Spotlight on sustainable design in the Nordics


    April 6, 2021


    Known for its extreme weather and breath-taking scenery, how do Nordic countries fare with sustainable design?

    The Nordics’ sustainability status

    Harsh winters and diminished daylight present a unique challenge for Nordic architects: to design beautiful buildings that maximize light and minimize heat loss. But what if you also throw sustainability into the mix? Thankfully, the Nordics’ ability to combine their talents makes them a force for good in the fight against climate change.
    Take Denmark for example: the most southern Scandinavian country built an entirely self-sufficient island back in 2007. Samsø — which produces more energy than it consumes thanks to wind and biomass — was so successful, it provided a template for how other countries now transition into renewables.

    And as for design, the region is no stranger to accolades. In 2012, Helsinki was appointed World Design Capital, turning Finland into a hub for design excellence.


    It’s a region that’s celebrated for its exemplary sustainability practices, but what are its most inspirational projects to date?

    Setting a sustainable example

    Boasting one of the world’s largest solar panel systems in a school building, Copenhagen International School (CIS) aspires to demonstrate the importance of eco-friendly living to the younger generation.

    The façade is integrated with 12,000 solar panels, covering a total area of 6,048 sqm. The electricity generated meets nearly half the school’s total energy consumption.


    The school is structured into four towers that mirror the students' age and grade levels. In order to boost the amount of natural light, most of the classrooms are nestled into the building’s corners. Installing LED lighting was another way the school slashed its energy consumption; teachers can even adjust the color temperature depending on the time of day, ensuring students benefit from visual comfort at all times.


    To top it off, natural materials were chosen for the floors and furniture, while future plans see the school’s toilets being flushed with recirculated water.

    Eco-friendly tranquility

    It wouldn’t be an article about Nordic design without mentioning the sauna!


    Kultuurisauana, Helsinki, opened its doors back in 2013. Designed by Tuomas Toivonen and his wife Nene Tsuboi, it was the first public sauna to be built in 50 years. Producing almost all of the energy it uses, the space has become a feat of eco-engineering.


    The clean, minimalist structure features a wood-fired pellet stove to create the perfect ‘löyly’ (the Finnish word for steam). Any leftover sauna heat is used to warm up the water, with the help of a heat pump fitted into the sea. On top of that, solar panels integrated in the southern wall take advantage of sunlight — even the small amounts afforded during the winter months.

    The road to better lighting

    Situated in in Ålesund, Norway, the Sørnes Tunnel is a heavy-traffic road tunnel previously fitted with outdated, sodium-based lighting. Not only did the municipality need better visibility to increase road safety, but it also wanted to reduce its energy consumption.
    Sornes Tunnel with intelligent Philips LED tunnel lighting
    Philips TunnelLogic control system and FlowStar LED luminaires were installed, providing clear, consistent light throughout the tunnel. TunnelLogic adjusts the light levels inside the tunnel to match outside, avoiding a sudden — and potentially dangerous — change for motorists as they enter. What’s more, switching to LEDs also delivered significant energy savings of up to 75%.

    Lighting up city life

    Living up to the region’s progressive reputation, the municipality of Copenhagen had ambitious plans to reduce its energy usage.


    The ‘low-hanging fruit’ for quick and efficient results, upgrading indoor lighting became a top priority. The aim was to replace all conventional luminaires in publicly owned properties with long-life, high-quality LEDs.

    Major energy savings for 95 buildings in the Danish capital

    Over 15,000 Philips LED luminaires were installed across the city. The older and less energy-efficient properties were prioritized, including schools, care homes and offices.


    As well as reducing energy consumption by up to 70%, residents now have better working conditions, improved visual comfort — and they can even adjust the lighting themselves!

    What’s next?

    Every Nordic country discussed so far has made strides in sustainability — but what about Sweden?


    Stockholm is working towards becoming completely fossil-fuel free by 2040. Although this might seem ambitious, it’s pretty de rigueur. After all, Sweden is a country that decided recycling 84% of its bottles and cans wasn’t enough and is now striving to hit 90%.

    What’s more, the northern city of Skellefteå is getting an extraordinary new building: the Sara Cultural Centre. Fashioned entirely from wood, the 80-meter-high structure will be one of the tallest timber buildings in the world. And over in southern Sweden, the city of Malmö offers a new eco-model for urban development, aiming to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030.


    Despite differing on culture and language, the Nordics benefit from a joint sustainable sensibility that sets an example not only to the rest of Europe, but to the rest of the world.

    Pioneers of Light’s mission

    Pioneers of Light is a community of the world’s top architects, lighting designers and engineers, united by a passion for realizing their visions through innovative lighting. We guide and inspire the next generation to deliver sustainable lighting solutions that make the world a better and brighter place.


    Want to know more about the Pioneers of Light, get in touch!


    Banner image: Nordhavn Copenhagen, sustainable neighbourhood in Denmark © jonathanfilskov-photography

    About the author:

    Anissa Abbou

    Anissa Abbou


    Head of Global Professional Specification, Signify

    For further information, please contact:

    Signify Global Integrated Communications
    Neil Pattie
    Tel: + 31 6 15 08 48 17

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals and consumers and lighting for the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact connected lighting systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2022, we had sales of EUR 7.5 billion, approximately 35,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We achieved carbon neutrality in our operations in 2020, have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for six consecutive years and were named Industry Leader in 2017, 2018 and 2019. News from Signify is located at the Newsroom, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors can be found on the Investor Relations page.

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