The day with Birgitte Hoffman touring Copenhagen and visiting Christiana was a lovely sunny Spring day and warm for Copenhagen. It was also a Sunday and people were out everywhere. Cafes overflowing. Bikes on every road. Bridges are built just for bikes there. It feels safe and clean and all very life-affirming. The Danes are very appreciative of their beautiful city and Birgitte made a great tour guide.
Birgitte had only arrived home the day before after four weeks in a remote village community of about fifty people up the West coast of Greenland where she was studying their sustainability and resilience. No power, no sewerage and only two hours a day of satellite coverage. (An opportunity to visit here there at the end of the year is tempting even knowing it would entail extremely severe freezing cold).
Birgitte’s work is about changing the world. She is an Associate professor researching in the field of Sustainable Urban Management at the University of Aarlborg. “I am very privileged to work with research and innovative strategies within the field of sustainable urban development. My work aims at supporting the complicated socio technical transitions towards more environmentally sound and liveable cities. This work gives me the opportunity to be both curious and creative and to meet a series of interesting people and challenges – both in Denmark and abroad.”
One of her projects involved creating structures and an environment – an amazing boardwalk – to bring people back into the premium part to the city that had be so completely depersonalised with the few tall buildings Copenhagen had allowed through. A development mistake acknowledged by many considering the vibrancy of the waterfront when allowed to be people-friendly.
Sitting outdoors at a café in Christiana sipping delicious chai tea made the authentic way, we discussed how the concept of “liveability” is replacing that of “sustainability” in Denmark today. Liveability is meant to be more about the social and about integrating environmental sustainability without actually having to speak about it.
I explained how I see social and environmental sustainability as being entwined and inseparable and demonstrated with fingers crossed: Enviro-Social Sustainability, and how – in the Sustainable Living Foundation (SLF) context – we talk in terms of the six themes of Sustainable Living: Think, Design, Create, Feel, Feast and Play as encompassing the many aspects of our lives.
The conversation went to the work of the SLF Festival in reaching an ‘awakening mainstream’ and at the same time stretching the discourse in the movement into self-reflection with provocative debates likes “Is Environmentalism Failing?” and “To Collapse or Not To Collapse”.
The Festival design also brings in the genuinely radical realm of the Climate Emergency and a more appropriate response i.e. Safe Climate Restoration, Breakthrough and Groundswell.
Birgitte talked about the ‘Circular Economy’ – ‘Cradle to Cradle’ – (Also Bio-Mimicry and The Natural Step ) being well established in the Danish municipalities and also how the term “Ecological Economics” is popular.
Circular Economy Customer access over ownership, (pay for performance e.g. Light as a Service or pay per scan), business model innovations (from transactions to relationships via service and solution models), reverse cycles (upstream-downstream integration and co-creation), innovations for material-, component-, and product reuse, products designed for disassembly and serviceability.
A Systems Approach to Sustainability The “science of sustainability” – “ecological economics … management of nature’s household (ecology) and humankind’s household (economics)” – “a global perspective on human resource use, economic development, and the environment”. “All ecological economic analysis must be grounded in solid biophysical and psychosocial foundations”
We discussed the sense that, in Denmark, so much has been integrated into the lives and workplaces of the Danish that they are feeling more relaxed about it all.
This has come up in other conversations. Is there a tendency to abdicate responsibility for the country’s sustainability to the government? Emphatic “Yes!”.
Whilst this might not be something we can see happening in Australia any time soon it is worth keeping in mind.
“The Simplicity Movement has died here,” Birgitte admitted ruefully. “It is not happening.”
Interestingly Voluntary Simplicity – resilience, self-sufficiency, living more simply, living with less – IS still alive and well in Australia and perhaps, through the Sharing, Gifting and Collaborative Economies, on the rise.
Birgitte also talked about the “Stress Bomb” that exists in Denmark. She said there is a growing awareness about this and about the potential for it to “explode” and to “blow up the economy”.
That’s something I think we in Australia do share. Interesting to see it in the stark terms as a threat to the economy though.
Of course Liveability is attractive and sells. Most people are interested in increasing their own comfort levels and for the generally more socially and environmentally aware Danes, liveability can perhaps consciously include sustainability. It should be able to but unfortunately the path to complacency seems inexorable and this is a new danger to be faced. Until the global threat of dangerous climate change is averted there is no room for complacency. Seeing these trends in Denmark clearly communicates to me that challenging the status quo, provoking debate and remaining vigilant is critical even when so much is being done so well.
Birgitte and Henrik have lived many years raising their children in a co-housing community – Bakken in northern Denmark – an established community which they said was a must to visit. They are both University Professors and their work is largely Copenhagen based although they both travel a bit for work. A few years ago they made the difficult decision to leave the community they loved and move into Copenhagen. They bought a four-storey town house and have renovated it meticulously.
It now houses the three generations of their family – themselves their children and the grandparents. Cycling is practical and enjoyable and maintains fitness. The essentials of energy, public transport, waste management are well covered by the Danish government and the municipalities. Paternal leave and other social benefits are firmly established. Birgitte and Henrik are consciously working to make the world more sustainable and a better place. They really miss their old community and they also (now) love their new life in the city. They are hoping to be able to spend more time at home and help create community where they are living. The term ‘Liveability’ is perfect for this situation. They are not complacent about it at all.