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The Sustainable City of the Future: Copenhagen, Denmark

City populations are growing. Really growing. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas (up from 50% now). With the climate crisis worsening, how can we support this urban trend in a sustainable way? One city has some strategies that could be a model for our future.

”We want to become the first carbon neutral capital city by 2025”

Frank Jensen , Lord Mayor of Copenhagen

Copenhagen is on a mission to be carbon neutral by 2025. In other words, they are shooting to cancel out all of their carbon emissions and at a very aggressive pace. Frank Jensen, Lord Mayer of the City, is leading the charge and has a vision to generate more renewable energy than the city uses, achieving a “net zero.” Here are a few areas the city is tackling to make the plan a reality.

Mobility

Biking is part of the Copenhagen DNA and is a major factor in realizing urban sustainability. The city is really leaning into that and has spent $300 million in recent years to improve biking infrastructure. Because it’s so easy to get around, there are 5 times more bikes than cars in the city, which has a big impact on emissions.

urban sustainability
In Copenhagen, biking is just a normal part of life. It's a major driver of urban sustainability.

Pollution

The sustainable urban development efforts don’t stop there--Copenhagen has totally transformed its waterways too. A few decades ago the harbors were filled with industrial waste and dead fish. Now people actually swim in the city water and use the waterways to get around.

urban sustainability
Would you swim in your city's waterway?

"When I moved to Copenhagen back in 1987, this harbor was so polluted. You wouldn’t dream to have a swim in it. But today we have a harbor bath where people can swim after school and after their jobs.”

Frank Jensen

Energy

While mobility and pollution are important pieces of the urban sustainability puzzle, 80% of the plan is tied to energy. The city uses one of the largest district heating systems in the world, which harnesses a network of pipes to capture leftover heat from electricity production and delivers that heat to homes across the city. 99% of homes in Copenhagen run on this system.

What’s the True Secret to This Smart City’s Urban Sustainability?

Although Copenhagen is leading the way on technical solutions to sustainability, experts and policy makers agree that the secret sauce is actually the people. Living sustainably and caring for the environment are baked into the DNA of this culture.

"The residents here actually want to help build a sustainable city and are willing to work for it."

Frank Jensen

People want to bike to work, treat garbage responsibly and make a difference. The attitude is the same across the city and allows for constant collaboration, innovation, and real progress. And that progress is very real. This sustainable city is well on its way to hitting it’s 2025 goal and stands as a model for the rest of us as we continue our uphill battle with climate change.

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