Green Living Isn’t a Tourist Attraction

When we arrived in Copenhagen, I was looking forward to touring the city and seeing all the green features that are in place. After all, Copenhagen was chosen as the 2014 European Green Capital and is very proud of its goal to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025. However, as I searched for a “green” city walk or a sustainability tour to take on one of our free days, I was disappointed to find no organized groups dedicated to this kind of activity. At first, I was upset; how was I supposed to know where all the hotspots of sustainability were in the city so I could visit them? As I thought further though, I realized that truly going green doesn’t  produce a series of tourist attractions! It’s a way of life, and as such, it requires more subtle observations than a guided tour.

I would argue that in the movement toward green living, there are two major categories of changes – infrastructure and behavior. Infrastructure covers the large-scale, foundational elements like renewable energy systems and recycling plants. Behavior covers the individual actions of people that are spurred on by the advances on infrastructure.

What I saw in Copenhagen is that green living is so integrated with daily life that it’s the norm. The infrastructure is in place to enable its people to live sustainably with ease. The first thing I saw when we sailed into port was a massive offshore wind farm in full swing. Many people don’t like the aesthetics of wind turbines, but I think they are beautiful because they are more than just giant white pinwheels. They represent an effort to work with our environment instead of against it and thereby advance toward a cleaner world. With these in place, Copenhageners can take advantage of the wind to power their lives (more than 40% at this point, according to the official website of Denmark).

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Small portion of the offshore wind farms in view of Copenhagen.

We then sailed past a recycling plant under construction that will also function as an urban ski slope, according to our tour guide. Not only does this showcase the green factor of Copenhagen, but it also highlights their dedication to functionality – why not use the roof for something fun? Speaking of roofs, Copenhagen was the first to implement a mandatory green roof policy, so all new buildings with flat roofs must have a vegetated roof, which helps capture rainwater and reduce urban temperatures.   Later, as we cruised around on our own, we saw Copenhageners jumping into the harbor to swim because the water is so clean that people aren’t affected by pollution from the boats. I could never imagine swimming in the Port of Los Angeles! How amazing is it that the people of Copenhagen are able to enjoy the ocean outside their back door without worrying about pollution? And, of course, we witnessed the extensive bike culture everywhere we went – 55% of Copenhageners commute to work by bike!

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Copenhageners swimming in the harbor (photo courtesy of Google since I forgot to capture this phenomenon).

All this to say that I realizedmy expectation of taking a tour of the “green” sights of Copenhagen turned out to be unrealistic because sustainability is not a series of destinations but a way of life for them. And that’s when going green really becomes effective in improving our lives!

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