“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.”
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, and this has been recognised and commended by the World Economic Forum in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report.
In the UK, sustainability and environmental awareness often seem to be the preserve of the privileged. But in Austria, there are a huge number and variety of affordable places for the environmentally conscious visitor to stay, from B&Bs and guesthouses to campsites and mountain huts. More than 180 accommodations have achieved the standards of the Östereichische Umweltzeichen – Austrian Eco-label – a government run scheme that attaches particular importance to efficient waste and energy management, easy-to-use recycling systems, minimising the use of packaging and using seasonal, local, organic food, sustainable materials in bedrooms and ‘soft chemistry’ to clean bathrooms.
It’s the same story up in the mountains. In fact, Austria has the largest number of eco-friendly mountain huts and chalets in Europe. The 40-bed Adolf Nossberger hut in Carinthia's Schober Mountains is one of 63 that have achieved the Austrian Alpine Association’s Seal of Environmental Excellence. It uses solar-charged batteries to power low-energy light bulbs, sustainably sourced wood for heating and a combination of filtration and composting to process toilet waste. It goes without saying that owner Roland Hummer sources food from local suppliers and minimises the amount of packaging used. However, it seems he will stop at nothing in his quest for sustainability: throughout summer, he lugs 20kg of supplies up the mountain three times a week to reduce the number of helicopter flights needed to supply the hut.
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