Slovenia and sustainable development...

Traveling around the world has never been so easy, and modes of transportation have never been so varied. It is our duty to protect the planet and the next generation’s future by traveling in a new, respectful and sustainable manner. In this fight against globalization and mass tourism and their disastrous consequences on our ecosystem and our future, some countries are opening their eyes and becoming aware of the importance of the current and future environmental issues. These countries are thus joining a process called sustainable development. We all think we know what sustainable development is, and yet its definition is still a bit vague in our minds. A little reminder is necessary!

“Sustainable development is a balanced mode of development of human activities that aims to combine economic efficiency, environmental preservation and social equity. The overall objective is to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future of coming generations.”

If there is one country that stands out from the rest in terms of sustainable development, it’s Slovenia. Yes, far from its European neighbors, especially thanks to its great ecological involvement, it distinguishes itself on several essential points. Slovenia has started a deep transformation towards sustainable and responsible development. It is the first country to receive the title of Green World Destination, partly due to its sustainable approach in various economic and social areas such as energy, transport, waste treatment, resource and water management, biodiversity conservation and gastronomic identity.

...A long history

Slovenia has long been a pioneer in the field of ecology. The development of environmental awareness in Slovenia dates back to the 1980s, when scientific studies showed that pollution in many places had reached such a level that it seriously threatened human health and biodiversity.

At that time, in 1995, the main contributors to air pollution were industrial and heating plants (82% of SO2 emissions and 40% of CO2 emissions) and road traffic (70% of NOx emissions, 90% of CO emissions and 30% of CO2 emissions). Therefore, in 1993 the Slovenian Parliament established a “Council for Environmental Protection” through which scientists submitted proposals for environmental standards and various options for action. Since 1995, the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment has been responsible for water and nature protection.

What is the reality, and is it a sustainable model even in the largest cities? Thanks to its exceptional environmental awareness, Ljubljana has been able to preserve its surrounding nature, and in the last ten years it has become one of the greenest European capitals, with the implementation of numerous strategies such as “zero waste”, and a strong will of the public authorities to put forward the circular economy. Today, the Slovenian capital proudly holds the title of “European Green Capital 2016” as well as many other international awards. With its countless pedestrian and bicycle spaces, its parking lots transformed into parks, its natural drinking water fountains and its increasingly ambitious environmental policies, Ljubljana has nothing to envy other European megacities, quite the contrary. For example, thanks to these projects, native melliferous plants (plants producing large quantities of nectar and pollen such as wild garlic, dandelion or lavender) have been planted on the roofs of the city’s bus stops.

As for the other towns in Slovenia, despite their small size, they offer an abundance of cultural, architectural and culinary wealth. In addition, their city centers are usually only minutes away from green meadows and forests. This mix of urban and natural fabric provides an ideal starting point for developing environmentally sustainable practices, reducing noise, cleaning the air and ensuring the health and well-being of citizens. Numerous innovative projects in cities across the country are reinforcing a green Slovenian history rooted in tradition, attracting new, knowledgeable and amazed tourists every year.

A green country by nature

The only country to unite the Alps with the Julian Alps, the Mediterranean with the Adriatic, the Karst plateau and the Pannonian plain, it is home to more than twenty-two thousand animal and plant species and almost 60% of its surface is covered by forest, making it the third most forested country in Europe. In addition, up to 13% of the territory is made up of nature parks, and in 2018, the country had 355 protected sites, including 31 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and 324 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) that are part of the Natura 2000 network, which represents almost 38% of Slovenia’s land and sea surface!

As you can see, Slovenia has a great diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. Wherever you look, there is bound to be some green. Between the mountain ranges covered with vegetation, the reflections of the lush forests in the Adriatic Sea, the grapes of the vineyards as far as the eye can see and the freshness of the pastures of the plains of Pannonia, green is part of the daily life of all Slovenians. It is therefore easy to understand why it is so important for Slovenians to preserve their true treasures, both natural and cultural.

In this respect, parks with the “Slovenia Green Park” label are at the forefront of efforts to achieve more responsible and sustainable behavior towards natural and cultural resources. In the same way, some beaches are particularly committed to a sustainable ecological approach. For example, for several years now, Bled Castle Beach has been the first beach to receive the “Green Slovenia” label for a beach, and proudly displays a blue flag, which symbolizes extreme cleanliness of the water.

If you look at Slovenian cities, what is immediately striking is the amount of green space in urban areas. Public and natural parks, woods and forests, as well as the natural banks of rivers invite residents and visitors to actively spend their free time there. As a result, awareness of the need to protect these areas is increasing, and air pollution is decreasing accordingly. For example, in Ljubljana, almost 50% of the city’s area is native forest, 3/4 of the total area of the city is green, and more than 20% of these natural areas are protected zones.

Green Slovenia: from red label to green label

In the interest of sustainability, and in order to guarantee the environmental and cultural friendliness of the various Slovenian tourism service providers, a label called “Green Slovenia” has been established. This national certification program allows for the improvement of the sustainability and environmental requirements of tourism in Slovenia through an evaluation according to the world standards of green destinations. Depending on the degree of requirements met, medals are awarded to individual destinations (bronze, silver, gold or platinum), while service providers such as agencies, restaurants, tourist sites or beaches can acquire the Green Slovenia label. In fact, last year 37 new places received the Green Slovenia certificate, bringing the number of holders of the label to 157 sustainable providers or destinations! Among them, the city of Bohinj is the first destination to obtain the Green Slovenia Platinum label, representing another step for Slovenia towards a 100% sustainable destination. In addition to this certification program, the “Green Scheme of Slovenia Tourism” supports tourism organizations with training and promotions to become more sustainable.

In the same logic, 12 restaurants have obtained the Green Slovenia label last year. Combined with the title of European Gastronomic Region 2021 and its first-ever Michelin stars, Slovenia proudly ranks among the world’s leading responsible gastronomic destinations.

Speaking of sustainable gastronomy...

Slovenia with its lakes, fertile land and diverse environments offers favorable conditions for a multitude of local, fresh and quality products.

Focusing on a sustainable development approach, a short supply chain and high quality products such as its honey and wine, Slovenia has been named “European Gastronomic Region 2021” by the International Institute for Gastronomy, Art and Culture (IGCAT).

Indeed, the country is constantly striving to implement measures to ensure a gastronomy that takes care of our health, and our planet but also aimed at preserving biodiversity.

It is no wonder that the United Nations declared May 20 as World Bees Day, on the initiative of Slovenia, which ranks first in the European Union in terms of the number of beekeepers per capita. Beekeeping has a long and rich tradition in Slovenia, as well as the wine tradition.

Every day, Slovenian markets open their doors and offer quality, organic and fresh ingredients, grown locally and in accordance with the seasons. The locals understand today that this way of consumption allows them to keep the territory alive, but also allows them to benefit from a healthier and more environmentally friendly consumption. It is also a way of consumption that tends towards zero waste when these products are sold without packaging.

Some restaurateurs have decided to go further and are committed to following the fundamental principles of sustainable cooking. Their close collaboration with local suppliers allows them to offer seasonal gastronomy that respects local tradition and is grown according to sustainable criteria. Slovenian gastronomy has been awarded in the category of sustainability: No less than six Slovenian restaurateurs have been awarded the coveted Michelin Green Star for 2021.

Among these rising stars of Slovenian gastronomy is chef Ana Roš, ranked in 2017 as the best chef in the world by 50 Best Restaurants magazine with her two-star restaurant, Hiša Franko. Located at the foot of the towering mountains and next to the emerald river, Hiša Franko’s cuisine is inspired by what nature has to offer, while offering traditional Slovenian gastronomy at the highest level.

But it is not only the Michelin-starred restaurants that have gone green, sustainable cuisine has also found its way into the country’s inns and tourist farms and is now part of international events such as the European Food Summit held in Ljubljana this year. One of the most important initiatives in Europe in the field of nutrition and cooking.

Slow Tourism: towards new horizons

Tourism has been turned upside down by the pandemic, and more and more travelers are now choosing alternative tourism, which pushes to travel close to home and give meaning to travel. This new approach to travel is becoming almost a new standard in the tourism offer and in travelers’ choices.

It is about focusing on quality rather than quantity, taking the time to explore, to educate oneself, and to connect with the people, the culture, the music, while promoting the local economy and environmental protection.

Based on a long-term vision, preserved nature, and strong relationships with its communities, Slovenia can be proud to be among the top ten sustainable destinations to visit in 2021, selected by the German tourism magazine Falstaff Travel. The country has shown determination in its efforts towards sustainability, such as the traffic-free city center in Ljubljana, the initiative to reduce waste and collective initiatives. Indeed, today 30 villages from Austria, Italy, Germany and Slovenia are part of the Alpine Association and fully meet the objectives of the Convention on the Protection of the Alps, committing themselves to sustainable development throughout the region.

Local operators, who offer a wide range of activities and thrills, are also increasingly proposing “slow activities”, which are accessible for all ages and tastes: from hiking to cross-country skiing, from bird watching to cycling, from visiting caves to wine tasting, Slovenia’s slow activities are sure to surprise you!

It is also the turn of Slovenian accommodations to join the movement and implement sustainable initiatives, such as a hotel completely built from ecological materials and aiming at energy self-sufficiency, or a hotel with beehives on its roof to promote pollination in the city and to produce its own honey. It is also the case of the first Slovenian hotel to have obtained the title of zero waste hotel, thanks to its management of waste and drinking water and the reduction of rejected food.

I think, therefore I sort!

The zero waste initiative is becoming increasingly important in Slovenia. It is now 9 Slovenian municipalities that are committed to significantly reduce waste (15,000 tons of waste), a first step towards a much more efficient composting and recycling of the waste produced. Ljubljana continues to surprise and is also committed to achieving 78% separate collection and reducing the amount of residual waste to 60 kg per year and per capita by 2025. A measure that seems to match its ambitions, since it is already at the top of the ranking of European cities in terms of percentage of recycled waste.

3...2...1... green light for sustainable transport

It is well known that the transport sector is one of the main emitters of greenhouse gases harmful to our planet. In order to drastically reduce its emissions, the Slovenian capital has successfully implemented sustainable mobility measures:

With the banning of motorized transport in the city center, accompanied by the promotion of clean, electric or gas-powered vehicles, it favors cyclists and pedestrians, with bike lanes and its “Bicike (LJ)” bike-sharing system, and a pedestrian zone of over 12 hectares. Public transport such as the “Kavalir”, a free electric minibus, is also available in the city center.

All these measures for more sustainable transport also contribute to the improvement of air quality, for which Slovenia was subject to an infringement procedure in 2010. This shock, combined with a collective awareness, is reflected in Ljubljana today by 5 new public parks covering an area of 40 hectares, more than 2,000 new trees planted, the pedestrian development of the banks of the Sava River or the banning of wood heating in neighborhoods that benefit from district heating or the natural gas network. All this contributes to making the Slovenian capital one of the greenest and most sustainable cities in the world.

Green tech: tecology has a future

With increasing digitalization and ever higher digital consumption, the technology sector has taken on a decisive importance on the future of the environment, and more and more green initiatives or “green tech” are emerging. The digital transition is now the focus of attention, and countries are facing new questions: How to tackle the digital transition and adapt to climate change?

Slovenia is carefully preparing for this, and at the 3-day SME Assembly 2021 event, Slovenian assembly participants were able to exchange and learn how to address these topics to make Slovenia a green and connected country, combining sustainable development and digital innovation.

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