Schools and Hospitals Should Be Climate-Friendly and Health-Enhancing Spaces

Thousands of Danish children, adults, and elderly spend a significant part of their lives in unhealthy buildings: 70% of municipal buildings have a poor energy label!

It is not only the users of public welfare buildings who are affected. It is also the many employees who go to work in primary schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and other public places every day. Better indoor climate contributes to the good working environment that the many talented public employees deserve

The Danes were clear in their message when they went to the parliamentary elections in November 2022: They prioritized health and climate at the top. The same picture emerged in the previous election in 2019.

One might be tempted to think that buildings owned by the state, municipalities, and regions were the focus of extensive renovation efforts during these years. After all, daycare centers, schools, hospitals, office buildings, nursing homes, and other public buildings are obvious places to gain benefits, both in terms of climate and health.

Take, for example, municipalities, which, with over 31 million square meters, are the country’s largest building owners by far. In municipal buildings, more than 220,000 tons of CO₂ are emitted each year through energy consumption, costing municipalities around three billion kroner in energy bills. At the same time, it is within these same premises that thousands of Danish children, adults, and elderly spend a large part of their lives, whether at school, work, or in a nursing home. Public buildings should therefore be energy-efficient and healthy to occupy. Unfortunately, this is far from the case today.

Black buildings generate deficits

Public buildings in Denmark are generally in poor condition. An analysis by the Association of Consulting Engineers shows that there is a renovation backlog in the public building stock of at least 70 billion kroner. A report by Transition for SYNERGI reveals that seven out of ten municipal buildings have a poor energy label and therefore consume far more energy than necessary.

Buildings with the lowest energy label require up to ten times more energy than the most energy-efficient ones.

Overall, 40 percent of Denmark’s energy consumption comes from buildings. And the majority of energy consumption still comes from fossil energy sources, so low energy efficiency is bad news for the climate.

However, high energy consumption not only affects the climate but also makes the energy bill more expensive. The aforementioned study by Transition shows that municipalities can save nearly 600 million kroner on the energy bill through profitable investments in energy efficiency. Every year. This money could instead be invested in increased welfare. The lower energy bill could, for example, finance better elderly care or more educators. The potential savings correspond to being able to hire more than 1,000 educators nationwide.

In addition to the economic benefit, there is often also a correlation between a low energy label and the quality of the indoor climate. Especially in primary schools, numerous studies have revealed notoriously poor indoor climates, measured by factors such as air quality, light, and sound.

Measurements have shown that in more than nine out of ten classrooms in Danish primary schools, there is poor indoor climate during the school day. This has significant consequences for concentration and learning ability.

Students taught in a good indoor climate can academically be so far ahead of students in a poor indoor climate that it equates to an extra year of learning when they leave primary school. Danish children miss nearly 30,000 school days each year due to poor indoor climate. In total, Danes miss almost half a million workdays annually for the same reason.

It is not only the users of public welfare buildings who are affected. It is also the many employees who go to work in primary schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and other public places every day. Better indoor climate contributes to the good working environment that the many talented public employees deserve. In fact, it could result in a socio-economic gain of 15 billion kroner through increased learning and fewer sick days alone in primary schools and daycare centers over just 30 years. In addition, there is increased quality of life due to fewer cases of illness, which is difficult to put a price on.

The challenge of unhealthy buildings is one of the most overlooked and underestimated social problems in Denmark and deserves much more political attention than is the case today.

The municipalities’ dilemma

Despite the poor condition, municipal and regional buildings are exempt from requirements for energy savings and indoor climate improvements. Instead, the prospect of a greener energy consumption relies solely on “voluntary efforts,” even though the Climate Council has recommended actual requirements.

Therefore, each municipality or region can still freely choose whether to coast on climate inertia or strive for the green jersey. But not for long. New EU requirements dictate that the public sector must save 1.9 percent on energy consumption each year and renovate three percent of the building area. A whole new reality awaits public buildings and their municipal and regional political owners soon.

This is positive. And from several municipalities, we often hear that mayors and council politicians would like to invest in both energy efficiency and better indoor climate. Both for climate and health reasons, but also because it is often a very good economic investment.

It is not necessarily a lack of funds for investment that is a barrier. Many municipalities either have sufficient funds in the municipal coffers or good access to loans from, for example, the Municipality Credit. Several investments may even have relatively short payback periods. This could be better insulation or digital energy management.

However, municipalities cannot initiate the investment because they are hitting their capital expenditure ceiling, which limits their ability to make such investments.

This means that municipalities can face a dilemma where they can choose to replace the dilapidated roof of one primary school or carry out a climate-friendly, health-promoting, and economically more profitable renovation on another school. If the roof, in this hypothetical example, is in sufficiently poor condition, the answer is obvious. A tight capital expenditure framework makes it difficult for municipalities to invest in green and healthy buildings to the extent needed.

Green capital expenditure ceiling and minimum requirements for indoor climate

So how do we get the green and healthy welfare buildings that benefit the planet, Danes, and the wallet?

Together, we have proposed a solution with seven initiatives. We suggest, among other things, that a separate green capital expenditure ceiling be introduced. This means that some types of green investments are exempt from the normal capital expenditure ceiling and have their own. In this way, municipalities and regions can save energy, CO₂, and money through improved ventilation, electrical solutions, building automation, conversion from oil and gas boilers, or other measures.

We also believe that the time has long since come to introduce minimum requirements for indoor climate in all public buildings. The requirements should initially be met by welfare institutions housing children, young people, and the elderly, and by 2030 at the latest. In addition, an indoor climate scale should be developed to show the indoor climate conditions of buildings.

Thirdly, we believe that the renovation backlog and the new EU requirements should prompt politicians to develop a long-term plan for Denmark’s public buildings. This should include goals for renovation, reduction of energy consumption, and requirements for the quality of the indoor climate, where children, adults, and the elderly spend millions of hours each year.

Danes want politicians to prioritize climate and health. Better public buildings can deliver both – and are often a good investment. So dear politicians: Listen to the Danes and give them green and healthy welfare buildings.

The article was published in Information on 10.05.24.


  • Katrine Bjerre, SYNERGI
  • Anders Stouge, Dansk Industri
  • Troels Blicher Danielsen, TEKNIQ Arbejdsgiverne
  • Nanna Højlund, Fagbevægelsens Hovedorganisation
  • Laura Klitgaard, Ingeniørforeningen IDA
  • Bjarke Møller, Rådet for Grøn Omstilling
  • Benny Yssing, Dansk El-Forbund 
  • Palle Thomsen, Danske Byggecentre
  • Dorte Nørregaard Larsen, Energiforum Danmark
  • Thomas Brücker, Teknik-Service FOA
  • Per Rømer Kofod, VELTEK
  • Henrik W. Petersen, Blik- og Rørarbejderforbundet
  • Søren Sand Kirk, Bygge-, Anlægs- og Trækartellet (BAT)