By choosing carefully where and how you travel and the nature of the places you stay, you can minimise your carbon footprint and see the world in a responsible way. Discover the top 10 most environmentally friendly countries around the globe…
This small country in the middle of Europe tops the eco ratings for a number of reasons. It has a tough legislation regarding pollution and has managed to meet all its national and international commitments to reduce emissions. Switzerland charges for its water and waste management services and has a severe environmental tax that promotes personal responsibility. And as a result, the Swiss are champion recyclers – in 2003, 47% of all urban waste was recycled. Fifty-eight per cent of the country’s power is hydroelectric already.
Eco experience: Head to the village of Les Cerniers and tucked away in the heart of the Swiss Alps you’ll find the Whitepod resort – a collection of eco-friendly pods, complete with cosy wood burning stoves, comfy beds and panoramic mountain views. For more info visit: www.whitepod.com
Motivated by global warming and rising oil prices, the Swedish government says it intends to replace all fossil fuels with renewable alternatives by 2020. The country is developing wave power, which converts into four times as much energy as solar power in the same time and has no waste or emissions. In 2007, the largest wind power park in northern Europe opened in the Öresund Sound, off southern Sweden. It was also the second country in the world to introduce an eco-tourism charter, and has set up Nature’s Best, Europe’s first eco-label that assures the quality of 180 holidays run by its eco-certified tour operators.
Eco experience: If you enjoy the wilderness and fancy a bit of an adventure, stay at the Kolarbyn eco lodge, made up of 12 huts. It’s in a beautiful forest setting just a couple of hours away from the capital Stockholm. You can go on a wildlife safari or a hike. For more info visit: www.kolarbyn.se
Norway earns eco points for being home to the world’s largest solar production plant, owned by REC group. And it also runs the world’s first ecological prison, Bastoy Prison. Norway is the sixth largest hydropower producer in the world and it takes emissions seriously – the Scandinavian country now plans to become carbon neutral by 2030, not 2050 as originally expected – largely by funding green projects abroad and reducing driving and flying at home.
Eco experience: Explore the beauty that the fjords have to offer. Take a boat tour and you can see steep cliffs plunge into deep blue fjords and waterfalls cascade down the mountainsides. For more info visit: www.fjordnorway.com
Largely made up of forests and lakes, Finland, (covered by 78% trees) is showing remarkable recovery from industrialisation with its initiative to clean up water and air quality in industrial areas, as well as land preservation. And the forests are now growing at a faster rate than they are being destroyed.
Eco experience: Outdoor lovers can escape to Finland’s famous Lapland – an area of unspoiled land packed with stunning natural scenery and expansive river waterways. For more info visit: www.lapland finland.com
5. Costa Rica
Sustainable tourism is high on the agenda here, as almost a third of Costa Rica’s land is protected by national parks. There are dozens of wildlife refuges and eco-reserves to preserve wild plants and animals. Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity and is home to one-tenth of the world’s total bird species. Eighty per cent of the Central American country is run by hydroelectric power.
Eco experience: On the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica at Punta Uva, you’ll find four eco tree house lodges, built using sustainable practices and wood from the forest floor. You can snorkel by the beach, wander the acres of rainforest or take an Iguana Conservation Tour. For more info visit: www.costarica treehouse.com
Being green is a way of life for Austrians – there are strict waste management regulations here and 60% of waste is recycled. Austria was the first European country where renewable energies made up more than 50% of national energy production and currently, 60% of energy produced here is renewable – mainly hydropower and biomass. You can get a true glimpse of Austria’s untouched beauty at one of its many national parks. And the quality of the lakes and rivers here are among the highest in the world.
Eco experience: Stay at an eco-friendly hotel called Biohotel Stanglwirt, built of Austrian wood. Its six restaurants serve food grown on the hotel’s own farm and you’re surrounded by the Austrian Alps. You can horse ride or relax in the spa. For more info visit: www.stanglwirt.com
7. New Zealand
The country’s natural treasures – lakes, coasts, and mountains – are protected by various environmental policies and programmes. New Zealand’s small population in relation to land mass has helped preserve the nation’s natural resources. Around 67% of electricity here comes from renewable energy. This figure is expected to rise over the next 20 years, with wind energy making up much of that increase.
Eco experience: Visit the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, which focuses on the conservation and rehabilitation of rare and endangered New Zealand species. Plus you can learn about the country’s natural environment and history. For more info visit: www.willowbank.co.nz
This tiny Baltic country has the lowest per capita carbon dioxide emissions among the European Union states, thanks to an ecosystem called CO₂ sequestration, which involves around 35,000 km² of forests, mires and peat bogs working like a filter, converting carbon dioxide to biomass. Latvia devotes a large portion of environmental funds to water treatment and energy conservation techniques. Since 1990, the amount of pollution from sources such as factories has decreased by 46% and the amount of wastewater by 44%. The capital city, Riga, is considered the cleanest city in Europe.
Eco experience: Head to western Latvia and take an eco-tourism trail on either side of the Venta River and enjoy the views from the observation tower. For more info visit: www.latviatourism.lv
With its pristine Caribbean beaches, jungle walks and coffee plantations, Colombia has emerged as a serious eco destination. It’s home to 10% of the world’s species and has some amazing birdwatching spots. Colombia has made a remarkable comeback after its problems in the past years concerning deforestation. And the country now supports eco-friendly agricultural policies and is moving towards energy conservation and new resources.
Eco experience: Take a holiday in a beachside cabana hut and enjoy living with nature at the Estado Natural eco lodge, located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia near the town of San Bernado del Viento. You can take a snorkeling trip to Isla Fuerte where there’s a coral reef, or hike to a tropical dry-forest private reserve. For more info visit: www.estado-natural.com
One of the biggest concerns for the French government is climate change and various measures have been taken in order to keep the country clean and green. France has made a big effort when it comes to renewable energy sources, as it derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, which has helped to reduce nitrogen oxide and other harmful emissions by 70%. And in 2004, the country closed down its last coal mine. The French government is also committed to hitting its goal of 54 million tonnes of saved C0₂ by this year.
Eco experience: Go camping in luxury at Canvas Chic. There’s 12 handcrafted oak and ash yurts, positioned among the forest in the Ardèche Gorge nature reserve. Based on traditional Kyrgyz designs, each yurt has a double bed and a decking area. For more info visit: www.canvaschic.com