Sustainability inspiration from Copenhagen

Sophie Harbert

Sophie Harbert

As the world’s most sustainable city, we’re looking to Copenhagen for forward-thinking green inspiration. With an impressive target to be the first CO2-neutral capital by 2025, Copenhagen has committed to sustainably reducing its two-million-tonne carbon footprint, while enabling growth. In the last two decades, the city’s carbon transformation has occurred alongside a 25% growth in the economy.

Clean Energy

Eighty per cent of Copenhagen’s carbon neutral plan is based around providing clean energy. The city has one of the world’s largest district heating networks, serving 98% of buildings through a network of heated pipes, meaning hot water is supplied directly from one (very) large efficient boiler. As well as addressing fuel poverty, this innovative scheme captures and redistributes excess heat, reducing emissions. Much of the heat is generated by sustainable biomass and renewable energy, and the system has been adapted to also provide city-wide cooling via the circulation of sea water.

CopenHill is a pioneering energy generation hub, providing electricity for 60,000 homes and heat for 160,000, by burning the city’s waste. As well as being one of the safest and most eco-friendly waste incineration plants, it doubles as an urban recreation centre and is a valued public space. CopenHill’s roof provides a 490m artificial ski slope, outdoor gym and tree-lined hiking trails, and the side of the building is home to the world’s tallest climbing wall.

CopenHill image by Ann Priestly


The Danish capital has partnered with Google Street View electric cars in an initiative to improve air quality. Instead of relying on static sensors they can monitor pollution at different times and locations around the city creating a pollution map, meaning more highly contaminated areas are targeted by public health initiatives. In the 1960s the water surrounding the city was heavily polluted from oil spills, industrial waste, and algae. Government-led clean-up operations over time mean Copenhagen now has some of the world’s purest tap water and residents swim in the harbour year-round.

As part of the city’s waste management scheme, bins have been fitted with Nordsense sensors which put out an alert when they are full. This prevents overflowing waste onto the streets while reducing fuel consumption, as drivers can pick efficient collection routes. Reverse vending machines also offer cash rewards to individuals recycling empty bottles and cans.

Food and farming

Too Good To Go is a Copenhagen-based startup addressing the issue of food waste. It is now operating in 17 countries by allowing individuals to pick up food from restaurants at the end of the day for a reduced price, helping to reduce waste while benefiting customers, businesses, and the environment.

Two-thirds of Copenhagen’s hotels are eco-certified following high standards for sustainable energy, food and design, and a high proportion of their restaurants serve organic food. As part of its plan for 2025, Copenhagen has legislation requiring all flat roofs to become ‘green roofs’ planted with vegetation. This has led to increased biodiversity and the creation of community-led urban farms, reducing ‘food miles’ to ‘food metres’ and allowing for farm-to-table dining in the urban environment. At the harbour, regenerative seaweed is even being grown to bind CO2 and create underwater habitats.


Copenhagen is one of the most cycle-friendly cities with five times as many bicycles as cars. Due to the design of the city and a £49 million investment into its infrastructure, it is easy and safe for residents to get around by bike, making it their preferred mode of transport. By 2025 all buses are to be electric and it is expected that 75% of journeys within the city will be by bike, public transport or on foot — a change largely driven by the actions of individuals, alongside government investment and higher taxes on cars.

Social indicators

Not only environmental measures contribute to Copenhagen’s sustainability. In terms of social indicators, Danes consistently rank at the top of the UN’s happiness index and WHO Healthy Cities initiative. The cosiness concept of hygge involves slowing down and appreciating the simple pleasures in life, which combined with an appreciation of the outdoors, healthy food, exercise, and community involvement, may be the secret of a happy life.

Have some hygge!

Copenhagen is proving time and time again how thoughtful design makes for a better quality of life. Through architecture and city planning initiatives, the Danes are pioneering sustainable development in nearly every industry. In textiles for example, there are efficient recycling schemes, and brands wanting to exhibit at Copenhagen Fashion Week 2023 have to meet 18 minimum entry requirements. These include incorporating at least 50% of materials from recycled origins in their clothing lines and a proven commitment to due diligence across their supply chains.

We hope to see Copenhagen achieve its 2025 carbon neutral target. It’s inspirational to see how investing in sustainability can simultaneously drive profitable ‘green growth’, enhance quality of life, and address climate change.  

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