I’ve returned from my study abroad trip to Germany! I took classes in Environmental Planning and Economics and learned the most from living in a city where sustainability is high on the agenda.
For instance, there are trams that are able to take you anywhere in the city. They come frequently and on time and are one of the best ways to get around. Gas prices are very high over there–about 8 dollars a gallon–and parking is hard to come by. Bike lanes are everywhere and it is very easy and safe to ride a bike. If there is ever an accident, it is automatically assumed that it is the car’s fault, and so bike riders can rest easy knowing they will never be in legal trouble.
There are also solar panels EVERYWHERE. Loans to get solar panels are cheap. And once you buy them, all the energy produced goes on the grid, and power companies are required to pay you a fixed price above market price. So in about 10 years you’ll pay off the cost of the solar panel and start making money. Compare this to in the US, you won’t pay off the panel until about 30 years later when you’ve probably already moved out of the house you bought it for.
Their recycling facilities are also very advanced. You can recycle pretty much everything, and they sort it by chopping everything into small pieces and as they fly through the air, a computer detects their material and blows small puffs of air to sort them. It’s pretty amazing. All their trash that is not recyclable is incinerated, where the fumes produce energy and the ashes are used for road construction. And they don’t recycle plastic bottles–they reuse them. All their bottles are made out of thick plastic that doesn’t leak chemicals into the fluids contained in them. When you buy anything in a plastic bottle, you pay a 30 cent deposit. And you can get the money back when you return it to the place where you bought it. Machines detect that you bought it there and you get your money back. It’s very easy.
Then there’s the architecture. Freiburg, Germany, where I was based in, was known as the Green City so most of the architecture there is “green.” The older buildings have been retrofitted so they don’t take a lot of energy. And a lot of the new architecture actually produces more energy than it uses. There is one building that actually rotates to take advantage of the sun. Freiburg also houses the world’s most sustainable hotel–Hotel Victoria. This hotel uses wood pellet cogeneration to produce it’s energy–so its carbon neutral. Here are some photos of the architecture in Germany and surrounding areas.
For more information on the sustainable buildings visit this website.