Green Cities

Green Cities Partnership, Denmark

Green Cities is a platform for cooperation among Danish municipalities to achieve a sustainable society.

In 2000, several municipalities decided to reduce the human impact on the local environment, and to change into environmentally sustainable local entities. Green Cities (at that time called "Dogme 2000") was created; cooperation in which member cities commit to making an extra effort to protect and improve the local environment. Albertslund, Allerød, Ballerup, Herning, Kolding and Copenhagen are the six municipalities now participating in this project and are representative of Denmark's local diversity.

The initiative aims at offering a political and institutional framework for municipalities, to better deal with environmental and climate change issues. It is also conceived as a political platform to develop common projects, such as the "Carbon 20" initiative. The environmental cooperation rests on six main principles. These principles have a range of underlying goals, classified into six major themes (e.g. groundwater, organic food) that municipalities commit to work on.

The implementation involves a process of measuring, improving, and reducing the human impact on the local environment. The participating municipalities of Green Cities are committed to transmit an annual report focusing on progress made and providing transparency. The long-term goal is to serve as inspiration in other Danish municipalities and local authorities in the EU.



City information
Green Cities Partnership

Size and population development
Total of 810.000 inhabitants (2014)

Main functions
Green Cities is a partnership between the Danish municipalities of Albertslund, Allerød, Herning, Kolding and Copenhagen.

Is this city profile not up to date? Suggest changes.
Background and objectives

In Denmark, municipalities are fundamental to local environmental initiatives and management. However, from the mid-nineties, their tasks have grown more complex. Some municipalities have used the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) to coordinate the implementation of the local Agenda 21. This is a voluntary environmental management instrument developed by the European Commission in order to assess, manage and continuously improve the environmental performance of a region.The Danish local authorities found it complex and more suitable for larger organizations.

The Danish Green Cities model is intended to be an alternative scheme, more adapted to the needs of municipal institutions. With the Green Cities concept, Danish municipalities tried to establish sustainability as a key political sphere of action and to locally embed environmental initiatives amongst citizens and businesses.

The six following principles are fundamental to the strategy:

  • Where environmental issues are concerned, the member municipalities of Green Cities are making determined efforts to become the most ambitious municipalities in Denmark.
  • Green Cities is working to create and develop sustainable policies at the local level.
  • Through national and international cooperation, Green Cities intends to further develop its environmental ambitions.
  • Green Cities strives to improve the societal framework for sustainable development.
  • Via its activities, Green Cities seeks to inspire and motivate other parties to intensify their efforts towards achieving sustainable development.
  • The Green Cities partnership is based on involvement, cooperation and anchorage.

Through a partnership agreement, member municipalities engage to work on "common goals" classified by themes.

Concerning climate protection for instance, the main objective is to reduce C02 emissions. This includes two objectives: to make electricity and heating consumption CO2-neutral by the end of 2025 and to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% compared to 2006 by the end of 2015.

The five other common goals by theme are:

  • Ensuring that groundwater is pure and plentiful
  • Promoting organic food production at local and national levels by increasing production and consumption of organic food products.
  • Preserving and developing the natural environment for the benefit of fauna, flora and the human population.
  • Encouraging and maintaining sustainable mobility and accessibility (traffic) within towns and between town and country.
  • Making an active and appreciable contribution to achieving more recovery concerning waste management

(see the Partnership Agreement for more information about the common goals:


The main argument for all the municipalities in implementing Green Cities was to have the possibility to maintain and emphasize an image as a green municipality. Although the initiating cities had slightly different motivations, the main argument of all bodies for joining the network was to strengthen environmental policies and make sustainable development more efficient.

At the beginning, the main challenge was information and dissemination of Green Cities goals. As a consequence, different methods were used in getting the project to start properly. First, information was sent to departments and institutions in the municipality. The next step was to interview various departments about their contribution to Green Cities. In order to establish several green networks and initiatives with local businesses and local residents of the municipality, a consultant was hired. The main objective for the consultant was to outline a communication strategy for the networks, to improve communication between participants and to spread the information and messages in Green Cities. Furthermore, it was crucial for the Green Cities project to become well known in the municipal administrative structure to embed the concept as a general policy in the municipality. Local politicians needed successful stories to justify the municipality spending money and resources on Green Cities and local stakeholders needed to be aware of Green Cities as a policy in the municipality.

Unlike other environmental projects, which are based on intentions with no actual commitment and therefore no consequences if intentions are not followed, political commitment in Green Cities is a core element of the strategy. Due to internal embedding of environmental policy in the municipality, the commitment was generally followed by action. In Green Cities, responsibility lies at the political level; responsibility is not based in a single department, such as a department of environment and supply.

Green Cities works on three cornerstones:

  1. Green Cities Partnership: Municipalities engage to work for the achievement of Green Cities' common goals through a partnership. This partnership is based on binding environmental and organizational principles. Through the partnership, municipalities have access to mutual exchange of know-how and resources developed by Green Cities. For example, the network has identified means/tools that the municipalities can use to reach their goals.
  2. Green Cities and sustainability: The principles and common goals derive from Green Cities' definition of sustainability, based on the natural resources at our disposal and how our daily lives impact the environment.
  3. Green Cities tools: Green Cities has developed tools that the municipalities can adapt to their individual situation. The tools refer to:
  • Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Green Cities joint documentation
  • Environmental management
  • Green sourcing
  • Sustainability in planning and development at municipal level
  • Involving citizens and enterprises in environmental work (anchorage)

Parallel to the individual commitment of each municipality in Green Cities, the network has also developed common projects. The Carbon 20 project for instance has been the major common initiative conducted by Green Cities in the period 2011-2013. It was financed by the European Union's program LIFE+. The objective was to initiate cooperation between municipalities and private companies with a focus on CO2 emissions reduction.

This program has two innovative aspects. First, municipalities mainly used to focus on the national legislation implementation when dealing with companies on environmental issues. The Carbon 20 project instead has reinforced public-private partnership at a local level, by creating common objectives for CO2 emissions reduction. Second, former national plans targeting CO2 reduction in companies used to focus on larger companies. Considering the fact that companies with less than 50 employees represent 95% of all companies in the country, the program has put its focus on smaller companies where potentials for CO2 reduction haven't been exploited so far. The development of new instruments and the exchange of know-how between the public and the private sectors should lead to a reduction of at least 20% of CO2 emissions among one hundred companies located in the mber municipalities.

Financing and resources

Green Cities is organized with a political steering committee, a civil servant group, and a number of working groups.In addition, secretarial functions are assumed in turn in member municipalities at two-year intervals.

The principal cooperation unit is the steering committee, consisting of one political representative from each municipality with the capacity of senior decision makers. A steering committee meeting is organized at least four times a year.

Civil servant group members are officials with administrative responsibility, designated by the steering committee, giving in return to the committee annual recommendations for the activity plan.

For their participation in Green Cities cooperation, municipalities pay a membership fee whose amount is based on their population. Subsidies from different institutions also finance Green Cities' activities.

Concerning the Carbon 20 project in particular, technical assessments realized in the partner firms resulted in proposed energy saving measures for a cost of Euro 8.3 million and an average payback time of 3.5 years. During the Carbon 20 project's implementation, measures for Euro 3.2 million have been implemented and 24 full-time jobs have been created.

Results and impacts

The joint annual report is the main instrument used to measure the achievements of each member municipality concerning the common goals. The report also informs about the means put in place by the municipalities to achieve these goals. The report thus gives an overview on the progress made both individually by each municipality and collectively through common projects.

The Report of the year 2013 reveals following key achievements in the Green Cities network:

  • A group of specialists from the six member municipalities published a report on the "small nature", in order to increase biodiversity in a domain which is usually not protected by law.
  • Concerning the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 25% compared to 2006, only the municipality of Ballerup achieved a reduction of 31%. Other municipalities are still under the target, in part because less green energy has been imported from abroad in the last years.
  • The average consumption of 100 liters of water a day per inhabitant by 2015 is already achieved by the municipality of Alberton.
  • Green Cities aims at reaching by 2015 at least 75% of organic food consumption in places which are managed by municipalities. Copenhagen already reached 79% of organic municipal food consumption in 2013.
  • A 30% reduction in the volume of combustible household waste by 2018 compared to 2010 probably remains the most important challenge for the municipalities. Copenhagen had already reached a reduction of 12% in 2013.

The report directly compares the Partnership Agreement's objectives with the yearly achievements in each municipality. It doesn't depict positive results only, but it also points out where efforts should further be made in order to reach goals. In that sense, the report guarantees objectivity and transparency to the public.

Barriers and challenges

One challenge in the beginning was the number of small members participating in Green Cities. Political commitment and too much power for the initiatives in Green Cities might have also deterred some municipalities from joining the network. Most of the municipalities which have joined the network were already engaged in environmental protection and recruiting new members has been a major challenge.

Another difficulty was the Danish ‘structural reform’ in 2007. It reduced the number of municipalities, and transferred tasks from counties to municipalities. As a consequence and response to this reform, municipalities hesitated and sometimes even were reluctant to commit themselves to new initiatives such as Green Cities.

Lessons learned and transferability

Green Cities is an on-going project, based on a binding environmental partnership agreement between municipalities. Green Cities' model is based on setting up concrete measures, committing politicians, involving other institutions, and local actors. The feeling of ownership is one of the most important elements in Green Cities: if departments and institutions feel they are pursuing goals they have formulated themselves, they are much more committed.

Since the network has been created in 2000, following key material has been produced:

  • A model for green accounting,
  • Tools and strategies to implement environmental policies amongst stakeholders,
  • A new audit model,
  • A plan to reduce municipal use of chemicals,
  • A Green Cities manual.

There is clear expectation that the project results can contribute toward assisting any individual municipality to launch work for a sustainable environment.

More specifically, in the Carbon 20 project, two determining factors have been identified for transferring the model of local cooperation between municipalities and companies to other cities in Denmark or in the EU:

  • A public-private partnership agreement between a local authority and a company.
  • A partnership between the company and its suppliers, clients, utility companies, energy advisers and/or other relevant partners. 

Moreover the network organized meetings for companies, who could also also receive support by climate advisers.