Denmark's 30-Year Drive To Energy Efficiency: A Profile In Culture Change

The TreeHugger lens is often toward single choices of material, design, and technology. How imporant is the broader issue of cultural and national tradition to incorporating "green" versions? Back in April, the Wall Street Journal pointed out one nation has been working for decades to get it's energy chops: Denmark. We've noticed that the Danes have their own approach to green fashion as well.

"Through a wide variety of government-driven initiatives, this small northern European country has overcome one thorny challenge of global warming: how to dramatically reduce energy consumption while maintaining a solid growth rate and low unemployment. The downside is higher taxes and costs for businesses and consumers.

Today hundreds of thousands of Danish homes and other buildings are warmed by surplus heat from power plants. Government policies have spurred developers to build homes with thick insulation, and consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances. Utilities that can't meet government energy-savings guidelines can buy credits from companies that have invested in efficiencies."Visitors to Denmark quickly note a very different tradition with risk management laws affecting young people. Drinking alcoholic beverages OK at age 16; but...and these two are related in an interesting way...no drivers license until 21. A night on the town involves walking, a bicycle, or public transit. No mom and dad pickups at the club either: independence of mobility comes early, framed around small carbon footprint choices.

WSJ also reports that "the country's energy sector is in the hands of nonprofit cooperatives, with residents as shareholders, which makes it easier for government to direct policy with little opposition from business interests." Gives us an idea of the level of cultural and political upheaval that might be needed in the US before it can match Denmark's energy productivity.

Denmark has held its energy consumption flat while doubling GDP, while at the same time US energy consumption increased 40%, underpinning a quadrupling of GDP. Exemplary outcomes: "The average Dane uses 6,600 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, compared with 13,300 for the average American;" over half the homes rely on district heating, the kind that big cities like New York USA and Kalundborg Denmark (pictured) installed many years ago , accounting for almost half the energy savings reported. Something that the WSJ missed in preparing their article was the extension of district heating to industrial ecology, also a Danish innovation.

District heating on that scale means most of the population has learned to live up close and personal with their power generating plants. When you do that, you learn to care about the emissions in a far more personal way than North Americans are forced to do.

Via:: Wall Street Journal (subscription only). Image credit:: Jacob Albertson, Kalundborg

Tags: Denmark

Best of TreeHugger