Day 4: Samso Island


At the top of a wind turbine on Samso Island, Denmark.

We spent most of today learning about Samso Island, and their efforts to produce all of their electricity from renewable sources. By 2000, 11 one-megawatt (MW) wind turbines supplied the island’s 22 villages with enough energy to make it self-sufficient. An additional 10 offshore wind turbines were erected in 2002, generating 23MW of electricity to offset emissions from the island’s cars, buses, tractors and ferries that connect it to the mainland. One of the main instigators behind this work is the Energy Academy. By providing leadership and strategy, the Academy helped lead the transition to renewables on Samso.

We had the good fortune to visit one of the wind turbines on the island that’s owned by a local farmer. He invited us to the top of the turbine–a once in a lifetime experience for a few of the folks in our group!

These types of transitions towards energy independence seem daunting and difficult, but the Swedish and Danish cities and towns we have visited so far point to a common denominator–the oil crisis of the 70’s–as a turning point. While the United States and others chose to double down on oil production and acquisition, Scandinavia recognized that in order to thrive, they needed to use the resources they had in their system. That’s why we saw the prioritization of wind (plentiful), waste to energy and biomass (great use of a secondary resource), and then when needed, imported fossil fuels.

This is a fundamental shift in mindset that any city or region can reflect on, or better yet, take to heart.

Day 3: Industrial Symbiosis and Samso Island

Ozone production at the Kalundborg Waste Treatment Facility.
Algae tubes at the Kalundborg waste treatment facility.
Kalundborg waste treatment facility.
The ferry to Samso Island.
The ferry to Samso Island.


We started another busy day by visiting the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, located in BloxHub, an innovation and co-working space that brings together those who are co-creating solutions for cities. We learned about some of the smart cities initiatives being led by Copenhagen Solutions Lab. Unfortunately, a fire alarm cut our time there short, but some of the trip participants whose work focuses on smart cities stuck around for a more focused tour and conversation.

The rest of the group made our way to the train station, where we took a train to Kalundborg, and received a tour and presentation from the Symbiosis Center. While there, Per spoke to us about the process they engage in there. Kalundborg has created jobs and economic development by attracting corporations to the area who can use each others waste as a resource. So, steam previously vented into the atmosphere is now captured and transported to another facility where it is used for heating. For Kalundborg, waste is not seen as “waste” but as a “secondary resource”.

After our tour of the various facilities, we got on a ferry to the island of Samso, which we were to tour the next day. Samso is known for powering itself completely by renewable energy.

Day 2: A Trip to Sweden and back

Visiting the biomass plant in Vaxjo, Sweden
Cross Laminated Timber Construction in Vaxjo, Sweden.
A BokLok house in Vaxjo, Sweden.
A BokLok House in Vaxjo, Sweden.
Learning about sustainability goals in Vaxjo, Sweden.

Today, we traveled into Sweden to visit the municipality of Vaxjo, the greenest city in Europe. We heard from representatives at the city and learned about their journey to that honor.

As we learned in Denmark, much of the difference in attitude between the United States and Scandinavia towards environmental issues is a result of the 70’s oil crisis, which transformed practices around energy and transportation.

We also heard from representatives from BoKLoK, a collaboration between Skanska and Ikea to build affordable homes and units using modular design. We drove to one of their developments, and while it felt like walking into an Ikea store, it was great to see how affordable sustainable design was being made available to all.

After our visit to BoKLoK, our group split up, some going to learn about the restoration of a lake in Vaxjo and some going to visit several buildings that are being constructed using cross laminated timber (CLT). CLT is a wood product that has a number of benefits including design flexibility, the ability to be pre-fabricated, and a sustainable resource. Several companies in or near Spokane are scaling up to offer CLT products to our community, and the new Catalyst building in the University.

After that, we joined the rest of the group and visited Vaxjo’s biomass plant, VAEB. The prevalence of waste to energy, biomass, and district heating plants is definitely a compelling thought for all on the trip.

What is becoming clear on this trip is that communities like Vaxjo and Copenhagen possess a strong and distinct will to implement innovative projects and policies. Action transcends politics. It was inspiring to know that both companies were going out of their way to make sure that “everyone should have a good chance to have a great home”.

Day 1: A bike ride through Copenhagen and a ski run on a power plant


It is widely known the Copenhagen is one of the most bike friendly cities in the world. This was one of the themes of our first day of the I-Sustain trip to Copenhagen. We were joined by two planners from Copenhagenize, an international firm that helps advance cycling and bike infrastructure. Our group of 20 plus Washingtonians took a crash course in riding our bikes on some of the most comprehensive bike infrastructure in the world. We learned that over 50% of Copenhagen’s commute is by bike. Rush hour? Consider hundreds of bikes queued up over several hundred feet at a light. What’s the formula? Making sure that routes are protected, safe, and reliable. That’s achieved through signage, articulated pathways, and a general respect for cyclists on the road.

After lunch in Refshaløen (a neighborhood in development on the north side of Copenhagen), we went to Amager Bakke, Copenhagen’s new Waste to Energy Plant. The state of the art facility is efficient and environmentally friendly, and features not only a climbing wall on an external face, but in the winter, it will feature a ski run complete with a chair lift to the top. This type of multi-use function is found everywhere so far in Copenhagen, and is something that I appreciate.

We then headed north to the offices of COBE Architecture, and we learned about their work to complete the master plan for a new neighborhood in a former harbor in Copenhagen and their effort to rehabilitate a former grain elevator into residences, retail, and a restaurant on the top floor. Eating dinner at that restaurant, Silo, afforded us an opportunity to look out in all directions and see that change, even in a centuries old city is possible, welcomed, and accepted.

Gonzaga joins the I-Sustain Trip to Scandinavia!


Hello! My name is Jim Simon, and I am the Director of Sustainability at Gonzaga University. Starting this weekend, I am honored to be joining community and business leaders from across the Spokane region to travel to Denmark and Sweden to learn more about sustainable infrastructure and the green economy.

The trip is designed to:

  • Provide a shared experience to allow for the development of a common vision for the Spokane region’s emergence in the green economy—a critical growth strategy for our community.
  • Explore solutions to infrastructure and environmental challenges that could be adapted in Spokane.
  • Allow for expanded thinking around green business sectors and circular economy strategies that are well-suited for Spokane.Great universities thrive in great cities and vice versa. The existing sustainability synergies between the City of Spokane and Gonzaga are numerous and include Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship (CEDE) involvement in the complete redesign of Sharp Avenue, the Cincinnati Greenway, and the completion of a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the City of Spokane. This week, the City of Spokane  and Gonzaga both launched bikeshare systems using Lime, working together to ensure continuity on, off, and around campus with the system.

I’ve talked with a number of campus and community colleagues who can’t be on the trip, but have counseled me on their expertise, so I will be looking at what I see next week through the lens of climate resiliency planning, waste reduction, the built environment, the hydrogen economy, and more.

I’ll endeavor to share notes and pictures here and our social media (@zagsgogreen) will be tracking progress with the hashtag #isustainspokane2018.

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