Representatives from the City of Copenhagen hosted us for an inspiring half-day workshop to explore solutions for building and city-wide sustainability. Copenhagen is a leader in creating a sustainable, livable city where citizens can feel engaged in municipal decisions. The city is well on its way to becoming a carbon neutral city by its intended 2025 goal. It has successfully implemented a dense cycling network to reduce congestion and worked closely with the port to clean the harbor water to such a degree that you can now swim there. The City of Copenhagen also engaged with the private sector for workable solutions by creating a transparent partnership selection process. Denmark is also known for its work-life balance, where employees are encouraged to take vacation days and flexible work hours to stay healthy and stress-free. Maternity and paternity leave are deemed very important and have helped in reducing female turnover, especially for women in top positions.
During the workshop, we also met with representatives from LeapCraft, a small and innovative startup who have developed a unique data driven air quality monitoring product used in Copenhagen’s city air monitoring projects and are considering US expansion. We discussed some potential applications for the product within the US market. Some of our suggestions included using the monitors for clean rooms, for improving fire-alarm monitoring and for home patient or child care. The final presentation at the workshop came from Henning Larsen Architecture firm, who presented their work on creating climate-resilient city blocks, which reduce flooding risks and improve quality of life within Copenhagen’s city center.
At the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) we were presented with an exciting opportunity to explore the intersection of technology and sustainability. CBS facilitated a workshop led by Kristjan Jespersen, one of their graduating PhD students. Mr. Jespersen lectured our class and made a case for the inherent nature of sustainability in our everyday lives and the idea that combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and sustainable concepts could create Smart Cities. He went on to explain that one of the main barriers to the advancement was interconnectivity of data in the private and public domains. A solution proposed was to decentralize data storage by utilizing Blockchain and distributive ledger technology. This was a welcome topic as our cohort was excited to explore the Blockchain environment more thoroughly after our trip to the E-Government center of Estonia the previous week. Deanna Adell, Co-Founder of Un-Bloc, explained that by creating validated, anonymous data sets, all stakeholders could share data and integrate it into any Application Program Interface (API).
After some further discussion, we were asked to take the structure and apply it to a community being built in Copenhagen centered on an exchange economy utilizing virtual currency. We split up into 4 groups intermixed with CBS masters level students and our cohort. As we brainstormed we identified the main challenge was how to create a net zero or net positive energy community while keeping the Utility companies involved. One strategy centered around repositioning the Utility companies as the miners and validators of the virtual currency and marketplace validators. This would allow the economy to set its own price (in virtual coin) for what the generation of electricity or reuse/reclamation of water was worth and so on. A practical example would be a tenant exchanging coins from energy produced by solar panels for vegetables grown by someone else utilizing vertical farming techniques in the building. This community could then act as a proof of concept and link together with other Smart Communities to share data and create the core for a larger Smart City.
After each group presented our findings, we talked more about what Copenhagen was doing to link its systems to a Smart City grid and studied the Living Lab initiative where they were monitoring air quality and noise. Finally, we had a brief reception where we talked further about sustainability and its role in Denmark, Europe and the world. For all involved, it was an amazing day of collaboration, idea generation and cultural exchange.
When first arriving at the Dong Headquarters, walking through the modern 21st century design of the all glass building was an adventure in itself. The morning was spent listening to the presenters discuss why Dong Energy is a leader in offshore wind, bioenergy, and energy solutions and what some of their current projects were. Although Dong Energy operates primarily in Northwestern Europe, the presenters discussed the company’s expansion into Asia as well as the United States where the company will continue to invest in offshore wind farms in order to provide more areas with green energy. The company stresses the importance of sustainability in all aspects of its company which was shown to us by a brief look into their sustainability goals and sustainability report as well as how some of that reporting is done and measured.
While visiting Rockwool, a leader in stone wool insulation designed to focus on energy efficiency, sound absorption, fire resilience, and durability, the Head of Stakeholder Engagement demonstrated the effectiveness of the stone wool. This was fist done by showing our group a small, noisy room that was unable to be heard due to the high-quality insulation, and another example was a fire being lit under a block of stone wool with no negative reaction occurring once the fire hit the block. After the demonstrations, our group had the opportunity to speak with the Rockwool presenters about their sustainability efforts, including a preview of Rockwool’s 2016 sustainability report that was being released the morning of our visit. We then were able to discuss the company’s contribution toward achieving 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which sparked a good conversation with the group about Rockwool working toward achieving all 17 goals since some of their efforts within the other 10 overlap with other SDGs that they are not discussing within the sustainably report.
In between our business meetings, we spent a day visiting two of Copenhagen’s cultural highlights; the Little Mermaid statue and Christianborg palace. Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. We spent a cloudy morning wandering around the statue, which was buzzing with tourists and visited by a resident heron. While she previously looked out to the sea, Copenhagen’s development means the Little Mermaid now watches over Dong Energy’s offshore windmills.
In the afternoon, donning comical plastic shoe covers, we toured the grandeur of Christiansborg palace, the home of the Danish Royal Family. The rooms were furnished with elegant wooden furniture, elaborate flocked wallpaper and vivid marble insets. Our guide regaled us with snippets of knowledge, such as the fact that the immense chandeliers in the dining hall were purchased very cheaply second hand from another European monarch, who later wanted to have them back upon visiting Christiansborg on a state visit! One of Denmark’s large industrial families gifted the Queen with a set of large-scale tapestries which depict various scenes, including modern historical events. The works were fascinating, with their neon colors, modern style and intricate details. When the tapestries room was renovated with a painted trompe-l’oeil marble effect, the painter incorporated the queen’s profile into the marble pattern!
As we landed in the city of Copenhagen, it was clear that the city has integrated a green economy and a sustainable lifestyle in a way that is not commonly seen in the United States. Wind turbines lined the horizon and bicycles filled the streets. In Copenhagen, an estimated 50% of the city’s 570,000 people use bikes to get from one point to the other. Biking is not only the preferred mode of transportation but also an easy, environmentally-friendly and safe way to get around. Biker safety is prioritized with things like bike-only stop lights that alert cyclists when to stop or go and bike lanes, many of which are roughly the same size as traditional car lanes and are curbed to separate the bikers from cars. On our last full day in the city, we were fortunate to be able to experience the city by bike. On our tour, we rode single file along the water, on the cobbled streets and through the bustling streets among other tourists and native commuters. Ultimately, we were able to experience how the city’s infrastructure and culture has allowed pedestrians, drivers and cyclists to co-exist in harmony.
One of the first experiences in Tallinn, Estonia that showed us the country’s progress towards sustainable development was our visit to e-Estonia, where we learned about the success and advancement of their e-government initiative. Our group was escorted into a showroom where policy makers, political leaders and corporate executives from all over the world gather to discuss topics such as cyber security and be inspired to implement a digital society by recognizing the successful example of e-Estonia. In this room, we had the opportunity to get a brief look at what it is like to live as an Estonian citizen. We learned that the initiative started before the turn of the century with the education of citizens of all ages on basic computer skills, as well as online safety. Next, the Estonian government started gradually introducing new programs (e.g. chipped ID cards) and linking these programs with government services such as iVoting. By making e-services convenient, transparent and easily integrated into everyday life, the concept was popularized and widely accepted.
During our visit with a representative from Estonia’s Sustainable Development Commission, we discussed Estonia’s approach to implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the challenges of involving the private sector. Some of the challenges were encouraging the private sector to report on progress, as well as some conflicting interests – such as Estonia’s reliance on carbon-intensive shale gas for energy needs. Gender pay gap and productivity were other areas that the Commission hoped to tackle through the implementation of the SDGs. Based on our visit with digital Estonia, we saw a potential opportunity to use Estonia’s advanced digital infrastructure to improve private sector SDG reporting and progress.
The first few days of our trip were spent in Estonia, a small country that gained its independence roughly 25 years ago. Although Estonia is a leader in technology, the Old Town of Tallinn takes visitors back in time to the 13th century. When first arriving in the Old Town of Tallinn, its medieval charm and winding cobblestone streets stood out to our group right away. The old cobblestone streets were lined with medieval homes, ancient churches, restaurants, guard towers, shops, museums, galleries, warehouses, and pastel-colored merchant houses. Some of these buildings were modern but some dated all the way back to the Middle Ages. Some of our adventures in Tallinn included walking around the town center, climbing numerous towers, observing the incredible architecture of Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral, eating Estonian cuisine (which is largely based off meat, potatoes, soup, and fish), and standing on top of Toompea Hill which is where the first fortress was built that overlooks the entire Old Town. Old Town is enclosed by a stone wall and many towers, separating it from the more modern part of the city right outside the walls. During our exploration, outside of the city walls to Kadriog Park near the water, our group soon noticed the drastic change in architecture from old to new. Although we enjoyed exploring more of the city outside of the walls, our group spent the last day in Tallinn exploring the sights in Old Town and enjoying a medieval dinner where music was playing and our waiters dressed the part.
One main focus for Cisco is “educating future problem solvers,” according to Carsten Johnson, who lead our interactive discussion at Cisco Germany. Throughout this session, Carsten discussed the five areas of focus with regards to sustainability and Cisco. These five areas included governance and ethics, supply chain, people, society, and the environment. Carsten mentioned some of the programs Cisco is currently implementing in each of these five areas, including the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad). This initiative has provided over 5.5 million students with classes ranging from coding to entrepreneurship. In addition, this academy focuses on helping provide education for underserved areas across the globe. Our time at Cisco helped all of us understand how this company is making a difference and adding to the positive change we all want to see in the world.