Very few countries in the world are as inherently sustainable as Iceland.This island nation in the north Atlantic possesses many of the ideal components of sustainability, a cooperative government, like-minded citizens, vast and stunning landscapes, pure water sources, exceptional wildlife, and an overall commitment to the conservation of nature. In fact, Iceland Naturally proclaims that nature is, in fact, Iceland’s brand, and therefore the country must be “dedicated to preserving this natural wealth through responsible conservation“.
What this translates to for tourists is a relatively easy destination in which to travel sustainably. Due to its access to natural sources of hydro and geothermal energy, Iceland is the cleanest energy consumer in the world, with 75% of its total energy consumption coming from these natural sources. Additionally, Iceland topped the table of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index, as a world leader in pollution control, natural resource management, environmental public health, greenhouse gas emissions, and reforestation. Perlan is one of Reykjavik’s hot water storage tank systems and popular landmark tourist attraction. Perlan’s popularity demonstrates the unique combination of environmentalism and tourism that Iceland takes pride in.
The Icelandic Tourist Board is also keen to reward the country’s hotels, hostels, attractions, and tours with annual Environmental Awards, denoting a strong commitment to sustainability and environmental consciousness throughout the Icelandic tourism industry. Recent winners of the award have been the Blue Lagoon, Hostelling International’s Reykjavik Downtown and City Hostels, Elding Adventures at Sea, and Icelandic Mountain Guides.
The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s most famous attractions, is a natural geothermal spa outside Reykjavik, and offers incredible relaxation experiences. With treatments, massages, saunas, and the star attraction – the lagoon itself, visitors have access to some of the most natural experiences in the world.
Conversely, Iceland’s natural experiences also include its wildlife and landscape, like whale watching tours with Elding. For adventurers, Icelandic Mountain Guides offer a huge variety of single and multi-day tours including mountain and ice climbing, horseback riding, bike tours, cross-country expeditions, and trekking and hiking opportunities.
Eco-conscious visitors can rest easy in Reykjavik, which is home to two environmentally friendly hostels – HI Reykjavik Downtown and HI Reykjavik City – who focus on ensuring their operations have a minimal impact on the environment. The hostels also believe in the importance of educating visitors on how they too can minimise their ecological footprint.
Outside Reykjavik and further along the south coast, travelers who are dedicated to enjoying the rest of Iceland should consider stopping at Hotel Anna for a couple nights. Situated on a working farm, this hotel is part of the Icelandic Farm Holidays group, an organisation dedicated to environmentally friendly tourism outside the Icelandic capital. Visitors to Hotel Anna, or any of the Icelandic Farm Holidays properties will be happy with the knowledge that their experience is sustainable, and contributing to the important cultural and nature tourism industry in Iceland. Amongst their members, Hotel Hellnar, Hotel Eldhestar, Hotel Fljótshlíð and Hotel Rauðaskriða have environmental certifications.
Iceland’s relatively small population density (one person per 3 sq.km) also impacts the country’s ability to remain sustainable – its people do not inherently strain the environment, and the country’s current Tourism Strategy is committed to ensuring that any tourism-related strain “shall be distributed evenly over the entire country and its inhabitants and shall remain within the tolerance limits defined through research”. This demonstrates awareness of its carrying capacities, and dedication to ensuring that tourism enhances, rather than destroys, its natural and well-preserved nation.
The government is also keen to make overall travel, as well as sustainable travel, in Iceland as effortless as possible for its visitors. This includes providing tourists with information on their responsibility of protecting Iceland’s environment, thus increasing awareness and active responsibility by visitors. The country is also dedicated to promoting their nature and wilderness as key brand elements and images, to further reinforce the awareness and importance of Iceland’s natural brand and commitment to conservation.
It is as clear as Iceland’s glacier water that this country is special when it comes to natural beauty. Not only is the country a visual delight of landscapes and scenery, its people are wonderfully committed not only to preserving their country’s appeal and attractiveness, but to sharing it with like-minded global citizens who, like Icelanders, are passionate about natural beauty and sustaining spectacular environments for themselves and future generations. Iceland is a fantastic destination for any traveler, particularly adventurers of the eco-friendly persuasion.