Since 1997, the Island of Samsø in Denmark has been implementing a community-based transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Samsø’s current focus is on sustainable development. This website is an anthology of experiences, advice, tools, methods, stories, scientific perspectives and videos that in each their own way represents what Samsø islanders have learned through becoming self-sufficient in renewable energy – and fossil-free by 2030. We hope this anthology can be of use to other local pioneer communities and organizations.

On Samsø, we say that the transition has already happened, and sustainable development is something we continue to believe in and work on. What is your burning platform: Sustainable transition or sustainable development?

Start the guide Video about our Advisory Board


People who are leaders help others change and develop society; technology is what transforms society.

Sustainable development is complex, and requires various perspectives on the challenges, problems and ambitions involved. Four key people provide their perspectives on Samsø and the world. Malene Annikki Lundén tells about the anthology RIGHT HERE. Søren Hermansen writes about Samsø and the importance of place. Jørgen Henningsen tells about what Samsø has accomplished and the significance of the economy. Marianne Knuth writes about the meaning of mentality to the village.

Malene Annikki Lundén

From Placeless to RIGHT HERE

Our loss of a sense of place is a pivotal point and phenomenon which we became aware of during the development of this guide and digital anthology. Malene Annikki Lundén is in charge of communications and education at Samsø Energy Academy. Over the past three years, she has interviewed and listened to local citizens, and planned many local action meetings with stakeholders and the local community on Samsø. What are the consequences for a community if its citizens do not feel connected to the place where they live and work? In Malene’s experience, many people feel placeless, resulting in losses to society’s bottom line. Our communities are the foundations which provide our local democracies a RIGHT HERE.

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By Malene Annikki Lundén
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Søren Hermansen

The Importance of Place

Søren Hermansen is a Samsing born and raised, originally a farmer and now the director of Samsø Energy Academy. Søren writes his story about Samsø focusing on the importance of place and on what has driven him to work with sustainable development since 1998.

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By Søren Hermansen
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Jørgen Henningsen

The Significance of the Economy

Jørgen Henningsen has almost 20 years of experience in the European Commission, first as the director of the EU Directorate-General for Climate Action, and from 2001 as the chief adviser in the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport. He headed the Commission’s negotiations for the UN climate convention and the Kyoto Protocol. He is currently employed as a senior adviser by the think-tank European Policy Centre. Jørgen Henningsen tells his story about Samsø and the island’s impact on the economy.

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By Jørgen Henningsen
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Marianne Knuth

The Significance of Mentality

Kufunda Learning Village was founded in Zimbabwe in 2007 by Marianne Knuth. Kufunda Learning Village was one in six centres from around the world chosen to participate in the Berkana Institute’s study of how the growth of new locally based leadership can advance building the capabilities of local communities. The study found that Marianne Knuth and Kufunda’s work points in the direction of a new global social movement that is locally based and works with pre-existing assets and strengths, and focuses on opportunities rather than on problem-solving.

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By Marianne Knuth
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Samsø Energy Academy invited a researcher to Samsø for an impartial inspection.

Is what we communicate to our surroundings actually true, and is it actually correct when we claim that without the involvement of the citizens of Samsø in various projects we never would have reached our goals?

An associate professor from Aalborg University investigated the matter in detail and developed a theory about Samsø. Anthropologists from “Antropologerne” examined the behaviour of the citizens of Samsø and asked whether it can really be said that the entire island community supported the projects. The anthropologists created a leadership compass which clearly indicates how Samsø has managed its transition away from fossil fuels and can call itself a pioneer community today.

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Samsø has six times more electric cars per thousand inhabitants than the rest of Denmark

Figure 3.1 shows the rise in the number of electric cars on Samsø compared to Denmark as a whole from 2008 to 2015. In 2008, there were 0.24 electric cars per thousand inhabitants on Samsø – in 2015 we had almost 6 electric cars per thousand islanders. That is a significant annual increase. In the same period, Denmark as a whole has had a less notable annual increase: Today, Denmark is close to reaching one electric car per thousand inhabitants.

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Samsø as a leader in abolishing oil furnaces from 2008 to 2015

Figure 2.5 shows the change in the share of inhabited houses with oil-fired central heating in Denmark and on Samsø. Between 2008-2015, the share of homes with oil-fired central heating was greater on Samsø compared to the rest of Denmark. However, what’s interesting during this period is the relative change of the share of oil furnaces on Samsø declined from 40% to 28%, while the rest of Denmark saw a somewhat smaller decline, from 20% to 15%. So while Samsø is still lagging behind, it‘s catching up with the rest of the country.

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Samsø inhabitants are CO2 negative

Figure 3.3 shows 2013 CO2 emissions per Samsø inhabitant as compared to the rest of Denmark. CO2 emissions of the Danes taken as a whole was 7.4 tons per inhabitant, while Samsø islanders emitted minus 1.4 tons – 8.8 tons less than the average Dane. The emissions of Samsø inhabitants are negative due to surplus electricity from the island’s offshore wind turbines, which is exported to the mainland. Samsø’s green energy production plays a part in lowering Denmark’s overall demand for coal and oil. The CO2 that is saved becomes part of Samsø’s composite CO2 calculation.

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Aalborg Universitet

How do you create a ground-breaking energy project in practice?

Karl Sperling is Associate Professor at the Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, where he earned his PhD in Energy Planning. Karl Sperling wrote a scientific article titled “How do you create a ground-breaking community-driven energy project in practice? The case of the Danish island of Samsø.” Karl Sperling discovered several decisive efforts that Samsø Energy Academy believes will become the model over time.

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A new RIGHT HERE and a leadership compass

Behaviour comes before energy technology. The behaviour of its citizens are the foundation of the societal movement on Samsø, e.g., via their investments in shares of onshore and offshore wind turbines and their participation and involvement in project meetings.

What can a leadership compass do, and how can we use it in practice? Anthropologists were in the field on Samsø and asked the local population what kind of behaviours characterize a pioneer community. The result was that transition and development are all about how established is a common RIGHT HERE.

Read the article   Investigate the compass


We know what our RIGHT HERE is. On Samsø, we spend a lot of time communicating the common direction that enables us to act together.

On Samsø, we are many torchbearers who have created a pioneer society together. On Samsø, we stick together, and we build on each other’s work. The individual islander and the collective Samsø keep working steadily to continue the island’s sustainable development. You can read here about the small details of the big picture and learn more about specifics of our diverse renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. We have selected four projects which, despite their differentiations, fit well together.

Mobility and good infrastructure create jobs

Mobility and good infrastructure create jobs

Samsø Municipality founded a municipal ferry company and built a new ferry that is powered by natural gas. This made Samsø a large-scale consumer of gas, which we will be able to produce locally on Samsø in the future. At the moment, the Samsø ferry sails on LNG (liquidfied natural gas), but in the near future it will sail on enhanced methane gas from the island’s own biomass products, such as household waste, liquid manure and waste products from agricultural production.

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Green, greener, greenest!

Green, greener, greenest!

Energy and environmental initiatives make Samsø Golf Club a pioneer in the business, in Denmark as well as abroad. In close collaboration with the Danish water pump manufacturer Grundfos and Samsø Energy Academy, the golf club has its water, fertilization, machinery and everything else under control. Meet the torchbearer, chief greenskeeper Thomas Pihlkjær, who is in charge of the golf course’s innovative sustainable solutions.

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What do skin and carbon have in common?

What do skin and carbon have in common?

The earth needs carbon. Farmers call it the carrying capacity of the soil, that is, the topsoil’s ability to ‘carry’ life and sustain circulation. Modern agriculture is industrialised, and for many years good agricultural sense – based on protecting carbon and organic material as food for earthworms and micro-fauna in the soil – has been ignored. Soil has been reduced to a medium where farmers add fertilizer and water. The result is soil that looks more like a desert than an active layer of topsoil. Topsoil is the skin of the earth, so to speak, and the skin needs nourishment.

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The wind turbines on Samsø created possibilities

Wind turbines on Samsø created opportunities

When Samsø introduced a new generation of wind turbines, the islanders worked with known technology and large investments. The introduction of wind turbines also created new possibilities. The investments created jobs, decreased the island’s imports of energy and increased local revenue. Creating new jobs and attracting new industry to a small island like Samsø is difficult, and every new opportunity is interesting. Wind turbines foster opportunities and increase people’s interest in participating in local development, including beyond our small island.

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Simple communication provides clarity and enables trust in complex initiatives.

Working with sustainable development is a special type of developmental work that requires venturing into new territory, heading into uncharted waters. It takes a special kind of people. It takes community and collaboration models developed by practitioners. It takes leaders with leadership skills who know their local communities. We believe everyone on Samsø recognizes this way of thinking.

Watch the video about our Fossil-Free Island project    


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Torchbearers and pioneers

Which general skills to take action are necessary for you as a citizen to become successful and have the courage to take responsibility for green development in your community? How can the two key players, torchbearers and pioneers – who are not necessarily professionals – be analysed? No clear definition exists of the pioneer or the torchbearer. In this article we discuss the differences between the two of them.

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Quite simply: Community equals society. In the past, if you had a problem that was bigger or more complex than what you as an individual could handle alone, you sought the assistance of the community, which you tried to activate. When several people experience a need for action and join together, the community comes into force.

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The New Cooperative Movement

We take a look at the potential for reviving the Danish Cooperative Movement. The challenge is that you cannot capitalize on sustainability. Sustainability is about refuting the premise of boundless growth in a bounded world as a benefit or even a possibility in the long run. In Denmark, we have a long history and firm knowledge about what the Cooperative Movement has accomplished, in times of prosperity as well as in crisis.

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RIGHT HERE equals the power to act

In our work at Samsø Energy Academy, we have tested, refined, initiated and refined a large number of processes, methods and approaches which we know work with sustainable development and getting your local pioneer community involved. From process architecture to the Pioneer Game. We call it the “Samsø Energy Academy toolbox.”

Watch the video about ‘The Circle’    
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What characterizes good design?

When you are working with social innovation, the development of good process architecture is vital. Why this precise design for this particular meeting?

We take a closer look at Samsø Energy Academy’s work in order to identify the patterns of our process architecture. Through the past seventeen years, the Energy Academy has held more than 5,000 meetings, workshops and conferences. This has taught us a lot about cross-sector collaboration, and we know the meaning of adhering to a pre-defined purpose and a strong shared intention. You will also find a number of tips and recommendations for how to plan a good meeting with an agenda that takes conflict into account.

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Communication is decisive

At Samsø Energy Academy, we have learned the hard way how to communicate. Doing it over and over again is learning by doing. By getting up on the beer crate in the village hall and talking about our ambitions. By visiting people in their homes, drinking coffee and discussing our ideas. By calling the local press and local politicians and telling them about our projects. If you keep at it long enough, the ship will change course, and people will start asking if you can come by the village hall and tell them about your ideas. One day they will start calling from town hall, from Parliament, from the Royal Palace, and from the New York Times.

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Invite your team to play the Pioneer Game with a game master from Samsø Energy Academy

The timeline of the Pioneer Game runs over 17 years: Past: The power of history and sensation – Present: Enthusiasts/attraction – Future: Focus on substance – and the pioneers you need to lift your project.

The Pioneer Game was created to help us as citizens and experts focus on the purpose and agenda of the project. Playing the game will help define what kind of process the project and its supporters require and what are the links.

The models (Past – Present – Future) will enhance the innovative power of and contribution to your project. They make the project more focused and help fine-tune and optimise it. We have separated process from history by focusing on “best practice.” The process is at the fore, and informs other projects facing challenges similar to the ones we have dealt with working with sustainable development on Samsø. As a result, the Pioneer Game helps players develop a deeper understanding of their processes and projects. It is important to emphasise that the Pioneer Game does not provide solutions as to how to structure your project. Rather, the Pioneer Game provides guidance by zooming in on personal leadership and the challenges your project is likely to encounter.

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Assuming leadership for a common future and creating sustainable changes in society demands true pioneer spirit.

There’s no short supply of pioneer spirit on Samsø. The local pioneer community has demonstrated how a sustained focus – through a common vision and specific goals – is a precondition for long-term success. With this anthology, Samsø Energy Academy has shared its knowledge about and experiences with heading toward the future.

Watch the video about the small green island    

The long-term

One thing is certain: The future is uncertain, and yet we have to act here and now. The question is about what we do, and not least how we act. Currently, there is a strong focus on behavioural change. Behavioural change is indeed necessary, but at the same time, we don’t have much knowledge about what it takes for projects that are bigger than the individual to succeed in practice. We know a lot about this on Samsø. The local community has played a decisive role in the island’s success in becoming a sustainable community, and the guide RIGHT HERE offers an insight into what it takes to act together – as individuals and as a community.

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How do you turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones?

You and your colleagues can use this anthology to gain a deeper appreciation of how much is at stake, how many people to involve and how much to communicate when you lead a sustainability project. It is our hope that it will also be a pleasure for you to work with sustainable development locally – and we are ready to provide know-how, communication and education if you need our help.

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Our idea was to appoint a Wisdom Council of about 15 people. We invited people in our network and from various sectors, including a film director, a radio host, a university professor, an anthropologist, a PhD student, an organiser, a civil servant from Samsø Municipality’s technical and environmental department, and a professor in Education. Everyone agreed to participate in order to ensure that the project for the guide RIGHT HERE was realised. It is the accomplishment of the Wisdom Council that the project RIGHT HERE did not become a conventional product. The Wisdom Council, together with the project manager, have created a product with unique content. The Wisdom Council ensured reflection, learning and a solid foundation.

Recommendations for instilling knowledge into projects

Samsø Energy Academy is a non-profit organisation with limited resources in a small local community. We often have to ask for help and contributions when it comes to knowledge and guidance that is not available on the island. Yet we do not have a lot of money to spend; for instance, we cannot buy consulting services. Our solution is to involve our network and invite professionals to sessions where knowledge-sharing and the development of ideas is on the programme, just as we did when we established the Wisdom Council. In this way, we achieve great results with small funds. Most professionals and torchbearers are willing to participate free of charge if the purpose of the project is consistent with the convictions of the participants and the setting provides ample space for discussion and exchange.


  • Cecilie Boll

    Cecilie Boll

  • Ea Svenning

    Ea Svenning

  • Flemming Bo Larsen

    Flemming Bo Larsen

  • Jørgen Henningsen

    Jørgen Henningsen

  • Karl Sperling

    Karl Sperling

  • Mads Lundén Hermansen

    Mads Lunden Hermansen

  • Malene Lundén

    Malene Lundén

  • Maria Koch Jensen

    Maria Koch Jensen

  • Marianne Knuth

    Marianne Knuth

  • Martin Dyrman

    Martin Dyrman

  • Mary Alice Arthur

    Mary Alice Arthur

  • Morten Rækjær Clausen

    Morten Rækjær Clausen

  • Morten Scholtz

    Morten Scholtz

  • Nathalie Nguyen

    Nathalie Nguyen

  • Nicolas Arroyo

    Nicolas Arroyo

  • Nilas Bay Foged

    Nilas Bay Foged

  • Nille Skalts

    Nille Skalts

  • Rune Toldam

    Rune Toldam

  • Søren Hermansen

    Søren Hermansen

  • Wisdom Council

  • Arne Remmen

    Arne Remmen

  • Gitte Larsen

    Gitte Larsen

  • Helle Solvang

    Helle Solvang

  • Irina Papazu

    Irina Papazu

  • Jeppe Læssøe

    Jeppe Læssøe

  • Peter Engberg

    Peter Engberg

  • Rikke Ulk

    Rikke Ulk

  • Søren Stensgaard

    Søren Stensgaard