Now, more than ever, we must be aware of how we use our planet. Wildfires, droughts, storms, and floods worldwide show how real climate change is these days. Electric cars, paper straws, and recycling have become a part of our everyday lives. But why only care about the environment at home? More and more holiday destinations in Greece claim to be sustainable. But what does a real eco-accommodation look like?
Sustainability is a trend
Sustainability has become a trend nowadays. More and more of us want to protect our planet and its resources for the next generations. We tend to feel better spending our money on something labeled as eco-friendly than things that are not good for our environment. As a result, eco-labels have become well-selling advertisements. But sometimes, they are just that, a way to attract customers.
Unfortunately, claims of being sustainable are not under governmental supervision. It is up to us, the customers, to decide if a claim meets our own expectations on sustainability. Unfortunately, this is what many companies use to their advantage. This deception is called greenwashing.
In the Netherlands, it has become a trend to offer eco-friendly holidays to big resorts in Africa and Asia. Travel agencies use supporting the local economy and water-saving shower heads as advertisements. Great! But what about one kilo ( 2.2 pounds ) of meat the resort will prepare for each guest daily? Or the hours you will spend on the plane to get to your destination?
A holiday far away will never be truly sustainable. The average US household produces 7.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. Flying from Amsterdam to Bangkok, Thailand, produces 2.1 tonnes per person! How can this be eco-friendly? The water you save with those shower heads will not make up for your flight. Greenwashing companies point out the things they do sustainably and forget to mention the rest.
Curious to find out how much CO2 you produce flying to your dream holiday destination? Check out this article from the Guardian. It does not only show you the amount of CO2 a flight produces. It also gives the number meaning by showing the countries in which the average household produces less in a year.
Did Greece become eco-friendly in 2022?
This summer, I noticed greenwashing reached the Greek hotels and apartments. Freshly printed and laminated papers, pointing out that I had found myself an eco-friendly stay, appeared everywhere. Great! But what did Greece change this year and suddenly became sustainable?
It turns out many of the Greeks did not change anything. Most hotels and apartments claim to be good for the future of our planet because they use a Solar Water Heater, or SWH. And although this is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of a holiday stay. In Greece, it is the ultimate way to greenwash an accommodation.
Solar Water Heating in Greece
The use of SWH in Greece is not something of the previous years, nor is it the result of improving sustainability. Instead, it is the result of the oil crisis in 1973. High prices forced Greece (together with other sun-rich countries) to rethink hot water production. Solar Water Heating was the solution, and Greece became one of the pioneers. Not for ecological reasons. Instead, the economy was their motive.
In Greece, installing an SWH will result in free hot water within 5 to 10 years. Because of this, 30 to 40 percent of Greek homes use this system. This number might sound low. But 2/3 of Greek people live in urban areas. Here, the architecture of apartment buildings makes the use of SWH nearly impossible. Meaning SWH is the norm in remote areas and has been for decades.
Can something usual be sustainable?
When I am looking for an eco-friendly stay in Greece and find out sustainability is only through an SWH, I feel slightly betrayed. Solar Water Heating is good for the environment. This is true. However, it is also very profitable for the owner, especially when he has had this installation for years. And shouldn’t an eco-label show some more active steps toward sustainability?
What if this accommodation offers plastic straws and a fridge full of small water bottles? Uses chemicals to kill insects and clean the pool? Has a rain shower and needs to be airconditioned? This accommodation might have a Solar Water Heater but does not take any other active steps to protect our planet. Is this sustainable? No, it’s greenwashing. The Greek accommodations found out that tourists like sustainable holidays. The installation they already had on their roof turned out to be eco-friendly, so they now claim to be so too.
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Sustainability is a new topic
Greece does two things very well when it comes to sustainability. The use of renewable energy, with the SWHs, solar farms, and windmills. And the big percentage of untouched nature in the country. Of which many areas are protected by NATURA 2000.
However, Greece is below the average of the European Union regarding sustainability. This has to do with the crisis that started in 2010. Since then, the country has been preoccupied with economic and social issues. The Greeks had to find a way to survive, making sustainability an unaffordable luxury.
Recently change started. With the worst part of the crisis being in the past, there is finally room to think about improvement. New goals include digitalization and sustainable tourism, but Greece also started working on its first plans for becoming a more eco-friendly country.
What is sustainable in Greece?
Sustainable means of transportation are hard to find in Greece. Train and metro networks are scarce and limited to Athens. Outside the capital, fossil fuel buses are often the only option, and even these are often no trustful way to get around.
There are car rental companies that offer electric vehicles to explore the country. However, charging stations are rare. Many large areas of the mainland and islands are inaccessible for electric cars due to a lack of chargers. The good thing is that Greece is on the way to changing this. The Greeks are offered tax reductions and subsidies when they choose to go electric, and municipalities will install new charging stations.
Until this time, check this map to find out if an electric vehicle is an option for your holiday. If not, the next best thing is a rental company that at least offers an airport transfer in an electric van.
When in Greece, choose local and traditional delicacies to make your stay not only more sustainable, but tastier as well. Greek cooks learn that delicious food is seasonal and adaptable to the available products. Traditional Greek food is not imported from far away nor produced in greenhouses that fake seasons. It is straight from the land and grown by the sun. Here is an overview of what fruits and vegetables Greece has to offer during the different seasons:
- Spring. Asparagus, beans, berries, carrots, parsnips, green onions, rutabaga, and zucchini.
- Summer. Cucumber, eggplant, garlic, parsley, spinach, tomatoes, and peas.
- Autumn. Apples, figs, grapes, olives, root onions, and romaine.
- Winter. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, herbs, nuts, and citrus fruits.
What does an eco-accommodation in Greece look like? Here are a couple of points you can consider when booking your holiday!
SHW and solar panels
Although I said before that Solar Water Heating is not enough to make a Greek accommodation sustainable, you should find accommodation that has one. I believe it has to be the minimum requirement for an eco-friendly stay in Greece.
Many apartments have solar panels for electricity on the roof or in a closeby field. Although, in Greece, solar power is not for individual use but is sold to the electricity grid, it does help the environment.
Drinkable tap water
In many places in Greece, water from the tap is not drinkable. As a result, the use of plastic water bottles is extreme in Greece. Especially in summer, when temperatures are high. However, some accommodations invest in drinkable tap water, and those are the ones you should look for. Don’t forget to take a reusable bottle with you!
Water-saving showerheads and toilets
Did you ever wonder why many Greek accommodations do not have a way to hang the shower head? Greece is a dry country in summer, and the Real Greeks know you should not spill any water during summer. Showers in Greece should be quick. However, more and more accommodations want to offer a luxury with rain showers, for example. This goes completely against the country’s climate! Water in Greece in summer is, in many areas, produced in coal-fired power plants. So if you want to be sustainable, use as less water as possible, and pick a place to stay that keeps water-saving in mind.
Well-insulated and designed rooms
Air conditioning is your best friend in a Greek summer. However, when a house or room is well-designed, you do not need one! In our beach house, we do not have an AC since the temperature inside stays pleasant in summer. As a result, we save a lot of energy. Things to look for are:
- Openable windows on multiple sides.
- Big balconies shadowing the south facade.
- Proper insulation.
- A half-underground apartment
A beach bag and chargers
When I go on a holiday, I always forget at least something that I then have to buy and never use again when I get home. Chargers are a great example of this. But also air-mattresses, beach rackets, balls, and umbrellas are among the things we buy, just to use for a week or two.
An eco-friendly accommodation in Greece provides the things tourists often forget. This way, they are used by many people and don’t become waste immediately after a holiday. It might sound like a small step toward sustainability, but with over 30 million tourists in Greece each year, the amount of wasted plastic is extremely high.
No daily linen change or small shampoo bottles
You might want the best service in your hotel, but did you ever wonder about the plastic and water a hotel wastes with a daily linen change or shampoo bottles? You can reuse your towels for multiple days and either bring your shampoo or use a bottle shared with the previous guests.
No swimming pool
Greece has crystal clear seas and perfect beaches all around the country. There is simply no reason to have a swimming pool in this country in summer. So pick an accommodation without one! Swimming pools need chemicals and energy to be maintained, while the sea is provided by nature. Curious about more benefits of the sea? Continue reading!
How important is sustainability for you when you’re on vacation? And what are the things you would like to see in your holiday accommodation regarding sustainability? Leave a comment below!