Tiny Denmark looms large in conservation
You wouldn't think that Per Holmgard would get many foreign visitors. He's the manager of a large coal-fired power station in a small Danish industrial town set in the Zealand countryside more than an hour's drive from the nearest international airport. The town's only other attractions are an oil refinery and a scattering of industrial parks set along the cool, windswept shores of the Kalundborg fjord.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Holmgard receives a steady stream of foreign guests - from German factory managers and Chinese city planners to Japanese journalists and US academics - all on a pilgrimage to see "green" industry in action.
That's because, for nearly two decades, Kalundborg's key industrial firms have been working together to turn a given firm's waste products into raw resources for another, much like various plants and animals do in nature. In the process, the firms have saved money while reducing pollution, and inspired researchers worldwide to rethink how industries use and exchange resources.
"We're all making money from this," says Mr. Holmgard, who's surprised by all the outside attention. "We have a bit of difficulty understanding why the rest of the world isn't doing it."
Indeed, while much of the rest of the world has been talking about reducing the stresses on the planet's environment, Denmark has actually been doing it. Committed to building a more sustainable, environmentally friendly society, Denmark is emerging as a world leader in everything from "green" industry to renewable energy.
Well-maintained bicycle paths, complete with road signs and traffic lights, connect towns and cities, often running parallel to rural highways. Recycling centers are ubiquitous, helping Denmark boast that half of its waste is recycled. The country generates 13 percent of its electricity from wind and plans to raise that figure to nearly 50 percent by 2030.
Authorities in central Copenhagen have deployed 2000 bicycles in public squares and train stations that can be borrowed for free, while a nationwide tax on automobile purchases more than triples the cost of buying a car. Ninety miles to the southwest, on the windy island of Aero, hundreds of homes get their heat and power from Europe's largest solar power station. Across the country, farm manure and kitchen garbage are delivered to biogas plants that produce uniform fertilizer and a methane fuel burned cleanly at power plants.
"Planning for the environment has always been popular in Denmark," says Christian Matthiessen, a geographer at the University of Copenhagen, who points out that in public opinion polls most Danes say environmental protection is more important than economic growth. "We're an agricultural nation where nobody lives more than 50 kilometers from the sea. The environment has always played a role for everybody."
Water shortage as catalyst
While the government encourages energy efficiency and pollution reduction, many other "green" initiatives were thought up in local communities. Such is the case with Kalundborg.
Twenty years ago, when industry managers in this sleepy industrial town of 15,000 realized they were facing a potential water shortage, they got together to see how they might better share resources. What they came up with not only solved the water shortage, it inspired an entirely new field of scholarly research that promises to revolutionize the way industrial systems are planned and operated.