Fruitful Danish-American dialogue on sustainable buildings and cities

State of Green
By State of Green, November 03, 2020

On 30 October, building and city professionals from America and Denmark met in a virtual GREEN TALK for a discussion on how we create future sustainable cities for citizens.

On 30 October – as part of the architecture and design event in New York City, ‘Archtober’ – Creative Denmark, Danish Cleantech Hub and State of Green, gathered Danish and American public and private experts in a virtual GREEN TALK focused on how we create future sustainable cities for citizens. The digital event also celebrated the launch of a new white paper, titled ‘Beyond Buildings’. 350 people had signed up for the livestreamed event.

Watch a recording of the ‘Beyond Buildings’ GREEN TALK

The speakers included:

  • Simon Kollerup, Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs
  • Janet Joseph, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Market Development, NYSERDA
  • Kim Rahbek Hansen, Chairman, Business Lolland-Falster
  • Anthony Abbotts, Director Group Sustainability, ROCKWOOL International
  • Karen Roiy, Director of Global Industry Affairs, Danfoss
  • Trent Lethco, Principal and Americas Planning Business Leader, Arup
  • Anders Strange, Founding Partner and CCO, AART Architects
  • Neel Strøbæk, Senior Group Director, Ramboll
  • Jeff Risom, Chief Innovation Officer, Gehl Architects
  • Stephen Willacy, Chief City Architect, Aarhus City Council
  • Majken Kalhave, Executive Director, Creative Denmark (moderator)


-Related partner news: Supporting cities to become more sustainable after COVID-19

Public-private cooperation is key in sustainable urban development

In his opening keynote, Minister Simon Kollerup highlighted the strong Danish experience and competencies in creating green, sustainable cities with high liveability. He stressed that the successful development of sustainable cities and living spaces is usually a result of cooperation:

“It requires cooperation across the private and public domain, across borders and administrations. It requires creativity, innovation and input from citizens, organisations and sectors. Cooperations like the public-private Climate Partnerships in Denmark. It requires an effort from all of us.”

Big challenges and opportunities in New York

Speaker no. 2, NYSERDA’s Janet Joseph, gave a “30,000 foot view of what New York state is doing with its climate agenda and specifically focusing on building decarbonisation”. Janet Joseph told the audience that New York State passed landmark climate legislation in 2019, which puts New York state on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and 85 per cent by 2050. Moreover, the legislation commits the state to cover its electricity consumption 100 per cent by renewable sources by 2040.

In New York state, the vast majority of the building stock pre-dates the energy code, meaning that they are not very energy-efficient buildings. In fact, they account for half of the state’s GHG emissions, with space heating and hot water being particularly heavy emitters as both rely strongly on fossil-fuel combustion. The New York State solution set rests on three pillars, Joseph explained: energy-efficiency, low-carbon fuel (especially via electrification) and distributed energy resources.

Finally, Janet Joseph encouraged solution providers and greentech experts from Denmark and elsewhere to look to New York state – and notably New York City – for opportunities to engage in public-private partnerships for retrofitting and greening the New York real estate.

-Related news: New report shows huge differences in the carbon footprint from new buildings

Coherence and sustainability

Kim Rahbek Hansen (who is best known in Denmark for co-founding the “Sticks’n’Sushi” restaurants) represented the regional, public-private partnership “Business Lolland-Falster” at the event. Business Lolland-Falster represents +500 companies and 110,000 Danish citizens in the southeast part of Denmark. Kim Rahbek Hansen’s speech centered around the importance of upholding coherence between cities and their surrounding area – and, with the example of Business Lolland-Falster, incorporating sustainability and the UN SDGs when developing and innovating regions and cities.

Four solution pitches

In the “solution pitch round”, four companies presented their “sustainable solutions as drivers for life quality, buildings and future cities”: stone wool manufacturer ROCKWOOL, technology company Danfoss, design and engineering firm Arup and architectural company AART Architects.

Anthony Abbotts, Director Group Sustainability, ROCKWOOL International argued that “despite the hardships that Covid-19 represents, we believe also it represents an opportunity for us to reset course and to build better”, focusing on the multiple benefits of energy renovation: making cities more resilient, more prosperous, healthier, more circular and decarbonised. Moreover, Abbotts highlighted the positive potential of energy renovation in relation to job creation (green recovery from Covid-19), the environmental upside (decarbonisation) and a social dimension (fire safety, acoustics and energy poverty).

-Related news: Denmark undertakes large-scale energy efficiency renovations during COVID-19 crisis

Karen Roiy, Director of Global Industry Affairs, Danfoss shared the facts that while cities only occupy three per cent of the Earth’s land, they account for two-thirds of the world’s energy demand and 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

Like her energy efficiency peer from ROCKWOOL, Karen Roiy also argued that the Covid-19 crisis represents an opportunity for making potent green recovery investments and decisions. Roiy shared research results demonstrating that just by investing in energy efficient heating and cooling in buildings, electrified transport and sector integration, urban areas can bridge half of what is needed to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° C target and at the same time contribute with more than one-third of total needed global emissions reductions.

In his pitch, Arup’s Trent Lethco, Principal and Americas Planning Business Leader, stressed the importance of human-centric design of buildings and public spaces, not least in “the Covid era”. With a series of mind-bending questions, Lethco stated the case for letting the human experience – at the person, family and community level – take centre stage in the design of future sustainable buildings, spaces and cities.

In the final solution pitch, Anders Strange, Founding Partner of AART Architects, zoomed in on the life between the buildings and how architecture can shape human behaviour and enhance quality of life.

Sustainable cities in the shadow of Covid-19

After the solution pitches, three building and city professionals engaged in a panel debate with the headline “Creating sustainable cities for citizens in the shadow of Covid-19”. The debating trio consisted of Neel Strøbæk, Senior Group Director at engineering, architecture and consultancy company Ramboll, Jeff Risom, Chief Innovation Officer at Gehl Architects and Stephen Willacy, Aarhus Chief City Architect (Denmark’s second-largest city).

Among several interesting points in the debate were Neel Strøbæk’s question regarding the widespread teleworking due to Covid-19: “Could we reconfigure offices and public workplaces in a time when so many public and private sector employees are working from home?”

After the one hour and 15 minutes-long GREEN TALK, State of Green’s Executive Director, Finn Mortensen rounded off with a closing remark, citing the Green philosopher Aristotle: “The purpose of the city is to make it possible for the citizens to achieve happiness”.

State of Green’s next GREEN TALK, “Leading to COP26: a Danish-British dialogue on cutting carbon, green recovery and partnerships”, will take place on 11 November.

Watch a recording of the ‘Beyond Buildings’ GREEN TALK

Download the white paper ‘Beyond Buildings’

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