in five to ten years, we will see more leaders demanding green urban development plans in the U.S.

Additional references:

Photographs and information about Mountain Dwellings

Design eye candy: green roof designs (including The Mountain Dwellings) at TheCoolist

Bayside Development Plan

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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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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 http://www.stateofgreen.com
  2. (5.26.2013) World GDP. Retrieved from http://www.indexq.org/economy/gdp.php
  3. Mortensgaard, Aksel. 5.16.2013. Presentation by Danish Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
  4. (5.26.2013) Retrieved from. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html
  5. Grunwald, Michael. A Bump on the Road to Green. Time. (5.27.2013) Vol. 181. 19
  6. (5.26.2013) Retrieved from http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/09/news/state/lepage-wants-wind-energy-goals-out-of-maine-law/
  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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The City of Copenhagen and Its Bold Plan

Welcome to Copenhagen

City of Copenhagen

On our first full day of study (5/13/13), the USM MBA Denmark Energy Study Tour had the privilege of a meeting with the City of Copenhagen. With an urban population of approximately 1.2 million (approx. 560k in the city center), the city is planning far into the future while striving to meet some very ambitious green goals. The city’s ultimate goal is to become carbon neutral by 2025 despite a steadily rising population.

The city plans to meet this goal through a combination of 12 sustainable city solutions focused under 4 broad areas; mobility, water, energy, and strategy. I find it both amusing and telling that the city of Copenhagen even has a strategy for its strategy! Though after meeting these highly organized, practical, and forward-thinking Danes, I guess I should not be surprised.

After hearing about the amazing plans that the city has in the works, I immediately thought; is this happening now, or could this happen in major cities in the United States? I assumed that this could certainly not be happening in metro Detroit where I was born. After all, the city just had to install an emergency manager who stated recently that, “Detroit is clearly insolvent and could face a possible bankruptcy if talks with labor unions and creditors do not make substantial progress on easing the city’s cash crunch (Carey & Neavling, 2013).” Additionally, Detroit is the home of the big three American auto-makers, so there is a history rich in fossil fuel dependency.



So is all lost for Detroit and other American cities like it? After all, how could a city in the depths of financial insolvency (and so dependent on fossil fuel) hope to recover to the point where it could be considering carbon-neutral aspirations??? Just ask Copenhagen, Denmark. Several times throughout our course, the Danes we met (and our professors), referenced the oil crisis in the 1970’s which hit Denmark especially hard. The city of Copenhagen suffered too, experiencing a major loss in population (and related tax revenue). The city and Denmark as a whole knew that something had to be done. Over the next 40 years, they have managed to completely turn things around. In fact, the city of Copenhagen was just named the 2014 European Green Capital.

Clearly the city is doing many things right and I will go into what I consider to be their most interesting (and relevant to Maine) initiative in another post. But, I find myself coming back to my initial question; is this happening now, or could this happen in major cities in the United States? I took to my favorite source, the internet, to help me answer this question. Within moments, I found this site: http://www.usmayors.org/climateprotection/revised/. This is the website for the United States Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Center.

First, I had no idea that such an organization existed and was happy to see that it did. Second, I was shocked to see that over 1,060 mayors already belonged to the conference and have agreed to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. With this agreement in place, mayors are “vowing to reduce carbon emissions in their cities below 1990 levels, in line with the Kyoto Protocol. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the founder of this movement (Climate Protection Center, 2013).”

So what is the agreement exactly? It is great to say that our cities (at least 1,060 of them) are vowing to reduce carbon emissions, but by how much and by what date? After all, Copenhagen is very clear and very determined to reach carbon neutral by 2025. The agreement states that the participating cities commit to take the following three actions:

1. “Strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, through actions ranging from anti-sprawl land-use policies to urban forest restoration projects to public information campaigns;

2. Urge their state governments, and the federal government, to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction target suggested for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol — 7% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012; and

3. Urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation, which would establish a national emission trading system (Climate Protection Center, 2013).”

It’s hard to tell from the site how successful each city was, but I did find it fascinating to see exactly which cities were participating:

U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Participants

U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Participants

If you’re curious to see exactly which cities/mayors are participating, you can locate the map on the website where you can hover your cursor over each state and view a list of participating cities. I was especially happy to see that Portland, ME is a participant along with several cities in Michigan where I have resided over the years. At this point, I must also eat my words from earlier when I said that there was no way Detroit could handle any type of carbon neutrality commitment. As you can/will see on the map, Detroit, Michigan has also signed the agreement. This goes to show you that the time is never wrong for positive action and change. Both Copenhagen and Detroit know that a city can spring back from even the darkest times and start anew.I hope for my family who still resides in the Detroit area and the rest of the world’s residents, that every city can make Copenhagen’s plan a reality.

Works Cited

Carey, N., & Neavling, S. (2013, June 1). Detroit Emergency Manager Says City “Clearly Insolvent”. Retrieved from Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/detroit-emergency-manager-says-city-clearly-insolvent-202324348.html

Climate Protection Center. (2013, June 1). Retrieved from The United States Conference of Mayors: http://www.usmayors.org/climateprotection/revised/

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District Heating: Desirable, but Portable?

Copenhagen enjoys something we don’t have much of here in the United States: district heating.  District heating is a service whereby hot water is delivered to homes and businesses, much like public water supplies are delivered here in cities and towns.  Where it’s possible to implement a district heating utility, the savings and efficiencies are nothing short of remarkable.

Copenhagen’s main district heating distributor, CTR, serves much of the area, and does so at very high levels of efficiency.  For example, imagine two identical areas with 250,000 homes, each of which demands 18,389TJ of heat annually.  Area “A” uses what we’re familiar with: homes with oil-fired furnaces providing heat and hot water.  Let’s also assume that each and every furnace runs at 90% efficiency (this would be a reasonable assumption if all furnaces in the area were all new, high-efficiency models…which many in the US are not).  Area “B”, however, will opt for a district heating strategy, with no individual furnaces.

All other things being equal, Area “B” will meet the same heating demand as in Area “A”, but will use 94,573,600 fewer gallons of heating oil.  This means several important savings:

  • With today’s oil price at $3.179 in our area, this means a total fuel savings of $300,649,474, which translates to $1,202.60 per home in fuel alone
  • With 250,000 fewer furnaces, each costing approximately $215/year to maintain, district heating would save consumers an additional $53,750,000 per year
  • By avoiding burning 94,573,600 gallons of heating oil, district heating would reduce Area “B”s carbon emissions by 955,000 tons per year

Unfortunately, however, much of the United States (and Maine in particular) would not be a good fit for a district heating system identical to Denmark’s CTR.  Maine is the least population-dense state in the union, with only 41.3 persons per square mile.  This means that a district heating system at CTR’s scale would look like the following:


Moreover, unlike most of Denmark (and all of Copenhagen), Maine is located predominately on bedrock.  This would make installation of the hot water mains much, much more expensive than the Copenhagen installation.

In short, while district heating makes a great deal of sense in Copenhagen, Maine would be hard-pressed to benefit from a similar system.  Major cities in the US should consider such a system, as they have the requisite population density and subterranean utility infrastructure which would meet installation and efficiency goals.

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Cycling, Public Health, and Climate Change

It’s a beautiful day today in Maine, and temperatures should rise into the 80s. This is time of year we’ve all been waiting for. However, the National Weather Service has issued an air quality alert, citing elevated levels of pollutants. Global warming promises to increase the number of days in the U.S. when ozone levels reach unhealthy levels.


Bikers in Copenhagen line up at an intersection.

Copenhagen’s commitment to increasing the number of bike riders is a key part of the city’s strategy to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Current cycling levels reduce emissions by 90,000 tons annually. In making the case for climate change mitigation, Denmark recognizes the importance of including health effects in cost-benefit calculations to build public and private support for cycling infrastructure development.

Yes, there are significant political, economic and social differences between Denmark and the U.S., but after our study tour, I have to ask again why the U.S., the second largest contributor (after China) of CO2 emissions in the world, is not stepping up as a leader to take advantage of the economic and social benefits inherent in climate change mitigation?

Psychologists who study behavioral barriers to combating climate change note the following:

  • we have a hard time imaging a future that is different from the present
  • we block out complex problems that don’t have simple solutions
  • we don’t like delayed benefits (e.g. sacrificing today for the future)
  • we are better at dealing with emergencies than addressing problems that creep up on us.

According to research conducted by the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, about 65 percent of the U.S. population is concerned to varying degrees about global warming and open to policy solutions. About 24 percent are unsupportive and 10 percent is disengaged. The research showed that for the doubtful/dismissive 24 percent, discussions of climate change are likely to elicit counter arguments, while focusing on the positive health benefits associated with specific actions is a productive approach within conversations.

Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at American University, says that few people actually care enough about polar bears to take action. However, audiences are more open to communications framing that includes climate change solutions that will reduce problems that people can relate to (like asthma).

Studies of Danish adults have shown that cycling to work has a significant effect on health. Even after adjustments for differences in jobs, smoking, leisure time status, and body mass index, people who cycle to work have a 28 percent lower mortality rate. Gains per employer have been assessed at 3-400 Euro ($3.9-$519) per physically active employee per year. In children, cycling to school is associated with better fitness and better cardiovascular risk factor profile. Copenhagen, a city of 1.2 million people, estimates that each kilometer cycled saves 1.21 DKK in the health care system for approximately $91 million of savings per year.


On our bike tour of central Copenhagen with the Danish Cyclist Federation, tour guide Niels Hoe explains the city’s investments in infrastructure development strategies to make biking more convenient and fun.

In Copenhagen, speed and convenience in commuting play a significant factor in motivating people to ride their bikes. Exercise is important too. Bike to work campaigns have helped to increase the number of individuals biking to school and work, in part because it was easier and faster than expected.

Portland, Maine, and surrounding communities can start by encouraging more bike commuting. Incorporating public health messaging creates opportunities for partnership with healthcare systems and the public health community, and might open the door for constructive conversations about climate change.


Biking improves health and reduces healthcare costs (while reducing CO2 emissions): a message that should resonate in the U.S.

Oh, and Americans would be impressed by how stylish people in Copenhagen look on their bikes. Bike advocates in Maine can make a point of promoting comfortable, chic biking attire (check out the cover of the June issue of Maine. magazine). For some additional inspiration, visit http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/.

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Comprehending the Consequence of Airline Travel


Of all of the sights we encountered in Denmark, one that stays in my mind is the haunting spectacle of thousands of tiny yellow comet-shaped “tails” representing airline traffic moving across a Science on a Sphere globe at the newly renovated Visual Climate Center in Højbygaard, about a two hour bus ride from Copenhagen.(1, 2, 3) This powerful visual underscored the complexity of climate change mitigation: airline travel brings us together at the same time it is permanently and irrevocably destroying our environment. The incremental impact of purchasing carbon offsets for travel (as many of us did for this University of Southern Maine study tour) is a drop in the bucket; here in the U.S., significant step changes that reduce emissions in the airline industry and require changes human behavior are almost incomprehensible.

ImageDeveloped by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Science on a Sphere is a room sized display system that uses computers and video projectors to project planetary data onto a six foot diameter replication of our planet. The globe’s data sets are supplied and updated weekly by NOAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and others. It is interesting to note the U.S. government’s critical role in monitoring and tracking official climate data for international audiences.

Seeing the magnitude and flight patterns of airline travel during a time-lapsed 24 hour period left me with two conflicting viewpoints: 1) appreciation for human capacity to connect and move people quickly and efficiently across the far reaches of the globe on a daily basis, and 2) apprehension at the recognition of the vast daily carbon footprint of the combined total of hundreds of thousands of flights. On a daily basis, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies above the United States alone. We watched as flight traffic picked up noticeably during daylight hours and dropped off through the night.

And there’s no going back. We will never give up our ability to fly, and in fact air traffic volume is only increasing. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expects air travel to nearly double in the next two decades, faster than advances in flight fuel efficiency. As we learned from calculating the carbon footprint for our roundtrip flight to Denmark (about 6,000 pounds of CO2 emissions), an international flight can be worse than a year of commuting to work by car.

In fall 2012, Congress agreed on very little except for the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The law prohibits U.S. airlines from joining the EU Emissions Trading System, which would require power plants and manufacturers, and airlines, to pay fees for excess carbon emissions. According to an article in The New York Times, “airlines and governments in the United States, India and China went ballistic…”(4) causing a delay in the law’s implementation. The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization is convening a September meeting on airline issues.(5) U.S. airlines are opposed to any kind of tax or regulation, preferring instead to focus on technical innovations because, they say, that taxes would take money from the U.S. and give it to the EU.


A layover in Zurich decreased the cost of our flight but increased the overall carbon footprint of our trip.

But some analysts estimate that the European program would add just $5 to the price of a typical trans-Atlantic flight, which doesn’t seem like much. The EU is moving ahead with emissions payments on flights, making it harder for them to compete–and they will be collecting on all flights in and out of EU airports.

Ultimately, it seems that the price of airline travel is bound to go up, and perhaps some people will travel less. Who will win and who will lose in this scenario? In Maine, perhaps we can ask ourselves how the U.S. should be engaged in international climate change discussions and negotiations–and how we want to take responsibility for our contributions, individually and collectively, to global warming. Having access to compelling visual educational tools such as Science on a Sphere is helpful in explaining the significance of the issue to consumers. Making the link between recognizing a problem and doing something about it begins with education but requires a deeper level of policy engagement.

1. http://www.visualclimatecenter.com/visual-climate-center-uk/visual-climate-center.aspx

2. http://sos.noaa.gov/Datasets/dataset.php?id=44

3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gC3xQm_FjQs#!

4. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/sunday-review/the-biggest-carbon-sin-air-travel.html

5. http://www.icao.int/Meetings/Green/Pages/default.aspx

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Could Maine Adopt the Biking Culture?

DSC01967Copenhagen is famous for its biking culture. There are over 390 kilometers of bike trails within the city limits. Last year, it was voted the ‘Best city for cyclists’. Today 37% of Copenhagen residents bike to work – their target is 50% by 2015. Compare that to Maine where only .5% of people bike to work.

I was excited to go to Denmark and experience the biking culture first hand. I jumped in and rented a bike the first day.  It was awesome! The city is designed with bikers in mind. I LOVED biking in Copenhagen and yet I wondered if I would LOVE it if I had to do it every day.

As I biked around the city I had to get honest with myself about how I would feel using my bike as my main source of transportation at home. It’s one thing to be on vacation and explore on a bike, it’s something else to use it for transportation. In Denmark I saw men heading to work in suits, women biking in high heels, parents bringing their kids to daycare and people bringing home groceries – all on their bikes. In addition, they take their bikes up and down the stairs, on and off the metro and into their apartments or workplaces. I began to think about how I would do all those things on my bike in Maine and it did not sound like fun.

First of all Copenhagen is set up to accommodate bikers. They have bike lanes throughout the city, bike racks outside every major building and space for bikes on the metro. Everywhere you go there are bikes and accommodations for bikers. The Danes give biker priority over the cars.

In Maine that is not the case. We have many barriers that would prevent us from adopting a biking culture. We have a limited amount of bike lanes, bike racks are not common anywhere and the Maine culture gives priority to cars.

Maine would need develop more bike lanes, install hundreds of bike racks and encourage a mindset change in order to become a biking culture. We are not currently set up to do what the Danes do. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has been working hard to make Maine a more bike friendly state and while bike usage in Maine is gowning – they still have a long way to go.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has been working since 1992 to make Maine a better place to bicycle. Their current leadership and membership is not large enough to make a major shift towards Maine becoming a biking state. They would need stronger leadership, more funding and a more engaged membership. As of today it is doubtful that they would have the resources or the numbers to make a large impact.

images (42)Mainer’s like to bike. In fact Maine was ranked the 2nd most bike friendly state in the country by the League of American Bicyclists in May 2011. As a state we have many scenic routes to explore. But you will not find many Mainers biking to work or using their bike as their primary means of transportation. Mainers like to bike for exercise and enjoyment – not transportation. In 2009, Maine had only 3,202 people – or 0.5 percent of all commuters – who biked to work. That percentage is the same as the national average.

Maine has many advantages that would help them to adopt a biking  culture. Maine has beautiful scenery, many miles of bike trails already in place and a solid core of people who care about biking. If Mainer’s were to take on biking as a way of life they could impact obesity, decrease their carbon footprint and become healthier. In addition, Mainer’s already care about the environment and the majority of residents like to be fit. 77% of the Maine population exercises on a regular basis.

The disadvantages are that Maine has a high population of obese people who are not active, the weather is not dependable, there is not a large metro area, people have long commutes and the state lacks funding for these types of things.

The benefits of striving to develop a bike culture definitely outweigh the negatives. Adopting a biking culture in Maine would benefit our state now and in the future.

We will never be Copenhagen but we could be a more bike friendly Maine.




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NOVONORDISK Products End Up in Landfills


Novo Nordisk was the first company we toured during our Denmark Energy Tour. Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company focusing primarily on the care of diabetes. They produce insulin and other diabetes related products. As the parent of a child with diabetes, I was very excited to visit this facility because my daughter has been using their products for many years.

NovoNordisk has been facing up to their responsibility with climate change in a big way. They have created a blueprint for change and are committed to doing business in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way. They are embracing many innovative and leading edge initiatives. Yet one thing remains overlooked – they do not provide environmentally sound disposal options for the end users of their products. They produce both needles, which need to be disposed of in a sharps container, and plastic insulin pens, which should be recycled. Currently most sharps containers and used plastic pens are placed into the normal trash and in America most of those end up in landfills. As part of their continued commitment to the environment NovoNordisk is positioned to lead the way for providing safe options for recycling these types of products.


As the parent of a child with diabetes I have struggled with the issue of how to dispose of used needles and insulin pens for many years. My daughter’s clinic provides us with a new sharps container for the disposal of her used needles every year. Yet once these containers are full, there is nowhere to take them. We’ve been told to call our city, the local pharmacy and/or hospitals – all refuse to take our sharps containers. We’ve been told repeatedly that the best way to get rid of them is to duct tape them shut and put them in the trash. This makes me cringe. I do not feel good about placing a large hard plastic box filled with needles into the landfill. This feels wrong on many levels.

In Maine the disposal of needles and other sharp objects continues to be an issue. “Every month, DEP gets dozens of calls from home sharps users questioning how to dispose of their used sharps safely,” DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho said in a press release announcing the campaign.[1] Maine residents use millions of medical “sharps,” such as needles, lancets and syringes, to control illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and infertility, according to the DEP. Stockpiling used sharps in the home or disposing of them improperly in the trash puts residents, their families and waste collection staff at risk for accidental needle sticks that can lead to infections and disease, said Samantha Depoy-Warren, a spokeswoman for the DEP.[2]

FARlivcompact2P010810 015The Maine.gov website tells residents to dispose of their needles by placing them in a sharps container and when it’s full, seal it with the cap and heavy-duty tape, mark “Do Not Recycle” and simply place in your household trash.[3] This is the same thing we have been told for the last 11 years. This is not an environmentally friendly practice.

It is not clear how many sharps containers go into landfills each year. A typical hospital could use thousands of sharps containers each year. Many hospitals and health organizations across the country are now switching to recyclable sharps containers. They are making the switch to decrease their carbon footprint and in most cases recycling saves them money. Each reusable sharps container can be re-used up to 600 times – saving 600 plastic containers, for each recyclable container, from entering our landfills. Daniels Sharpsmarts, a company offering the reuse service, estimates the process eliminates 3.5 tons of plastic and 0.3 tons of cardboard per 100 beds. [4]

Something has to be done to stop these large plastic containers full of needles from filling up our landfills. According to the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, 13.5 million people in the United States are discarding 7.8 billion used needles outside the traditional healthcare setting. [5] As a global leader in healthcare, NovoNordisk is positioned to lead an environmentally sound initiative for the disposal of these medical supplies. They could partner with existing sharps recycling companies or take it on themselves.

Recycling sharps containers is the most environmentally friendly option. Yet most states, including the State of Maine do not seem to consider the disposal of sharps containers filled with needles and duct taped shut a hazard. The State of Maine distributed over 40,000 educational brochures last year recommending that individuals use the duct tape method, receive a free needle clipper and/or use a pre-paid mailer to mail back their used sharps. The pre-paid mailers can cost up to $30 per month, making it too costly for many individuals. Maine is in line with all the other states in what they recommend. Recycling is not encouraged. People are simply encouraged to put needles into a container or clip the needle to prevent injury.

According to Providence Health & Services nearly all pharmaceutical waste is disposed of in sharps containers and treated similarly to other forms of waste. Because of this, it ends up in landfills, rivers, streams, and oceans. This waste then finds its way into our water and our food. NovoNordisk could take the lead in keeping this waste out of our landfills.


My recommendation is that NovoNordisk include a prepaid recycling kit with the purchase of each pen and/or needle package. These recycling kits would include a small recyclable sharps container and a self-paid mailer to ship the containers to a recycling plant once full. This small step could make a major impact on our landfills worldwide. And this would further cement NovoNordisk’s position as a leader in taking care of our planet.

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Recycling in Maine – Do We Need to Do More?

rexfeatures_guestc_2448545cAs we walked around Denmark the first few days of our trip I was shocked that there were not any recycling containers anywhere. There were none in the hostel, on the streets or in other public places. I looked everywhere I went and then ended up just throwing my bottles and cans away.  I felt guilty doing this but did not know what else to do. In America I’ve been conditioned to recycle. I never even think of recycling as an option – it’s just part of my daily life.  And at first glance, I felt good thinking that at least in the area of recycling we were beating the Danes. But then I dug deeper and found that Maine is not beating the Danes in the area of recycling. In fact, we actually could step up our efforts with recycling and waste management.

LEADcopenhagenAfter we were in Denmark for a few days we asked the locals about the lack of recycling containers and  they told us that they do recycle all bottles and cans. They either return them to the store they purchased them from for money or they leave them outside on the street near trashcans, where others pick them up and return them for the deposit money. Go World Travel Magazine says that “collecting empties” is almost a sport in Copenhagen. [1]

Upon hearing this, our tour group began leaving our empties near the trash cans hoping the locals would pick them up and return them. But even knowing that someone would most likely pick them up and return them  – it felt a bit like littering. At home I would never leave my trash on the street hoping for someone else to pick it up.

So I began to wonder about recycling in Denmark. When we were at the incinerator – we asked them about recycling and even toured the recycling facility. They said they have been educating Danes about recycling and sorting their trash at home for some time now. They confessed that this is still in process and that they are not there yet. Yet Danes have a strong heritage going for them – Danes think that wasting is wrong, almost unethical – whether it is waste of time, resources or things that are still usable. So teaching them to sort their trash is not a tough sell.


The Frederiksberg Forsyning Incinerator

In Denmark, they generate just under 13 million tons of waste every year.  They are the world leader in waste management, with an estimated 89% of packaging recycled – that’s approximately three million items a day. In the waste hierarchy in Denmark, recycling ranks highest, second is incineration with energy recovery, and last, landfills.[2] Just 5% of their waste goes into landfills, compared with 54% in the United States. The principle of source separation is a key element of the Danish model.

In addition, the deposit and return system in Denmark prevents 390,000 tons of waste every year, that is equal to 20 per cent of the total amount of domestic waste from households.

Generation of waste in Danish households has been increasing at similar rates as the increase in private consumption. The volume of household waste increased by 18% between 2000 and 2008, and amounted to approximately 23% of the total waste generated. During the same period, waste management improved and the recycling rate of household waste was 41%.

imagesIf we compare Maine and Denmark, how is Maine doing? According to the Solid Waste Generation & Disposal Capacity Report,  the Maine household recycling rate is 38.7%.[3] We are just slightly behind Denmark with recycling. Yet when it comes to what we landfill we have a long way to go. Maine land filled one-quarter (25.4%) of its waste in 2009. The Danes landfill just 5%

To step up our recycling and waste management efforts in Maine, we would need more aggressive education, additional financial resources and easier methods for recycling.  The benefits of taking on a more aggressive approach would be to increase the amount we recycle and to help residents to throw away less trash. Teaching Mainer’s how to consume less could reduce our total waste management needs. This would result in more recycling and less waste ending up in landfills. Maine already does a great job of recycling and yet we could do better. I would like to see Maine set more aggressive goals for both recycling and managing trash.

The disadvantages of taking on a more aggressive recycling and waste management campaign are many. We would have to increase educational efforts. Maine has reached the people who are easy to influence and convert. Those who are not recycling currently will be harder to reach. It takes more money and more energy to reach the late adopters – and some you will never reach. A more aggressive campaign would also require financial resources. Maine does not have excess funds at this point and grants may be hard to come by. Lastly, people may not want to get behind this initiative because they believe, as I did, that we are doing a great job recycling and managing waste.

I believe the pros outweigh the cons. To be more aggressive with our recycling and waste management efforts will impact our state now and in future generations. The Danes are not that far ahead of us with recycling – we can catch them. It’s time to step up and finish strong.

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Science On a Sphere Needs a Call to Action

images (41)The Climate Center in Hojbygaard, Denmark is home to one of 92 Science On a Sphere® (SOS) displays worldwide. Science On a Sphere® (SOS) is a room sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. [1] The goal of these spheres is to increase the public’s understanding of the environment. Science On a Sphere® (SOS) is currently educating over 24.2 million visitors each year.

Our MBA study group was privileged to be able to experience the sphere on our Denmark Energy Tour in May of 2013. Upon arrival at the Climate Center in Denmark we proceeded to enter a dark room where images of climate change were projected onto a large sphere.  This dynamic presentation visually depicted the changes that are happening to our world. It was fascinating and scary at the same time.

During the presentation I was once again feeling motivated to do something. I cannot hear this information about climate change and not feel led to act. Yet the presenter didn’t display any sense of urgency. He said that we must not panic, that global warming is what it is and he left it at that. My perception was that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. He could have had an off day or just been tired the day our group attended. Yet I felt the presentation needed a call to action. If I were hearing any of this information for the first time I would have felt strong emotions. I remember feeling strong emotions the first time I heard the facts about global warming. And since that time I’ve had a whole myriad of emotions – panic at times and a deep sadness at others.

Our presenter had our full attention – we were in a dark room, listening to startling statistics. His presentation would have been the perfect time to issue us a challenge to act, to do something to help slow the consequences of our actions down. If we learn and do not act, what good is it? I believe we must educate in order to change behavior. And we have a long way to go with educating and changing individuals behavior around climate change.

According to an article in The International Herald Tribune, “climate scientists agreed that humans cause global warming in 97.1 percent of the published papers that discuss the issue.” But “a recent survey by Pew Research found that only 69 percent of Americans believe the earth is warming, and only 42 percent believe human activity is largely the reason.” [2]In addition, only about half of Americans (51%) say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 7 percentage-point decline in worry since Fall 2013.[3] But even though scientists agree and people are becoming more aware of the issues, worldwide people are not doing enough to slow down the effects of global warming.  We need to do more. The SOS project is a great education tool. Yet could it also call people to action. It could challenge people to change their behavior in more specific ways.

I was not able to find any research about the impact SOS had in changing behavior. There were many studies about what people thought about the presentation. The studies published were all focused solely on what people thought about the technology and the sphere itself.

Call-to-action-with-wordsI challenge NOAA to take the Science On a Sphere® (SOS) one step further by adding a call to action. A call to action on the sphere could include a list of simple things viewers could do right away to begin making changes in their consumption of energy and their carbon footprint. Adding a call to action to their current audience of 24.2 million viewers a year could have an even greater impact than they have had to date.

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