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Sustainable Cities Are Becoming A Reality, Showing Us How Collaboration Between The City, The Government And The Residents Is Crucial. In This Article, We Present The Five Nordic Capitals, Proving That Small Initiatives Can Lead To Big Changes.

Words By Mayra Quispe Trejo


According to FAO, over half of the world’s population now lives in cities, with that number expected to rise to 68 percent by 2050. Moreover, cities are already responsible for 70 percent of global waste and consume almost 80 percent of the world’s energy. 


This fact has led many cities to take action and move towards sustainability.

According to the United Nations University, there are nine ways to make a city sustainable: sustainable transportation, nature-based solutions, green urban open spaces, community networks, smart solutions, gender perspectives, integrated approaches, collaboration platforms between cities, and international collaboration between the government and entities such as other countries and the United Nations.

In order for you to see how to put these sustainable ways into practice, here is a short analysis of five sustainable nordic capitals.

Sustainable Nordic Capitals

1.Copenhagen, Denmark 

The Telegraph considers that Denmark’s capital has long put sustainability at the top of its agenda, as have many of its inhabitants. 

Lots more initiatives have been taken since 2020 as the city continues its bid to become carbon-neutral by 2025. 

A significant change in its transportation system has been placed, all buses are changing from diesel to electric, while more and more road surfaces are devoted to cycling. 

An interesting fact is that bicycles have become a principal means of transport, to the extent that even parliament deputies ride their bikes to work.

Moreover, this city has a significant number of parks and green places, and two-thirds of the hotels hold an eco-certificate. Needless to say, recycling is taken seriously in this city, with vending-style machines returning a deposit when you insert a can or plastic cup.

2. Stockholm, Sweden

Although Stockholm is one of Europe’s fastest-growing capitals, the city “plans to have a positive carbon footprint by 2040”. Stockholm is developing an interesting system based on carbon capture storage. Anna König Jerlmyr, mayor of Stockholm, believes that this revolutionary idea combined with fossil-fuel-free district heating systems “can create a climate positive city”. 

About transportation, trains and buses in Stockholm have been using one hundred percent renewable energy since 2017.

Sustainable engagement between the municipality and the residents has been strong and continues to grow; the city provides help to its inhabitants in creating sustainable or greener courtyards. 

According to the latest report published by The City of Stockholm, the citizens of Stockholm are deeply involved in their city.

Nine out of ten believe it is important to have a long-term strategy for Stockholm’s development.

Additionally, seven out of ten are interested in environmental issues and believe the city should impose strict requirements on its residents with regards to environmentally friendly living.

Therefore, the residents’ engagement in this capital conveys governmental measures and makes sustainable initiatives effective.

3. Oslo, Norway

The total area of Oslo is 454 square kilometres, with 242 square kilometres being forest area and 8 square kilometres being parks and sports arenas.

According to SustainEurope, this means “95% of inhabitants have a park or open green space within 300 metres of their homes, many of them linked by convenient paths”. Furthermore, public transport is gradually going green, with most public transport routes already powered by renewable energy.

Additionally, education and generation of sustainability consciousness have been crucial in the Norwegian capital.

In fact, educational programs regarding climate change and carbon emissions are being created to teach the young generations how to take care of the environment. 

Needless to say, Oslo residents are significantly engaged in sustainable topics and participate actively in environmental awareness events launched by the municipality.

4. Helsinki, Finland

In Helsinki, nature is an essential element in everyday life. Residential areas are surrounded by beautiful parks and deep forests. As this capital is located by the sea, it is inevitable for visitors and residents to reflect on how their everyday choices can contribute to maintain those coasts clean and the green areas even more blooming.

Regarding transportation, people in Helsinki prefer using public transportation rather than driving a car.

In this city, “The metro and trams are the most environmentally-friendly forms of transport in the metropolitan area, running on electricity produced by water and wind power.” 

Helsinki’s objective is to become a carbon neutral city by 2035. The City’s objective is “to achieve this goal by [implementing] 147 climate actions, many of which are related to construction and urban development”.

Moreover, a system of recycling bottles has been installed nationally since 1950 and has seen incredible success now.

This consists in depositing a can or plastic bottle to a special machine which will give you a receipt with an amount of money that you can cash at any store. Indeed, residents are aware of the importance of sustainability in their lives.

As The New York Times affirmed, “Helsinki is a city full of people waiting for the revolution”. They really want to make the world a better place, and they are trying to lead by example.

5. Reykjavik, Iceland

“Over 99% of electricity production and around 80% of total energy production in Iceland comes from hydropower and geothermal power”; this helps, for example, to construct eco-friendly buildings. 

Despite the city’s significant sources of natural energy, some aspects need improvement, such as the use of cars as principal means of transportation.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year”.

Furthermore, public transportation such as buses, trams, and subways are comparatively better than driving a car. The logic behind is that there are more people traveling in a vehicle, therefore the carbon footprint for each person is smaller.

In order to tackle this problem. The municipality of Reykjavik has set a 2010-2030 Municipal Plan which consists in changing travel modes, in that sense, public transport will rise from “4% to 12% and the ratio of pedestrians and cyclists should rise from 19% to over 30% in 2030”.

Additionally, cars and equipment powered by fossil fuels will not be procured by the city as of 2021.

Furthermore, the country “aims to achieve carbon neutrality before 2040 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 under the Paris Agreement”. 

People living in this capital are becoming more engaged in sustainable matters than previous years. They participate in strikes regarding climate change and industrial projects that can harm the environment and the residents’ quality of life.

As a resident of Reykjavik said,  “In Iceland, we used to be a tiny group of people shouting about it from a corner, and now all of a sudden, it’s a mass movement”. This active movement can continue leading the city to a better and sustainable place.

Sustainable cities, a reality to be replicated and a source of inspiration

Cities evolve with time, and nowadays, sustainability is a main concern that must be considered in local, regional and national governments.

The five Nordic capital cities are leading examples and can be a source of inspiration for other cities wondering how they can become more sustainable. 

However, these admirable cities are not the only ones following the sustainability path. Indeed, sustainable initiatives have already reached cities outside the Nordic area.

Key examples include the Nelplast project in Ghana turning plastic waste into concrete blocks, the reforestation project in Santiago de Chile and Bogotá by bike, a municipality initiative with 135 miles of cycling lanes, which Colombians are currently enjoying.

Such initiatives are proving that sustainability can be a reality and most importantly, that these projects would not be possible to implement without the support and action from the residents. Sustainable cities are thus the ultimate proof that small steps can lead to big changes.