KALUNDBORG, DENKARK --
Something is green in the state of Denmark.
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
"Planning for the environment has always been popular in Denmark," said
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
(about 30 miles) from the sea. The environment has always played a role for
Well-maintained bicycle paths -- complete with road signs and traffic
lights -- connect towns and cities. Recycling centers are ubiquitous in a
country that recycles half its waste. Denmark generates 13 percent of its
electricity from wind and plans to raise that figure to nearly 50 percent by
Authorities in central Copenhagen have deployed 2,000 free bicycles in
public squares and train stations that can be borrowed for free, while a
national tax on automobile purchases more than triples the cost of buying a
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 producing fertilizer and a
methane fuel that burns cleanly at power plants.
While the government encourages energy efficiency and pollution reduction,
many other initiatives were thought up in local communities.
Kalundborg, a sleepy industrial town of 15,000, receives a steady stream of
foreigners -- from German factory managers and Chinese city planners to
Japanese journalists and U.S. academics -- all on a pilgrimage to see "green"
industry in action.
For nearly two decades, Kalundborg's key industrial firms have been working
together to turn waste products from one firm into raw resources for another.
In the process, the companies have saved money while reducing pollution,
inspiring researchers worldwide to rethink how industries use and exchange
"We're all making money from this," said Per Holmgard, manager of
Kalundborg's huge coal-fired power station, which is at the center of the
town's industrial ecosystem. "We have a bit of difficulty understanding why
the rest of the world isn't doing it."
Twenty years ago, Kalundborg's industry managers realized they were facing
a potential water shortage, so they got together to see how they might do a
better job of sharing resources. What they came up with not only solved the
water shortage, it inspired a potential revolution in the way industrial
systems are planned and operated.
Today in Kalundborg, waste heat from the local power plant warms fish farms
and most of the area's homes and businesses, while excess steam is piped to an
oil refinery and a biotech company.
Air scrubbers on the power plant's smokestack turn sulfur dioxide into
gypsum. The gypsum is sold to a factory that dries it in kilns, fired by flare
gas piped over from the refinery, and turns it into wallboard.
The power station uses the refinery's wastewater to keep the scrubbers
working. Sludge from the county wastewater treatment plant is sold to a local
soil cleanup company, which uses it to grow the pollution-eating bacteria that
clean contaminated soil brought there from across Denmark. Fly ash from the
power station is sold to cement plants or firms that extract valuable metals
from the wastes.
In the process, the various firms all have saved money while reducing
pollution and slashing consumption of water, energy and other resources. By
investing approximately $75 million to date in this "industrial symbiosis,"
the firms estimate they are saving about $15 million collectively a year in
'IT'S A MATTER OF ATTITUDE'
"We realized we could all make better business if we could trade our wastes,
" said Thomas Nagy, director of Novoenzymes, a biotech firm. "It's a matter of
attitude and mind-set to be willing to trust your partners and open your doors
to one another."
Kalundborg has since inspired researchers in "industrial ecology," a field
that looks for ways to pattern industrial systems after natural ecosystems, in
which one organism's waste is another's food.
Inspired by the Danish example, experimental "green industry" parks have
cropped up in Baltimore; Brownsville, Texas; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Cape
Charles, Va. And outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada's largest
industrial park, the Burnside Industrial Park, has used Kalundborg-like
thinking to foster new businesses that collect and recycle waste products.
Denmark also leads the world in wind power, which was the world's fastest
growing source of electricity in the 1990s. Danish companies supplied more
than half the turbines now in use worldwide, making it one of the country's
largest exports. Many of the wind turbines installed in California during the
early 1980s came from Denmark, but the California industry faltered when state
and federal tax cuts expired.
Denmark kept at it, however. Wind turbines now dot the Danish countryside
like gigantic pinwheels. Many are owned by cooperatives of local residents who
took advantage of tax incentives that encouraged investments in renewable
Because wind power doesn't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it
has helped Denmark meet its Kyoto treaty commitments to slash greenhouse gas
emissions by 21 percent from 1990 levels by 2010.
COMPETE WITHOUT SUBSIDIES
"We've been able to show the world that wind energy can let you de-
carbonize your economy without hurting economic growth," said economist
Christian Kjaer of the Danish Wind Industry Association in Copenhagen. "In
certain (foreign) markets, we're already able to compete with existing power
sources without any subsidies."
Danish energy planners also are slowly replacing the country's large
centralized power stations with a network of small local power generators.
This is expected to reduce losses from long-distance transmission and allow
rural communities to heat their homes with the residual heat from their local
"We believe smaller-scale power systems will be more flexible and efficient,
" said Knud Pedersen, deputy director of the Danish Energy Agency in
Copenhagen. "It's good for the environment and gives us a more robust economy,
so why not do it?"
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle