Case Studies

Exploring Bornholm is a boutique style consultancy. Our vision is to inspire creatives and urban leaders in disciplines such as Circular Economy, Green Energy and Placemaking, and encourage the establishment of thriving communities. What differentiates us however, is our source of inspiration. Instead on relying on theoretic examples, we look at the succesful community of Bornholm and reference their behaviour. Bornholm is a society that reinvented itself time and time again, and is now a leading destination in the area of green ambitions, circular thinking and community making.

Through the following series of case studies, we aim to showcase a number of succesful examples from the island, and offer our audience a glimpse of what they can experience in our Exploring Bornholm Seminars.

The Case Study series will debut with 3 interviews:

Interview 1: BEOF Head of Department for Public Affairs and Communication Klaus Vesløv on Green Energy

Interview 2: BOFA CEO Jens Hjul-Nielsen on Circular Economy

Interview 3: Destination Bornholm CEO Pernille Kofod Lydolph on Placemaking and Entrepreneurship.

The objective of these interviews is to unmask some of the efforts and achievements made by the island community in the direction of social and environmental sustainability, and understand how Bornholm is planning to ‘show the way’.

Therefore we invite you to dive into the mindset of Bornholm through the Case Studies below, and join us in our mission to learn from this inspiring community.

Interview with Klaus Vesløv / Head of Department for Public Affairs and Communication at BEOF

Exploring Bornholm:

Bornholm has been chosen as the most sustainable energy island in Europe!
Bornholm has been focusing for a long time on the green transition. 
Bornholm, among other things, has distinguished itself by beginning the phase-out of coal and oil early.

Could you please elaborate why that is?
– Are people on Bornholm made up of another DNA?
– Is there a different mindset

This is a hard question. But in my perspective the discussion started in 2008 when Bornholm, much like a lot of places in Europe, was in recession. We were looking into a future where the younger generations were moving away from the island and we were becoming less of a society.

Not to mention that it became harder and harder to bring well educated people back to the island. So something needed to be done out of necessity, and a strategy to make Bornholm attractive again needed to be implemented. For us it was not so much a movement to keep up with the green trend, but a way to create a society for the future.

When we started redefining the strategy for the island in 2008, a big question was: where can we differentiate from all the others?

At that time, the green transition was already starting to be a heated discussion, and the electric vehicles were on the way. Another perspective is that Bornholm is an island where most of the income comes from tourism. So where do these two considerations meet?

Tourists in the future will be looking into travelling to places with amazing nature, but also to places that are green all-round and is an overall nice place to be. So this is how it started. We took the best and the brightest on the island, put them on a ferry, and travelled around the island for 24 hours discussing what are the perspectives on Bornholm and how can we make a strategy based on a lot of different values. The conclusion was that we will aim to achieve a carbon free island by 2025.


Exploring Bornholm:
With limited financial resources available installing renewable energy sources. The result is an efficient and reduced energy consumption and large reductions in CO2 emissions.

What exactly are the goals and how far from achieving them is Bornholm?

Carbon free society means a lot of things, one of which is transportation.  Transportation is still a delicate subject addressed globally: how can it become carbon free?

However, when looking at the power and heat production we are actually proud to say that in normal production mode we are basically carbon free. The district heating and power on the island is actually entirely based on solar power, windturbines and woodchips or straw. We still have a bit of carbon that we need to take care of, because our waste sorting system is not 100% efficient as we are still burning plastic, and oil is still being burned in individual households outside the district heating areas. This gives us around 8.000 tons of CO2, fairly small in terms of the energy production of the island. Just to understand this number, in 2016 we have rebuilt the powerplant of Bornholm, and therefore reduced about 70.000 tons of CO2. The aim now though, is that by 2032 we will be waste free, so there will be no more burning and CO2 as a side product of this process.

We do however rely sometimes on the underwater cable from Sweden, importing around 10-15% of the energy needed on the island. This number will fortunately go down, as we will be installing more and more PV’s. Moreover, the Danish government has decided that in 2030, 2 GW of production off the coast of Bornholm will be put up, so I think then will have solved the energy problem completely.

The reason why I say ‘normal production’ and this is quite crucial for me to say, is that sometimes we experience that the sea cable to Sweden is torn over. In cases like these, where the connection to ‘our battery’ if you may say so, is disturbed then the society shifts into another gear. Here, we are not talking about being green, but we are talking about keeping a society running.


Exploring Bornholm:
By winning the prize (RESponsible island) of being the most sustainable Island in Europe Bornholm received a fund from European Union that can help the island further along the way.

Please elaborate on the meaning of such a prize?

It means a lot. One of the reasons for why Bornholm has made this journey is because, back in 2008, we realised that if we have to make this transition to a clean energy system, we -as an island- were fairly small and did not have the man/brain power to get on board with this agenda. So what we actually did was to participate in a series of Research Development & demonstration [RD&D] programs and programs through DTU. We were striving to get a lot of brain power to the island, and the luck was that we were an interesting player for a lot of big names in this scene. It started in 2009 with IBM Zurich, who saw Bornholm as the perfect testbed for their first program looking into how to charge electric vehicles. This opened the door for a rollercoaster effect, where companies such as Siemens, Nissan, Toshiba and Panasonic hopped on the ride.

Therefore, in this movement we were able to get access to a network and a knowledge base that was quite extraordinary.

At the same time we also realised that, with all this knowledge coming in, a lot of different approaches were appearing. These approaches were more often than not contradicting each other and on top of this pond of options, there was also the political aspect. So all this input needed to be analysed and considered before we reached a common ground for the right strategy. The why is easy, the how is what’s more difficult.

What we did, was to design a simulation model of the entire energy system for the island, taking into consideration both the production and the consumption. What we could utilise this for is to look into the roadmap of different technologies, as well as demographic and climate changes, and make more informed decisions.

So back to how can we utilise this award and what does it mean for Bornholm. First of all, it’s a fantastic market platform for the entire island, both in terms of attracting tourists but also new residents. This is what we are seeing now. More and more well-educated people from the bigger cities from the main land of Denmark, are now choosing to move to Bornholm because they would like to be part of this movement. Maybe this is what sets the new residents of Bornholm apart . . .


Exploring Bornholm:
In November 2019, Danish windmill manufacture company Ørsted presented its vision to use the Danish island of Bornholm, situated in the Baltic Sea, as an energy hub by making it the centre point of a proposed new interconnection between Denmark and Poland, in reality making Bornholm the world’s first energy island. The islands become the first of their kind in the world and begin a “new era for the expansion of Danish sea wind”.
The islands must be completed by 2030 and must ensure, among other things, that in the years to come, Denmark can electrify more parts of society and at the same time contribute to ensuring that all Danish households and companies’ electricity consumption is covered by green electricity.
This seems to be a huge chance for Bornholm and a paradigm shift from being away from everything to being in the middle of everything!

What is now the biggest challenge for the Island in order to achieve its goals?

I just want to contradict you for a moment and say that Bornholm has always been in the the center of the world!!

Jokes aside, this program through Ørsted is a fantastic opportunity. The real discussion is how can Bornholm actually utilise this program because it looks like it is definitely going to happen. In approximately 10 years we will have a production capacity just 20 km from the island, which is able to sustain between 2-3 million households. This is a little more than what we already have on Bornholm, where we have 25.000 households. We are talking vast amounts of energy that are designed to go both to Poland, to Denmark but also to Sweden.

I personally have two perspectives on this discussion. The first is that we need to have a new discussion on Bornholm related to the development of the energy system. Today we have a capacity designed to face the problem of the sea cable being turned over. In the future, when the sea turbine park is here, this solution would not be a necessity.

The greater question however is what is this program going to mean for Bornholm? What is it going to mean for the job market on the island? What type of workforce do we need to have on the island? How can we take part in this project from start to implementation?

Here are some more understandable examples to explain what I mean: do our plumbers need to have new certificates? Do our bakeries need to produce more bread for workers coming to the building sites in the mornings?

In terms of planning for this future there are a lot of discussions rising right now, and some of them are political.

Another issue is the chapter of ‘power to X’. It is an expectation that by 2030 we will have power to X that is also affordable…but this is yet to be seen. It needs to be investigated and we need to decide in which sector we would utilise this solution. So there is a prerogative to understand how these surpluses of energy that will hit the system will be treated and utilised.

However, this is exactly how we should utilise Bornholm: the same way we have been doing it for the last years: by trying to find solutions to some of the more complicated questions related to energy and showing the way of how this should be done./

Interview with Jens Hjul-Nielsen / BOFA CEO

Exploring Bornholm:

Bornholm becomes the world’s first industrialised society to switch off the incinerator and 100 percent to reuse and recycle waste.
Over the next few years, citizens, businesses and tourists on the Island will have to give a huge stir to the sorting of waste.
The goal is that by 2032 all Bornholm waste will be either reused or recycled.
This is a decision taken by the island which is both brave and forward thinking.

What thinking drives such a decision – is there a certain political consensus about doing the right thing?

Well…the short answer is yes. But I assume you would like to know a little more than that.

Yes, there is a certain consensus. When we, the municipal waste company, presented our plan to decommission our incineration by 2032 and to change completely from linear to circular economy to the politicians, their response was unanimously positive. So the decision to work according to this vision aligned with all political visions, from conservatives to  marxists and everyone in between. Of course, this movement is based on precedence, this is not the fist time the politicians on our island had to deal with sustainability issues. An example is the Bright Green Island project, which began around 10-15 years ago.

So yes, I think there is a consensus about sustainability and about the idea of creating a green profile for the island, and using this image as an instrument to gain recognition.


Exploring Bornholm:
With the ambitious vision “Bornholm shows the way”, BOFA together with users and the waste industry will develop methods that optimise the handling and increase the sorting of many new types of waste.
It seems that you are well aware that citizens on a broad level need to be included in the process – at the end of the day this calls for a paradigm shift introducing a new culture which sees `resources` rather than `garbage`.

How likely is it that you succeed getting everybody on board?

I would say right away: very unlikely.

An 100% percent involvement is not likely to happen, but if we can get almost everybody on board then we are very happy. Realistically speaking, there will always be some people that for various reasons would not be able to be involved. However, we feel that a good majority will be getting involved.

We can see this already. We have conducted a series of  trials and experiments based on living labs and co-creation strategies, and we can see that a big number of people are interested and want to get involved.

Right now for instance, we are conducting experiments to try and eliminate the problem of collecting 10 or more waste fractions from houses in the older, more traditional villages in Bornholm, where storage and space is an issue. We can see that a lot of people are interested to participate in solving these challenges and we have a lot of people volunteering. So we can with confidence say that there is a huge interest in this movement. However, an 100% percent involvement is maybe not realistic.

If I may add, I would like to say that a main challenge is to insure that this enthusiasm and support remains, because it is very easy to destroy these feelings if we introduce solutions that are too complicated or expensive. Therefore, this is something that we need to be very much aware of.


Exploring Bornholm:
On your webpage stays: `We work to fulfil the vision before the clock ticks out` while a clock is counting down day, hours, minutes and seconds until 2032.

It`s not far ahead from now – do you feel that your organisation works under a certain pressure?

Definitely yes, no doubt about it! But on the other hand, without getting too sentimental or cheesy, John F. Kennedy said [when he talked about putting a man on the moon] ‘we do this not because it is easy but because it is hard’.

Speaking as the CEO, I have wanted my organisation to be the place where we try a little harder. We are the smallest waste company in Denmark so it would be very easy for us to not do anything and just pull in behind one of the bigger companies in DK, let them do all the work and then just implement what they come up with.

However, we decided that because we are small we should act independently and should try to solve the challenge we are facing today.

In many situations we have to come to government, ministers, politicians or the central administration and ask for dispensations. But we decided that instead of being part of the problem, we should be part of the solution.

Not to mention that we believe that Bornholm, with 40.000 people, is like a mini Denmark. So the results from this island can be extrapolated to a national level…and why not an international level?

All this being said, that doesn’t mean that there is not a lot of pressure to meet our goals. But we have to set goals that are challenging to reach.

Nonetheless, some people ask what will happen if we do not reach these goals. My answer to that is to give an example: let’s say we are in 2032 and we only recycle/ reuse 92% of the waste. I would still consider this a success, because we have come a long way and this number is still impressive. We would, of course, from that point onwards, work towards achieving the 100% goals. What will not change however, is the fact that we will close our incinerator in 2032 and expect to ‘grow though limitation’.


Exploring Bornholm:
With all respect of the skills and culture of innovation on the island other perspectives from abroad might add to succeed the goal.

Is a cross cultural exchange of ideas from international visiting delegations something which you have taken into consideration?

We have a big number of international collaborations. Right now we are collaborating with the Politechnical institute of Gdansk, and throughout time we have had projects with partners from all over Europe. Moreover, we have had a lot of international students joining our programmes.

So the answer is Yes, in a lot of ways we are working with international companies both in academia, the market  and even at a state and municipal level. We encourage everyone that wants to be part of this to contact us. When you open your inbox in the morning, you never know if the person writing to you would be your business partner for the next 5 years.


Exploring Bornholm:
The expression ”Bornholm Showing the Way” is the vision of Bornholm without waste – If Bornholm really succeeds with its goal there might be a future potential for the island in order to sell its expertise to other Regions, cities and communities who wants to achieve the same goal.

Is this business incentive as an outcome a widely understood narrative?

I believe that most companies and most businesses understand that this strategy can be a competitive advantage in the long run.

Right now for example we are working with the Farming Organisations to look at some of the packaging they have, because they use a lot of plastic. We are trying to understand if it is possible to reuse it or replace it, and to see what are the solution that we can apply to replace incineration all together.

So, this is an example of what could be considered a conservative branch. What we have seen is that they are definitely interested in finding sustainable solutions.

Nonetheless I think this could be an interesting market opportunity for some, as producers from Bornholm can have fully sustainable products, and right now there is a promising international market for such products.


Exploring Bornholm:
Islanders often seem to have a strong spirit of entrepreneurship as well as a certain willingness to takes risks.

Does this fall back on the fact that at the end of the day you are living on an island knowing that you have to survive by your own skill and power?

Before you asked this question I never actually through much about it, but I do believe that this idea is actually true. And maybe more for Bornholm than anywhere else.

In 1658, the islanders on Bornholm were conquered by the Swedes along with the 3 provinces Scania Halland and Blekinge, but… they chose to be Danish. They Killed the Swedish commandants and drove away the soldiers. Afterwards, they wrote a letter to the Danish King stating that they want to be a part of Denmark. Therefore, this idea of surviving on your own skills and power has always been here [on Bonrholm].

Not to mention that the day-to-day living on the island has always been dictated by the sea. This can probably explain why there are so many religious people on the island: when you live a life where death can strike at any time, then maybe you tend to be a bit more religious.

Just to give an example that is more contemporary: we have a meat processing plant on the island: Danish Crown. A couple of years ago, 3-4-or maybe even 5 now, there was a debate about closing it. The plant was a big deal for us because it was the second largest private company on the island. So closing it would have had a big impact on the community, especially as this was coming at a time when things were not going so well to begin with. Our mayor wanted to talk to the government minister about this situation. But there was a storm. And naturally, there was no means of getting off the island, therefore the mayor could not leave. In this sense, there is a shared destiny amongst the islanders.

An interesting thing that I have noticed the first time I came to Bornholm is that you cannot travel to the island First Class. Everyone travels together. To some extent, I think this somehow influences the spirit of the island. I have not thought that much about entrepreneurship being connected to it, but the idea can actually be embedded in this community because of the harsh environment they have learned to face and the sense of community that they embrace from the moment they ‘set sail’ towards the island. 


Exploring Bornholm:
Prizes have already been given to your organisation for what you are doing and sources from abroad are already following your path and are cheering on you way.

What is the biggest challenge for the Island in order to achieve its goal?

I think the biggest challenge, as already mentioned, is that a lot of people outside of the island cheer this initiative on, but in order for this to work we need to have support from within. We do have that right now, thankfully.

But as I have mentioned earlier, if the strategies we are about to implement become very expensive or very technical, and somewhat exclude some of the population then we will loose support. And this is really what I see as the biggest challenge: to get everyone onboard and maintain the interest and the support of our community. 

Interview with Pernille Kofod Lydolph / DESTINATION BORNHOLM CEO

Exploring Bornholm:

Bornholm is unique. The island in the Baltic Sea is part of Denmark – yet entirely its own. Bornholm has its own language, climate and very own nature. Bornholm is also in its very own time warp.
Life is lived at a calmer pace with a focus on presence and togetherness.
Condé Nast Traveler said in 2019 that Bornholm was Europes secondbest holiday island and New York Post has portrait the island as a foodies must-visit.
The island is no longer a secrete to the Danes and the countries around the Baltic only but now brings its voice to an international crowd as well.

How did the island make this breakthrough?

I will allow myself to divide the issue into Danes versus foreigners. For the Danes, Bornholm is a well-known spot in the Danish kingdom, but most often also an island that they had not visited for many years. Maybe not since the school camping trip in 7th grade. The reason was most often that they thought that Bornholm was far away and that it was expensive to travel to. Now the Danes are coming in large numbers and the reasons are several; The Folkemødet and work-related trips, which have opened the Danes’ eyes to the fact that the island is beautiful, different and not far away, nor is it as expensive to travel to as they thought.

In addition, we – the people on the island – have worked on our strengths, on which we have built on and exploited. Finally, Bornholm created for itself a clear branding and positioning based on knowledge and insight.

For foreigners, it is especially the latter two reasons that are the explanation.


Exploring Bornholm:
With about 700,000 visitors each year, it is safe to say that Bornholm is an attractive tourist location. It is visitors who create 3,000 annual jobs and a turnover of 2.6 billion kroner.

Most of these visitors are coming to the island during the summer months of the year – I know that it’s a vision to `flatten the curve` and develop the island as a winter destinations as well – what are some of the initiatives towards that?

Bornholms has just completed a summer season which has had a traffic number [which is different than accommodation number] 15% above normal. So there is no doubt that the summer half year is a fantastic success! When talking about strengthening the winter half-yearly season, which runs from November to February, we generally consider initiatives that can provide “reasons to go” in the winter period, which requires a coordinated effort to create more open businesses. As mentioned earlier, such efforts need to be strengthened by branding and marketing to gain traction.

An example of a coordinated effort is to start Bornholm’s Christmas Market at Nexø Harbour in November 2021. A Christmas market which will be an annual event and a new tradition for both Bornholmers and tourists in all four Advent weekends up to Christmas. It will be an exciting initiative that we expect a lot from.


Exploring Bornholm:
Bornholm has been awarded the first World Craft Region in Europe in 2017 by the World Craft Council. 
Bornholm has distinguished itself by becoming a food destination as well as a place for entrepreneurship.
Sometimes the island has been described as a white canvas ideal for doing entrepreneurship which almost seems too good be true.

What is it really like to start up a business here?

Starting your own business is as hard here as it is everywhere else. However, the special environment with many like-minded people where kindness and closeness in the local community is a rewarding factor in creating success. All together, it creates a special environment of innovation here on the island, where new initiatives help each other and cross-pollinate.


Exploring Bornholm:
Entrepreneurship on the island seem to have a strong approach for growing, handling and developing their produce – almost like artisans.

Even though these are niche products the success rate of expanding the business to international markets seems possible – what is the secret?

Companies on Bornholm make unique foods such as award winning blue cheese, butchery products, chocolate, ice cream, rapeseed oil, flour, bread, biscuits, dairy products and much more. Markets outside Bornholm have opened their eyes to the high quality products found in Bornholm. Therefore, Bornholm delicacies have also become an export product.

Nonetheless, the combination of good merchandising, a strong Bornholm brand to lean on and not least a good network and system for business promotion – including Gourmet Bornholm are among the explanations for the success in this industry.

In 2016, the Bornholm restaurant Kadeau received its first Michelin star. This star the restaurant has managed to keep to this day.

In 2020, the newly established restaurant Det Røde Pakhus in Rønne received a Michelin Plate Award – not a star, but still a clear certificate of honor from the restaurant guide Guide Michelin to the restaurants they recommend.


Exploring Bornholm:
Visitors from the Asian markets are also finding their way to the island – an appreciation for the beautiful crafted ceramics, the tranquillity, beauty as well as green solutions might furthermore emphasise this interest.

Could we even talk about a future potential of an untapped highly sophisticated market?

It’s an interesting thought even though I believe in it in the long run. That said, I can not rule out that there could be a potential. We at least have a lot to offer that could be relevant when you think about our areas of strength such as ceramics and gourmet. These, in addition to the beauty of the nature in Bornholm, which will always be their own attractions and it is my impression that the it speaks its own clear language that is applicable to all nationalities.