Want to go greener? Be like a Wiener! An introduction to the eco-friendly habits of the Viennese

In many parts of the industrialized world, living ecologically has become trendy. While often impractical, it’s the “right thing” to do, and very hip.

In Austria, it’s about being “konsequent” – a word tricky to translate into English. It’s an adjective that conveys concerted action over time, of following through in a manner that yields results. It fits well to projects like raising a child, cultivating a garden, or, let’s say, saving the planet.

Following a trend has nothing to do with being konsequent. For Austrians, being green is simply selbstverständlich (self-evident): If you want to make a difference, you just have to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Thus taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint as an expat in Vienna can be as simple as living like a local. When those around you are doing the right thing, it’s easy to go with the flow.

The Viennese pride themselves on the quality of their food supply, organic products, environmental initiatives, love of nature and an excellent infrastructure that encourages eco-friendly tendencies.
So go ahead; just follow the crowd!

Transport
Vienna’s extensive public transport system is renowned for its ease, efficiency and dependability. A yearly pass costs €365 – one euro per day – a bargain. Due to the city’s hub-and-spokes design and compact size, most areas can be reached within half an hour: you can be in the Vienna Woods, by the Danube, or on top of Kahlenberg and back before the gossips notice you’ve gone.

Photo: Citybikes / ©Gewista
Photo: Citybikes / ©Gewista

Vienna also ranks among the world’s top 20 bike-friendly cities, according to the 2015 “Copenhagenize Index.” Don’t own a bicycle? Citybike Wien charges a one-time registration fee of one euro to rent its bikes, free for the first hour from any of its more than 120 bike stations across the city – quite handy when you’re late for a meeting or you’ve missed the last tram.

Food
Austria was the first country in the world to set official guidelines for organic farming. All of the major supermarkets offer their own reliable organic (Bio-) options that can be cheaper than conventional brands or generics. Clearly marked labels will show you the origin and any chemical treatment (look for “unbehandelt”).

Outdoor markets can be found all over Vienna, many featuring local, organic produce. The country has also pioneered the humane treatment of agricultural animals, so there’s also plenty of free-range organic meat – those so called “happy cows”, often rumored to be living better than the perennially surly farmers.

In Austria, the best food has seasons, and many specialties are available only at certain times of the year: Bärlauch (wild garlic),  Spargel (asparagus) and rhubarb in spring, Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushrooms) and Kürbis (pumpkin) in  fall, apricots in summer. Another culinary trend is the “nose-to-tail” movement – the use of every part of the animal, including its innards. In Vienna, every local Beisl serves classics like Beuschel (veal lung and heart stew), Blunzengröstl (blood sausage casserole), and even eggy pig brains (Hirn mit Ei).

Photo: Wien Energie
Photo: Wien Energie

Energy
About one-third of Vienna’s heating is provided by a thermal district heating system (Fernwärme), fueled by burning municipal waste. You’ve seen at least one – that gleaming gold and blue tower in Spittelau, designed by local artist and environmental architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This fairy-tale structure – decidedly non-industrial – epitomizes  three of the his causes: sustainable energy, recycling, and art.

Vienna’s entire power grid is based on an internationally renowned system of co-generation technology (combined heat and power) and waste incineration to generate electricity and district heating. This “Vienna Model” is currently being expanded to include renewable energy from wind, water, solar, geothermal heating, and biomass that has already cut CO2 emissions by three million tons annually.

Austrians also live quite happily without major power-guzzlers like clothes dryers and air-conditioning. They hang the wash on the line and simply take the weather as it comes. Most years, spring and fall are long and summers temperate.  And for those few weeks of discomfort, just buy an ice cream and head for the many public pools or the grassy banks along the Danube.

Recycling
In Vienna, most residential buildings have separate bins for paper and compost, and the ones for glass, metal, plastic, and even clothing are usually never more than a block or two away. There are Mistplätze for disposing your  used batteries, cooking oil, milk cartons, and even Christmas trees, as well as your unwanted furniture and appliances. Vienna enjoys one of the world’s purest tap waters, so less water is consumed out of PET bottles.

Two water mains bring pure alpine water to Vienna
Two water mains bring pure alpine water to Vienna

It doesn’t take long for new arrivals in Vienna to go through a right of passage at the supermarket. On top of doing the mental gymnastics involved in interpreting the checkout clerk’s demand for “einsachtundzwanzigfünfundvierzig” (€128.45), expats also quickly learn to bring their recycled or reusable shopping bags with them, or else pay for a new one.

Travel
When you’re traveling, the scale of Austria puts it all – mountain and meadow – with easy reach, as does its central location in Europe. By train or bus, trips around the region are not only quick, but also affordable and eco-friendly. There’s only die Qual der Wahl, the nerve-wracking problem of choice, whether it’s Innsbruck or Graz, Prague, Budapest or Venice for your weekend get-away.


Go Greener

Want to do more? Try being Green+ or, for the truly dedicated, Supergreen. And while some ideas (like no bathtubs) clearly go too far, many make good sense.

 

Transport

Green+
Why own your own auto when there are car-sharing options like car2go and DriveNow?
The taxi service, Taxi 40100, offers a “green” option upon request.

Supergreen
Combine public transit with a folding bike. They’re allowed on the subway, even during rush hour. (Normal bikes are not allowed on the U-Bahn before 9:00 and between 15:00 and 18:30 on workdays).
Invest in a fuel-efficient or electric car.


Food

Green+
Limit red meat to once or twice a week.
Buy cereals, grains, and pulses in bulk at organic stores, reducing packaging.
Order organic produce from Adamah, Ochsenherz or BioMitter for pickup or weekly delivery.
Or start growing your own vegetables!

Supergreen
Join an “urban gardening” initiative like Urban ­Farming; alternately, for about €200/year, you can grow crops on your own little plot (Ernteparzelle) on the outskirts of town.
Die-hard carnivores can still do their part: Hunting has a long tradition here, and local hunters are often happy to share their “wild” booty. Check out: wildbret.at


Energy

Green+
Take showers instead of baths and use a water-saving shower head;
Descale your hot water appliances by regularly using citric acid (from any chemist).
Use pots and pans that fit your stove-top burners.
Unplug appliances and turn off lights when not in use.
Replace your ­incandescent light bulbs with LEDs and use dimmers.

Supergreen
Invest in proper insulation and energy-efficient appliances.
Switch your energy provider to Ökostrom; they offer 100% renewable energy.

 

Recycling

Green+
For clothes, furniture, electronics, etc., try second-hand options, like Carla Wien, the Volkshilfe shops, and maxmoney.

Supergreen
Programs like Wiener Tafel and SOMA transfer to people in need some of the 80 to 160 thousand tons of discarded food each year. You can contribute time and/or money.
Iss Mich! makes vegetarian dishes from salvaged produce and delivers to your home or office.