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Afterthoughts of Living In One of The Most Sustainable Countries on Earth

Posted: 1:39PM August 8th, 2017 | Comments

This last year, I had the opportunity to live Danishly in one of the happiest countries in the world: Copenhagen, Denmark. Denmark is a relatively small country with a population of about 5.7 million, is known for their sense of ‘hygge’ to keep Danes cheerful and cozy through the cold winters and is dubbed one of the top 5 most sustainable countries on Earth (epi.yale.edu/country-rankings). After returning to the United States, I have been questioning Denmark’s sustainability and exploring whether Denmark meets the standards of Sustain Dane’s definition of Big ‘S’ Sustainability.

Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. I thought that if I wanted to get the full experience of living in this city, I would need to get a bike. What I found was that biking throughout the city was so incredibly easy. Compared to Madison, WI, where I sometimes feel uncomfortable riding so close to cars zooming past, Copenhagen has bike lanes on every street making it easy, safe and advantageous to get to my destination. But even when I was not feeling super energetic, there was no delay getting to class each morning because public transit was always right around the corner and always on time. Out of all the Danes I met while living in Denmark, only a handful of them actually owned a car. Most of them found it easier and cheaper to bike or take public transit wherever they went. In the regard of public transportation, Denmark totally fulfills Sustain Dane’s vision for a more sustainable society.

One of the reasons I was most excited to move to Denmark was to explore their welfare state and understand what life is like having free education and free health care. Once again, I found that Denmark meets the standards of Big ‘S’ Sustainability within this area. I got to chat with young Danish students about health care and watching their genuine shock when realizing that Americans must pay to get help if they break their arm or get sick made me question what I considered normal in the American health system. I realized how absurd it is to deny people the help they need if their well-being depended on it. I also became close with a college student who did not grow up extremely wealthy, but still got to follow their dreams of being a veterinarian because paying for higher education was not an issue. I realized how many opportunities this welfare system gave people who may be disadvantaged in the current American system.  I loved seeing the sense of security these residents have through their government and how much more freedom they are given with these welfare programs in place.

Lastly, there was one part of Danish society that did not fully achieve Big ‘S’ Sustainability. Before I arrived, I imagined Denmark being a utopia. Unfortunately, I found that no country is perfect. With the refugee crisis happening across Europe right now, many families are fleeing to Denmark to seek safety. But these people were not treated equally compared to Danish citizens. I started to understand that under Danish values, multiculturalism was somewhat frowned upon. Because of the welfare government, everyone in Denmark is supposed to have the same opportunities and new cultures coming to Denmark hoping to seize these opportunities leave the Danish citizens feeling threatened. I realized that many of my Danish friends would often say racist comments that made me feel uncomfortable, I even witnessed a few people dress up in blackface for a Halloween party. This was one of the hardest realizations I had to make while living in Denmark and it gave me a new perspective on equity and inclusivity.

Living in Denmark was a once in a lifetime experience. I learned so many things, met so many amazing people, and was pushed outside my comfort zone. It was intriguing to find that Denmark meets many of the standards of Big ‘S’ Sustainability and also could do a lot more improving. After coming to Sustain Dane after my time in Copenhagen, I am even more motivated to make Madison, WI a more sustainable place to live.


By Amanda Ruetten, Special Events Intern


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