Greenland Set to Have World’s First Sustainable Capital

Nuuk, the world’s most northernmost capital may not ring a bell for most people. It garnered the attention of moviegoers in 2013 as it featured in the Ben Stiller blockbuster The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now, the city is being put back on the map in a way that would make Greta Thunberg herself smile.

This tiny Nordic city of 17,000 inhabitants is fighting to receive the accolade of becoming the world’s first sustainable capital. The award, created by the Australian scientific tourism advisory group EarthCheck is still yet to have any takers. In a world of expanding megacities that are more preoccupied with economic growth than the state of the environment, Nuuk could set the example for the world.

EarthCheck’s Program

EarthCheck have partnered with the municipality of Sermersooq which is where Nuuk is located. The partnership allows Nuuk to enter its Sustainable Destinations program. This program puts Nuuk in the running for the aforementioned award.

The program teaches communities methods to benchmark and certify their social performance alongside environmental progress. It also helps facilitate the development of responsible tourism with a local community-driven focus.

As locals set the example to visitors there is a bright future for sustainable and responsible tourism for Greenland.

“Tourists are becoming more socially aware of their responsibility to the environment and the local communities they visit when they travel. We are proud that our nation’s capital is stepping up to this big challenge to become the first certified sustainable capital in the world”, says Julia Pars, Managing Director of Visit Greenland.

The Race for Sustainability

However, the capital still has a ways to go to prove itself to EarthCheck. So far they have achieved a Bronze Benchmarking. This means that they have successfully completed the first three steps which form part of a stringent six-step process.

If Nuuk wants the coveted first place prize they must monitor their environmental performance and submit annual reports. The information is then compared with benchmarking data regarding sustainability and goals set by the local municipality. As years go by, Nuuk’s green progress will be compared to other destinations around the world which it will hopefully outshine.

Photo Credit: Peter Løvstrøm

To achieve these goals the city is taking preventative steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions whilst improving and regenerating the local environment. Their goals are not just limited to protecting the nearby natural world, they are also actively conserving existing heritage assets.

A City of Culture

Greenland may just seem like a place just for tourists that appreciate the natural world with its fjords, mountains and northern lights. Not to mention that it has the world’s largest national park.

Yet Nuuk may surprise you, even with its very small population for a nation’s capital, it is brimming with cultural delights. Nuuk plays host to Greenland’s largest microbrewery and the Nuuk Art Museum, which helps to preserve Inuit culture.

These among other manmade buildings and artworks within Nuuk count towards what Earthcheck views as a “Heritage Asset”. Having a sustainable capital means not just looking after your wildlife and environment but preserving your city’s culture too.

The EarthCheck Sustainable Destinations program sets out what Nuuk and its residents need to do to create a greener city. The program aims to motivate and empower the local community as it helps them to take part in working towards sustainability goals with bespoke local initiatives.

“We want to be the first capital in the world with a sustainability certificate – and we want to attract those who share our vision for a sustainable future” said a proud Charlotte Ludvigsen, Mayor of the Municipality of Sermesooq where Nuuk is located.

Photo Credit: of Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq

Ludvigsen among other passionate Greenlanders understand that sustainability is not just good for the people, Nuuk and the rest of the world. It is also good for business within Nuuk as the Thunberg-inspired Generation Z are becoming more conscious of sustainable living and responsible travel.

“The EarthCheck Benchmarking Performance Report provides a solid starting place. It not only demonstrates that we are seriously committed to tackling this challenge but information will be visible to both current and potential business partners as well as the growing number of tourists, for whom sustainability is a key issue” she adds. 

So how well is Nuuk doing so far? Well from its first set of environmental data Nuuk has not hit its goals on 4 indicators out of 20. This means they have improvements to make such as less greenhouse gas emissions in the following year.

It goes to show how drastic the actions would have to be for a city with a population of a million or more. If Nuuk achieves its goals and keeps promoting sustainable travel, this new tourism trend could expand, inspiring other cities around the world.

The good news is though that this leaves Nuuk performing at an “excellent” rating on 16 other indicators, putting them way ahead of the majority of the rest of the consumerism-obsessed world. EarthCheck now require the city to create a risk assessment and draft up a multi-year action plan to help them reach their goal.

Climate Celebrations

Nuuk’s benchmarking performance report and their painstakingly earned EarthCheck Sustainable Destinations Bronze Certificate were presented during a celebration at the Hotel Hans Egede. The celebration of such an eco-friendly venture was of course held with the appropriate COVID-19 regulations in place.

Photo Credit: HDphotography@D700

Arguably the most inspirational part of what the people of Nuuk have achieved is that they have made it work amidst a global pandemic. As some of the world’s countries are struggling to protect their economies and citizens, the city of Nuuk is teaching the world a thing or two about how to look after the land that looks after us.

With a lot of work and a bit of luck 2021 could mark the turning point that Nuuk needs to beat its previous bests and get closer to a score a 20 out of 20 making it the world’s first sustainable capital. How appropriate that we will all be looking up to the world’s most northern capital.

Thomas Board