Sense and sustainability in Copenhagen

Sense and sustainability in Copenhagen

Simon George heads to Copenhagen, and finds that the city’s new Tourism for Good strategy is a winning one.


Sustainability is a balancing act – we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the future, as the United Nations opined in the World Commission’s Report on Environment and Development back in 1987. Fast forward 30 years and the aspiration is even more pertinent given the demographic and environmental challenges facing society today.

The UN has set 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) encompassing health, education, human rights, energy, clean water, conservation and the environment that it aims to achieve by 2030. Copenhagen is already well on its way to meeting many of them.

Denmark’s capital is widely regarded as one of the happiest cities in the world. As well as the concept of ‘hygge’ (cosiness and good company promote happiness), key to this perception surely is the emphasis the authorities place on healthy living.

Most adults in Copenhagen cycle (the first bike lane was opened in 1893); the harbour is a popular (and now safe) place in which to swim and in October 2020 Copenhagen hosts the IWA World Water Congress, which will address the topic ‘water for smart liveable cities’. There was also a new eco-friendly power plant to convert household waste into clean energy opened last year at Copenhill (its roof doubles as an artificial ski slope) on the outskirts of the city. And Copenhagen, which was European Green Capital in 2014, aims to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Wherever you go in Copenhagen, you’ll encounter a veritable smorgasbord of initiatives aimed at cleaner living and sustainable development.


New strategy

Copenhagen is not resting on its laurels, especially where Goal Number 11 of the UN’s SDGs is concerned, namely sustainable cities. The city has rolled out a new sustainable tourism strategy. Mikkel Sander, a project manager at Wonderful Copenhagen, the city’s convention bureau, explained that ‘Tourism for Good’ helps “set a clear ambitious course for tourism in Greater Copenhagen”. Tourism, he noted, “must positively impact local and global sustainability towards 2030… and must be part of the solution, not the problem.”

The CVB, which is publicly and privately funded, markets the city as “the capital of sustainable meetings and congresses” and city KPIs suggest it is no idle claim.

For example, 89% of the city’s congress and meeting centres have a third party eco certification or sustainability policy; 75% of local professional organisers either have this certification or a sustainability policy; hotels like the 4-star Crowne Plaza, part of BC Hospitality Group, have Green Key environmental certification and try to be as energy efficient as possible (solar panels account for 10-12% of total electricity consumption); all hotels and conference centres are easily reached on public transport; and more than 1,300 restaurants in Greater Copenhagen have organic food certification.

In terms of infrastructure therefore, the city is well equipped to cater for the needs of both the tourist and the MICE industry in a sustainable manner.

As Sander joked: “In many ways if you come to Copenhagen as a tourist, you will get a sustainable stay, whether you like it or not.”

Sander has acknowledged, there are still sustainability issues relating to tourism (i.e. overcrowding in parts of the city, carbon emissions) that need to be addressed.

To highlight how tourism in Copenhagen has grown in 12 years and the associated challenges that such growth brings – 2006 saw 4.7m bed nights in the city; today that figure has risen to 8.8m, and in 12 years’ time, the convention bureau estimates the figure will almost double to 16m bed nights.


Threat of overtourism

The problem of overtourism, not a concern for Copenhagen (at least yet), but readily apparent in Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam, was one of the key issues discussed in October 2018 at Tomorrow’s Urban Travel (TUT) conference, staged for the third consecutive year in Copenhagen.

On a macro level, the conference looked at the future of tourism, focusing, in particular, on some of the key challenges facing the industry as a result of rapid growth – for example, the burden on infrastructure, logistical and management issues, higher demand on energy, and not least, the increased costs borne by the destination – and how embracing ‘localhood’ not only makes sound commercial sense, but can help address local issues such as food waste and recycling.

As one of the keynote speakers Megan Epler Wood, a specialist in sustainable tourism at Harvard University, said: “You want to have double the number of people coming to Copenhagen? That’s great… but you’re going to be adding a cost to your budget for every tourist. The more people that come, the more it will cost you to manage it properly.”

With increased tourist arrivals, destinations such as Venice and Cancun are actually losing money, Epler Wood said, noting the increased transport and accommodation cost burden on municipal budgets.


Check in to localhood

In his presentation to the TUT conference, Olivier Cardon, CEO of AccorLocal, emphasised the importance the French hotel group places on tapping into local communities – to avoid becoming a commodity (i.e., just selling rooms, which the online travel agents are trying to force hotels into, according to Cardon), but rather to differentiate the offering and give guests a unique experience. He said it was important to bring a local feel and local experience to guests in your hotels, so that, for a few days, visitors are part of the local fabric.”

Another AccorLocal initiative is to encourage local residents in Copenhagen to use the hotel’s facilities during the day (i.e., rent a room for a meeting) even though they are not actually staying at the hotel.


The Danish way

Jeppe Boel, Senior Marketing Manager at Carlsberg said his company’s new range will have packaging that uses environmentally-friendly paint, recycled paper and, significantly, glue (not plastic) to hold together its six-packs. When the packaging system is fully integrated, it is estimated that it will save 1,200 tons of plastic.

Probably, a big step forward.

Simon George travelled to Copenhagen courtesy of SAS, Crowne Plaza and Copenhagen Convention Bureau.

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