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Island communities explore sustainability

11/03/2013

A group of North Sea island communities have combined their energies to test a range of sustainability ideas involving water, energy and materials use, in the European Union funded Cradle-to-Cradle Islands project, which finished at the end of 2012.

The island communities - representing Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom - decided to work together on the basis that they have common interests and needs when it comes to sustainability. The islands would all prefer to be less dependent on the mainland for services such as water and energy, and would like to manage more effectively the demands placed on their resources. In particular, because of summer tourism, the islands typically see hugely increased use of water, energy, accommodation and transport during the high season.

The project's approach was to test a number of ideas, and to seek to apply the Cradle to Cradle® concept, the influential approach developed by sustainable development expert William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. Their work focused on the design of products and systems, seeking to make them “ecologically intelligent”, in particular that waste should be seen, as it would be in nature, as a “nutrient” that feeds back into the system.

The ideas trialled by the Cradle-to-Cradle Islands dealt with issues such as housing, low-impact transport such as cycling, use of biomass and smart grids, lighting systems and the use of sustainable materials in local production. The project started at the beginning of 2009 and was backed with €1,920,000 of European Regional Development Fund money via the INTERREG IVB North Sea Programme.

The project's work on sustainable materials, for example, implemented sub-projects on holiday home design, on the production based on Cradle to Cradle® principles of items for sale to tourists, such as toys and picnic sets, and on the use of waste plastics to produce more environmentally-friendly products.

One of the project's most complete sub-projects is the “Eternal holiday house” - the renovation of an existing building on the Dutch island of Ameland so that its water and energy consumption are minimised. Its results illustrate some of the steps that can be taken by households towards greater sustainability, but also highlight some of the obstacles.

Water use in the house, for example, was reduced by a third largely thanks to the installation of a vacuum toilet. Waste from the toilet, because it is not diluted, can be used to produce biogas and fertilizer. However, unlike conventional toilets, the vacuum toilet requires energy to operate, reducing the energy savings that would have otherwise been achieved through installation in the house of low-energy lighting and appliances. Overall however, energy use was reduced compared to standard holiday accommodation.

The “Eternal holiday house” sub-project found that a recycle shower - or a shower which recirculates and reheats the same water - was less successful. Holidaymakers were not familiar with it, or were concerned that it was unhygienic. It also performed less well in terms of water heating than a conventional shower, though the manufacturer has learned from this and improved the shower. The experience showed, however, that consumer acceptance is crucial if eco-innovative products are to be successful.

Although the project finished at the end of 2012, its lessons continue to be shared through the “Wise with islands” portal. This is a continuing initiative to establish a sustainable islands network, and it will continue to be promoted by the Dutch Province of Fryslân, which led the Cradle-to-Cradle Islands project. The network has even added an island: Roosevelt Island, New York, USA.