Drive small and thrive might well be the European motto. Green actions speak louder than words in Europe when it comes to energy and consumption and walking the walk. They ride bikes and walk more than we do to get around, use and waste less of our limited resources, have a different sense of space. Just don’t throw around terms like green and eco expecting everyone there to know what you mean.
Throughout my travels in Italy, the term “eco” got lost in translation – and I resorted to hand signs and terms such as nature and sun power to investigate the Italian practices or describe what I do for a living. Still, many signs show Europeans have as beat when it comes to practicing restraint in their lifestyles and consumption.
It could simply stem from resources like water and petrol being considered more precious. As a college student in England, I was told my gin and tonics lacked ice because freezing water for cocktails was frivolous. I suppose this also explained the dull hair many of us have witnessed in our European travels. Fewer showers are another concession to save. In this sense, French cologne is indispensable and might also be lauded as green.
Also woven into the culture is smaller, more economical cars and homes, due to population density, higher fuel costs and necessity. Honda Civics might be considered an adequate family car – not the minivan, which would be more for tourists. If you aren’t walking, biking or taking public transit, as more Europeans do as a matter of practicality and habit, then you are most likely tooting around in a compact (although power counts in certain circles where larger BMWs hold status).
“Whether in crowded cities like Rome or Budapest, or centuries-old villages, people get around on their own power,” notes eco travel writer, Wendy Worrall Redal. “It’s easier than negotiating jammed streets, finding scarce parking and paying $10 a gallon for gas. Age has nothing to do with it; you’re as likely to see a wrinkled grandmother toting a wheeled market cart or pedaling her cruiser, as you are more youthful cyclists.”
Here are some comparisons:
Banning Cosmetic Chemicals
Activists trying to rid our shelves and salons of toxic chemicals point to the fact the European Union has banned 1,100 chemicals in cosmetics, while the Food and Drug Administration in America has only banned ten. The nasty agents the FDA approves cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutation and organ damage. It appears our regulatory system has no authority to test cosmetic chemicals or require companies to conduct safety testing before selling. Definitions also vary. The FDA defines cosmetics on vague lingo to minimizing government interference form profiteering, while the The European Union Cosmetics Directive clearly puts thee health of the consumer first. Why are their laws more stringent? Undoubtedly the same reason why the government is loose on meat protections. It’s all about the money.
First, there is the innate friendliness bred into the land. France was the first country to introduce anything remotely close to our concept of “organic” wine. Vineyards of the Loire region that involve small, organically-farmed estates, avoided pesticides as a matter of conscience to produce their grapes at a time Americans were pushing baby formula and frozen dinners. Beyond the spraying, is the transport of the bottle. A study analyzing wine carbon suggests East Coasters (New Yorkers and Miamians) are better off buying a Bordeaux than a Napa-based wine because the greenhouse gas emissions from shipping are far less than those from trucking.
Reduced Aviation Emissions
Speaking of transport, the European Union has led the way in reducing aviation emissions through its cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide. Starting in 2012, all international flights landing in the Union must meet regulations capping emissions at 97 percent of the baseline (95 percent by 2012). The plan called for airlines with carbon shortfalls to purchase additional permits from European markets. Meanwhile, airport operator BAA has invested $1.65 billion on a green makeover of its terminal Heathrow East to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent. As the new home of Star Alliance Airlines, the upgrades involve solar panels on the roof, north-facing windows for natural lighting, and a new energy center using renewable resources for heat and air.
Eating and Drinking Less, Without Disposables
I will never forget a Weight Watchers meeting in which a member brought in a biscuit from England, saying they don’t supersize their teas with ginormous American-size chocolate chip cookies. The fact Europeans consume less food and walk more means they don’t struggle with diets the way Americans do. They also shun to-go cups, even at panini or espresso bars where if you need a paper cup to dash out, then you are clearly in too much of a hurry. Pasta isn’t piled sky high on a plate, but often served in an appetizer size portions, unless requested otherwise by an American. Again, the concept less is more is ingrained in the mentality – the same one that prefers quality over quantity. Sure, they smoke like fiends, but that’s another story.
Euro Trash: Switzerland Scores High on Recycling, While Europe As a Whole Lags
While there is a tendency to use less, Europe on the whole does seem to be lagging behind in the areas of recycling and composting trash. The BBC reported only 17.7 percent of England’s households recycle, while the U.S recycles 28 percent of its waste. Still, Switzerland stands out as one country that is making strides, recycling 80 percent of its PET bottle drink containers, higher than the European average of 20 to 40 percent. The Swiss incentive is not just environmental, but also financial, since recycling is free while all trash bags require a sticker that cost one euro apiece. Without the stickers, trash will be left out to rot.