How Copenhagen Metro is Building a More Sustainable Future

Sustainability is the talk of the town (or many towns), and Copenhagen is no different. Like other places in the world, we recognize the need for eco-friendly building practices. Acting sooner rather than later ensures that we can create structures that are sustainable, not just for the planet but also for the people in it. 

This is particularly true when it comes to city infrastructures.

Industry data shows that the urban population will more than double its size by 2050, meaning seven out of 10 people will live in cities a little over two decades from now.

We are entering a tipping point, not only considering the need for affordable housing but also ensuring that we have the necessary public services that urban dwellers rely on. In 2022, only half of our urban population had access to public transportation, and there are no signs of this changing anytime soon.  

While these stats may seem dire, they represent a massive opportunity for cities and businesses. Consider the fact that cities are responsible for 80% of the global GDP. As such, they represent a significant opportunity to progress toward our climate goals.

The city of Copenhagen has long realized the social and economic benefits of investing in sustainability for its infrastructure. Its goal is to become the first carbon-neutral capital city in the world. Since 2005, we have reduced total city emissions by 42% and increased our growth by 24%. 

That said, we still have a long way to go.

With increased urbanization, Copenhagen's population is expected to grow by 20% within the next decade. That's why the city is developing old industrial areas for commercial and housing purposes and creating a new island to match the needs of our future population.

To support these new initiatives and development projects, we have started a new metro project—the M5 Metro Line. Our goal for the project is to reduce our climate footprint by 50% compared to previous ones.

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Opening the M3 Metro Line

To illustrate where Copenhagen is at in our journey towards becoming more sustainable, we need to go back to 2019. 

That's the year we opened our M3 Metro Line, the city's largest infrastructure project in the last 500 years. Copenhagen was hailed by the press for this world-class infrastructure, which is a thing of beauty.

With all that acclaim, it's easy to stick to the same building practices from five years ago. We know it works, so why should we change? 

Answer: we realized that while the M3 project was quite an achievement, there were still areas for improvement.

The truth is that even though the M3 was completed successfully, the process toward that outcome was largely manual and outdated. At that time, we relied on processes from the early 2000s, which involved a lot of pen and paper. We would print out the 2D drawing, mark it up, scan it in, and send it to our contractor.

We knew that if we wanted to achieve our goals for M5, we needed to digitize our organization. We needed to foster an environment leading to sustainability, innovation, and modernization while remaining relevant in an ever-changing world.

It's a lofty goal, and no organization can make that massive change (i.e., digitizing manual processes at a large scale) all at once. So, we broke down the process and took things one step at a time. 

How to make the path to progress as smooth as possible

As with many endeavors, the first step is often the hardest. When we embarked on this path of digital transformation, we knew that getting the first step right was critical because it would set the foundation for all our workflows. 

In the same way that the foundation of a metro construction project must be solid, it's equally essential to have a strong foundation for planning and designing a project. 

And that structure is the data standard. If you don't have a robust data standard, you cannot build anything else.

Find the right platform to serve as your foundation

At Copenhagen Metro, we are moving towards BIM and open standards, as well as updating our classification. This will help us build more efficiently while enabling our teams to collaborate better with consultants, contractors, and client advisors to achieve new levels of sustainability.

We've found that BIM and open standards work well for us, and I urge you to find the right one for your needs.

My advice? Focus on ease of use, particularly for everyday users like engineers, worksite managers, and construction managers. These are the people who will create data inside the system, so you must ensure that it's intuitive and accessible. Otherwise, getting structured data will be incredibly challenging. 

Recognize the need for fundamental behavioral changes

While we have huge aspirations around digital transformation, let's not forget that our ultimate goal is to build more sustainably. Specifically, we want to slash our climate footprint by half on this project compared to previous lines. As such, it's worth emphasizing that this goal closely ties into behavior change.

For instance, to achieve this goal, we need to investigate alternatives for steel and concrete due to climate impact. So, the behavior that we are shifting is our reliance on "normal" materials instead of using alternatives like timber.

This is exciting because tech and process innovation alone don't lead to transformation. Transformation truly occurs when our behaviors change. 

Another great example of transformative behavior is making use of data to optimize decision-making. In construction projects, this takes the form of shifting to model-based behavior in which we're leveraging the model to create an image, ultimately using the data to inform decisions. 

Connecting this back to our metro project, model-based behavior means we can discuss issues and make decisions based on data. This will help us create a safer work environment for our workers on site while also understanding the impact of using sustainable materials like timber instead of steel.

Build Your Foundation to a More Sustainable Future

The state of design and make is changing in incredible ways—and change, it must. But this doesn't mean we need to fear the unknown or be overwhelmed by change. As illustrated above, adapting our behaviors isn't just necessary for digital and process transformation. It also opens the door to a more sustainable future.

I hope that you and your teams can do the same. 

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Joe Rasmussen

Joe Rasmussen is responsible for implementation of BIM and GIS systems and processes, digital requirements in contracts, and organizational change for the Copenhagen Metro as well as other infrastructure owners in Denmark. He leads the transformation of construction projects to be more data-driven. He is also on the steering committee of how to implement ISO19650 in Danish standards.