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The Green Life: 4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands

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March 07, 2014

4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands

Sustainably uninhabited islandBecause of their isolated nature, islands are ideal communities for sustainable living. The environmental and economic impact of shipping in fossil fuels and other costly imports is vast, both in its use and transportation. Because of this, islands void of natural resources have unique incentive to seek green and sustainable solutions at home. Here is a list of four islands using green solutions to live within their means.


Eigg, Scotland

If you frequent the Sierra blogs, you'll know that we're fond of Scottish islands, and Eigg is our new favorite. This small island in the Inner Hebrides is home to under 100 souls, but what it lacks in size and population, it makes up for in sustainable impact. Since 2008, Eigg has relied upon a combination of hydro-electric, solar, and wind power to provide around 95% of all electricity needs for its residents. The island used to rely on dirty diesel generators for its electricity, but is now able to provide reliable 24-hour clean energy for the first time in its history. Eigg Electric, the company that manages the island's power supply, is run by trained residents and is completely separate from the rest of the UK's electrical grid. A cottage on Eigg, Scotland's most sustainable island Eigg was able to achieve this green status after its sustainably minded residents bought the island from their feudal landlord in the late 1990s. After Eigg Electric turned on the lights, the isle won a £300,000 prize from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts, who proclaimed, "The Isle of Eigg has exceeded our expectations for what communities can achieve in reducing carbon emissions, and for this they should be congratulated."

Samso, Denmark

There's another small northern European island that might just pip Eigg in terms of renewable energy, and that island is Samso off the Danish coast. 100% of Samso's electricity comes from wind turbines, and it was named Denmark's official Renewable Energy Island in 1997. While Samso's population is notably larger than Eigg's, with around 4,000 residents, Samsings (as the island's residents are known) own shares in 20 of the islands 21 turbines, employing cooperative ownership similar to their Scottish partners in sustainability. Rolling hills on SamsoIn 2007, Samso opened up its Energy Academy, a state-of-the-art green education center. The Energy Academy also functions as a conference center and hosts visiting researchers as well as class field trips.

King Island, Australia

On the other side of the world, Australia's King Island is making a name for itself in the world of renewable energy. Located in the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania, King Island has partnered with Hydro Tasmania, one of the oldest renewable energy companies in Australia, to significantly reduce fossil fuel use on the island. In July of 2013, King Island achieved sustained periods of zero diesel operation, an important feat for the island. Hydro Tasmania uses a combination of solar, wind, and hydro-electric power in its off-grid technologies. Before this achievement, diesel backup engines were required for the system, but Hydro Tasmania now expects longer periods of zero diesel operation when wind and solar conditions are right and energy demand is relatively low. King Island is also in the process of installing 200 wind turbines, with the help of TasWind, to further ensure the island's renewable energy future.

Organic Cuban farmCuba

Unlike the other islands on this list, Cuba has a comparatively massive population, with well over 11 million inhabitants. Nevertheless, this larger population hasn't meant that Cuba's environmental impact is comparable to similarly sized countries. In 2006, Cuba was the only country in the world to meet the World Wild Fund for Nature's sustainable development standards. The WWF's sustainable development standards derive from a combination of a nation's Human Development Index and its ecological footprint per capita. Cuba achieved this distinction by having an HDI value higher than 0.8 and an average ecological footprint lower that 1.8 global hectares per person, the lone nation in the world to do so. Cuba has also championed urban organic gardening. The country's network of organopónicos arose after the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent collapse of Cuba's export economy.

--Images by iStockphot0/VV-pics, lewisking, Amager, and lmarquez

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games. He's thinking about moving to the Isle of Eigg.

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