“When it comes to the environment,” says Alfred Strigl, deputy director of the Austrian Institute for Sustainability, “Austrians are top of Europe and top of the world.” Being green, he explains, has always come naturally to his countrymen. “We are the pioneers of Europe. We have a broad traditional knowledge of natural topics that comes from a conservative way of life – the farmers, hunters and forest men – that has been handed down from generation to generation. We know how to read the landscapes. We know about the cycle of life, to listen to the wind and to pay attention to the seasons and the way the herbs grow, the birds, the mushrooms and so on.”
It is the combination of what he calls this “aristocratic” green sensibility along with a new environmental awareness triggered by global warming and globalisation that makes Austria the world’s most environmentally friendly country today, continues Strigl. “Seventy per cent of our power comes from alternative energy,” he says. “And 60 per cent of all waste is recycled. We are a recycling world master. It’s been like this for ten years, and there’s not much more we can do to make it better.”
But when it comes to eco-tourism, Austria’s deep-rooted environmental awareness has perhaps let it down. While other destinations have been quick to tell the world about their latest sustainable tourism initiatives, Austrians haven’t felt compelled to emphasise what has always been an inherent part of their lives. In fact, Austria is one of the world’s best destinations for sustainable tourism, as recently recognised in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report.