Circular Island

Municipality of Samsø, Danmark

SDG 7: Affordable and clean energySDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 15: Life on land
In 1997, Samsø set the goal to be 100 percent energy self-sufficient within 10 years and in 2004 the island reached the goal, ahead of time. The transformation of Samsø from a carbon-dependent importer of oil and coal-fuelled electricity to a pioneer of renewables started when the island won a competition sponsored by the Danish ministry of environment and energy. The agency was looking for a showcase community that could prove, the then freshly announced Kyoto target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent was, in fact, achievable. Since 2004, Samsø has continued to act as a pioneer in the wider field of sustainability with a clear target set on becoming fossil free by 2030 and circular by 2050.
Samsø Energy Academy, an organization and a meeting place on the island, has played a key role in this journey – binding together the local people, NGO’s, farmers, businesses and local politicians in a strong network.

Meeting the goals of carbon neutrality and sustainable use of resources, requires a holistic societal approach uniting citizens, producers, agencies and organisations in a shared vision for a green transition. A holistic approach is necessary but it is also a challenge since it requires acceptance and knowledge. Therefore, it is crucial to increasing the general knowledge of local residents and make all sectors active participants in the decision-making process, to realise the master transition plan.

Good practices and solutions

Samsø’s green transition has, since 1997 when the journey began, been divided into three phases with different thematic focal points and scopes.

The first phase, Island 1.0 Utopia is possible (1997-2017), focused on sustainable energy systems, which today are partially owned by the residents of the island. With an investment of 468 million kr. (US$73 million), the island is now 100 percent self-sufficient with renewable energy, and have a negative CO2 footprint of minus 3.5 tons per resident.

The second phase, Island 2.0 This IS difficult (2007-2030) is focused on phasing out all fossil fuels by 2030. This involves careful planning, arranging themed meetings, upgrading existing wind turbines, replacing oil furnaces with heat pumps, and advising residents and businesses to reduce their use of electricity and heat.

The third phase, Island 3.0 Common Sense (2011-2050) is focused on the recycling of resources and circular economy. The entire island community needs more knowledge to make informed decisions about technologies and economic investments, decisions that are based in a circular mindset and that accelerate the transformation towards a circular island economy.

Outcomes & Opportunities

Experiences from Samsø’s green transition has shown that working with sustainable development is a special type of developmental work that requires venturing into new territory, heading into uncharted waters. It takes community and collaboration models developed by practitioners. It requires a certain kind of leadership and a leader who know the local communities. The empowered community that has been established in Samsø is a proven source of success for the green transition on the island. One example of Samsø’s green transition success is the islands CO2 emission. Danish CO2 emissions as a whole were 7.4 ton per inhabitant, while Samsø islanders emitted minus 1.4 ton – 8.8 ton less than the average Dane.

Related SDG targets


Photo: © Michal Kubicek/Unsplash

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Project: Circular Baltic 2030